When TechRepublic member js7 posted a question in our discussion board, I’m sure he didn’t anticipate the huge response that followed. Maybe it was the question he asked: How do you spruce up a boring meeting? It seems a great many IT pros have battled the boring meeting and have come across tips for alleviating the problem.

Some of the suggestions were a little unorthodox but mentioned by many members. Quite a few people recommended having standing meetings, where the chairs are literally not in the room. “In that way, people generally become more concise and only the important matters are discussed,” said josir. Many members recommended bringing a bit of Hollywood into the proceedings by having the meeting attendees screen a copy of “Meetings, Bloody Meetings,” a corporate training film starring John Cleese of Monty Python fame. It’s a takeoff of all the wrong ways to have a meeting and could be a fun lesson on what not to do. You can rent or buy the film.

Do you need to meet?
Oldefar recommends asking first if the meeting is necessary. Is the purpose of the meeting the dissemination of information? If so, consider alternatives such as Web pages with direct access to the information that would be presented at a meeting, IM, and discussion forums. Physical meetings should be used “as a key tool for social interaction and development of interpersonal relations that online solutions fail to do,” he said. Member SAO echoed this sentiment. His solution was to build a virtual meeting room on the company intranet. “Group members could post—day or night—any topic pertinent to the project on the forum. As a result, the frequency of meetings went down,” SAO said.

For meetings that must be
Some meetings just have to happen, though. As tomw@srcmo.com put it, people can’t work in a vacuum “any more than a football running back can win a game without the rest of the team knowing what he plans on and what he does.” So what are some ways to keep the meeting productive and interesting?

Ole88 recommends incorporating a “motivation moment where each member of the team finds something of motivational value to him- or herself and shares it.” Suppiah@lucent.com keeps a log in the days between meetings so he can input events when they happen. This can give you more interesting things to discuss in the meeting.

Organizing the proceedings
In addition to utilizing the must-have agenda, organizing different elements of a meeting can keep it interesting. Alap@cynapse.com names one person as a meeting coordinator. This person is usually a lively, engaging talker and leads the meeting with specific time allotments to each agenda. If your organization doesn’t have anyone of this entertainment caliber, make someone responsible for keeping things on track because things can get out of hand. You may even alternate the responsibility of chairing the meeting, allowing each attendee at some point the job of collecting data for presentation. It’s a good way to help employees learn and grow.

Practice restraint
According to knudson@sputnix.com, meetings can quickly go off track if you bother dealing with expected results. He suggests that status meetings cover the exceptional items: things delivered early, things that pose a risk to the schedule, and areas that are behind schedule. “If everyone is on track, then there’s no point going around the room to hear ‘I’m on track’ status reports,” he said. Leewc@stewart.arm.mil suggests making things even more granular by evoking one or two short-term goals from each person. “The next week see who met their self-stated target and how.” No target should stay on the board for more than two weeks. This may just invoke a little friendly competition and collaboration.

Obi_boy suggests the following to increase collaboration:

  • Have members identify a unique problem faced since the last meeting and present their solution.
  • Find a book (such as The Fifth Discipline by Peter Senge), read a chapter between meetings, and then dialog how members see application in relation to work.

Whatno suggests periodically asking a supplier to give a presentation on a topic of relevance to the group.

General@mst-enterprises.com learned a little something from a learning theory specialist: People retain information better when there are more stimuli provided. “For example, the use of color in the meeting material, squeeze balls on the table to play with, and food (always a good one) provide different stimulus to the senses, making the experience a more interactive and memorable one.”

If you feel that interest in meetings is flagging, then you can also have the meeting attendees brainstorm about what kind of form the meetings should take and what they would best respond to. You can then incorporate those ideas for the next meeting.