I'm so bored - how do I make my meetings fun?
November 14, 2008 10:59 AM   Subscribe

How to make my meeting NOT boring!

The (newly promoted) big boss man wants us to come up with ideas to make our weekly(sometimes bimonthly) meetings more fun and productive.

We currently start our meetings with a brief chat and we have a coordinator review projects 1 by 1 with people chiming in on their parts as they come up. What ways have you successfully used to jazz up your meetings and make them a little more enjoyable, while still covering the topics required.

I'm open to any suggestions as long as they wouldn't be entirely alien to a corporate/government culture.

I've already browsed this and this.

FYI - the boss does have a sense of humor, we're all a good group but we all get a little tense in those presentations. They used to be every week and it seemed too redundant so we switched to every 2 weeks.
posted by emjay to Work & Money (20 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Free food?

I'm involved in several weekly meetings in my job, and personally I would be strongly against anything that would make meetings longer, even if they made the meetings more fun. Meetings are important but they cut into a significant amount of my time, so keeping them as short as possible is a big deal. Your mileage may vary in that area though.
posted by burnmp3s at 11:14 AM on November 14, 2008

Get some of those little cups of playdough and put them out on the tables for people to play with while they're listening to who ever is speaking.
posted by All.star at 11:24 AM on November 14, 2008

I've been a few meetings where we played "buzz word bingo", which really did liven up the meetings. Someone familiar with what was being covered made up some bingo cards in Excel and as words came up in the presentation/meetings you'd check off your box. We only did it a few times over a few years, so it was fun each time. I think if you tried it more frequently it would lose the fun, but for a one time jazz-up it might work.
posted by Slack-a-gogo at 11:30 AM on November 14, 2008 [2 favorites]

Don't make them more fun, make them shorter. It sounds like you guys are firmly entrenched in the "clusterfudge" free-for-all meeting habit. My idea of "fun" in this context is to limit everybody to 140 words, but then again (and probably obviously) I'm not a fan of money- and time-wasters like team building and management retreats. Here's another idea of fun: you can leave at lunch on Fridays if you want.
posted by rhizome at 11:52 AM on November 14, 2008 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Get a moderator who's willing to be a benevolent dictator, have agendas done in advance, stick to them, be done in 15 minutes.

Making a meeting "enjoyable" by doing more stuff is almost always makes them worse. Cut! Reduce! Recycle!
posted by bonehead at 11:54 AM on November 14, 2008 [4 favorites]

we have a coordinator review projects 1 by 1 with people chiming in on their parts as they come up

Do these one-on-one conversations have any relevance to anyone else in the room? If not, see if the meeting can be reduced to the "brief chat" that applies to everyone, and have the manager talk to each other person individually (at their desk, in a one-on-one meeting, or just via email) about their projects. It's boring to sit and listen to stuff that doesn't matter to you, and definitely a drain on productivity, because you could be elsewhere getting things done.
posted by vytae at 11:59 AM on November 14, 2008

Nthing making meetings shorter. I and most salarymen here can probably vouch that we may be having fun playing meeting games, but the desire to run and be free handily trumps that.

But if you must, my office polls employees of their favourite $subject before meetings and then makes them match employees with respective answers.
posted by spamguy at 12:00 PM on November 14, 2008

My vote is a big countdown clock with a buzzer. Each person gets two minutes to talk. If you go over - BZZT! Next!
posted by PercussivePaul at 12:02 PM on November 14, 2008

Best answer: Nthing "make them shorter."

One changed that I've liked a lot in meetings is to have them around a table, with everybody standing. Instead of only being mentally uncomfortable when things drag on, everyone gets physically uncomfortable too, and they start to wrap things up.
posted by craven_morhead at 12:02 PM on November 14, 2008

Our HR department does some fun things to try to make orientation and retreats more interesting.

- "fidget boxes" aka little bins one each table of Koosh balls, squishes, etc, to play with when we're feeling antsy
- fun nicknames: everyone gets a cardstock name-card tent and has to choose a silly nickname for themselves. It just loosens everyone up
- "buzz" words: everyone has a little soft plush ball, and beforehand you pick a word that you expect the CEO or another presenter to say (without their knowledge), and when they say it everyone chucks the ball at them.
posted by radioamy at 12:16 PM on November 14, 2008

Best answer: Get rid of all the chairs so everyone has to stand, or at best perch on the table. You'll get more movement, more direct engagement and will minimize inattentive behavior like doodling and texting. Your meetings will also miraculously become shorter.

Someone upthread suggested food; I've never tried this with a table of food off to one side, but that might add an interesting dynamic too, as people switch positions around to to get to and from the food.
posted by nax at 12:21 PM on November 14, 2008

on preview, per craven_morhead
posted by nax at 12:23 PM on November 14, 2008

I agree shorter is better.

Tyler Cowen in his recent book has some good suggestions. Including standing for the whole meeting and entering in all salaries at the begining of the meeting to calculate the opportunity cost of the meeting.
posted by akabobo at 12:48 PM on November 14, 2008

These meetings are boring because at any given moment, nothing is happening of any relevance to most of the participants.

Frankly, the project review part of this meeting is a big fat waste of everyone's time. The co-ordinator ought to be getting status reports individually, and distributing the reports, no meeting required. The only thing a group gathering can contribute is if people not on a project suddenly realise they know something useful, which won't happen if they're zoning out.

This meeting should be much shorter, the project coordinator should do their stuff on their own time, and the agenda should be people from each project asking for any help they need from the group.

Jazzing up your meeting is the wrong approach. Then you've got an activity where the only rewarding bits are irrelevant, and the boring bits are even worse by contrast. Stop your meeting from being boring by restricting it to things that are usefully done by a group. It will be much shorter and more engaging that way.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 12:55 PM on November 14, 2008

Best answer: Any meeting that lasts more than an hour will cut down on your productivity. I agree. Make the meetings succinct and to the point with food.
posted by Taken Outtacontext at 1:17 PM on November 14, 2008

No fun meetings.

Fun is for wasting time. Meeting are already a nominal waste of everyone's time. The goal is to get them out of the meetings as quickly as possible so they can go have fun elsewhere.

I consulted at a company where someone had hacked together a little application (probably Flash or web) that they put on the meeting room projector. It counted up, by the second, the per-second pay rate of everyone at the meeting. So everyone could see exactly what the meeting was costing the company.*

Everyone thought it was great. It kept everyone focused. People would only bring up the important issues and they would get addressed.

Other effective meeting strategies:

- Standup meetings. Remove all the chairs. Not only will people want to get out faster, but people feel more involved and can move around easier, creating a much better group dynamic.

- Confiscating mobile phones and blackberries and laptops.

- or issuing a penalty for checking email or having a phone ring. Usually reading the email aloud to the class or putting the call on speakerphone. If your office is a bit laid back you can change this to whatever speaker is interrupted by a phone ringing gets to answer the phone, no matter who's it is. (Or respond to the email/txt whatever)

* It's entirely possible that it was fake since entering everyone's hourly rates for each meeting would be onerous, but it was still effective.
posted by Ookseer at 1:51 PM on November 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Okay -

Shorter meetings... I did say the was government, right?

It's true, not much is relevant in these project updates for more than 60% of everyone gathered at any point in time, but isn't it nice to know what other people in your group are doing (ie. if you can help them, or if there's some cross-over or duplication?)

Part of the "point" of this meeting is that we do need to report activity to the 2 bosses that appear because that's why we were hired. So it's not a timesuck or waste of money so much as a required (by the client) update.

We don't allow phones ringing in, or laptops (except usually mine, on both counts) though I think maybe the stand-up idea is worth pursuing (on Thursday this week) I'll also check out Tyler Cowen's stuff to see what we can apply.

We do the free food bit all the time, but we have it at the table so other than passing things around, there's not much movement.

- "fidget boxes" will be tried this week
- fun nicknames: will be suggested, not sure how that will go over
- "buzz" words: everyone has a little soft plush ball, and beforehand you pick a word that you expect the CEO or another presenter to say ..... We've already got a suggestion to use buzzers from different board games to BUZZ any utterance of "ummm" "ahhh" etc to make sure people are better prepared and don't ramble.
-buzzword bingo: has been used in the past but I know I tend to focus less on the message and more on trying to catch those individual words

Best idea so far is the "stand-up meeting" suggestions. This might work well except for the paperwork usually needed for references during the meeting.

We do have a benevolent dictator/moderator but some of the ramble or time adding questions are coming from the client. This is their update meeting after all.

Thanks for all your suggestions, I'll add back if we come up with anything else and results on Friday.
posted by emjay at 12:04 PM on November 17, 2008

It's true, not much is relevant in these project updates for more than 60% of everyone gathered at any point in time, but isn't it nice to know what other people in your group are doing (ie. if you can help them, or if there's some cross-over or duplication?)

To answer you question, no, most people, week-to-week, won't give a damn.

This is your core problem. When reporting out, and no one else really cares what being talked about. This is where your moderator is key. Give every reporter 2 to 3 minutes per item and make them stick to it. Don't be tempted to give people 5 minutes, attention will wander (tl;dl). Allow discussion of items as necessary, but have the moderator cut people off if things wander. You can do this in 15-20 minutes. I've done it.

Don't do the standing thing. That's fad-of-the-week idiocy.
posted by bonehead at 12:25 PM on November 17, 2008

Look, what you're not making clear is why any of this has to happen in person.

Meetings are for decision-making. The notion of meetings as an efficent way to impart information to many people at once is wrong. So far, it still doesn't sound as though anything is happening that requires a formal meeting of your whole team.

"we do need to report activity to the 2 bosses that appear"

Make one person responsible for gathering status from everyone and then they can report to the client by themselves. (This is what happens in my workplace and I am blessedly meeting-free as a result). If there is no team leader, then rotate the responsibility for doing that.

If the real purpose of the meeting is to get a distributed group together for social interaction, make that explicit, and don't disguise it. (Again, at my workplace, we have weekly drinkies for this purpose, but I imagine in a more teetotal environment coffee and doughnuts would work just as well).
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 12:55 PM on November 17, 2008

Response by poster: These meetings are not just social/team building things. It is purely for dissemenation of information and ideas because we all get so much email - sometimes important info gets plowed under.

We're not necessarily just reporting activity but brainstorming for future projects as well.

FWIW - Here's what we're doing now:

1) Meetings are set at "odd" times like 9:23 or 4:37 (they stand out from the other meetings and things we need to attend)

2) No one's expected to arrive early, everyone is expected to be on time (more on this below)

3) Meeting room is no longer in a standard conference room or office. We have an auditorium (small-ish) that is central to our building that we can all walk in from different directions in the building to meet-up.

4) No one sits down, as we arrive a circle is formed and the auditorium is large enough for any number (though our max is about 12 people - this may not work for larger groups unless you go concentric circles or something)

5) Since we do need to review projects, the moderator prompts each topic and each speaker steps into the center of the circle and presents whatever needs to be stated/updated/etc.

6) Late-comers get a quick "round of applause" as this volunteers them to present a totally new idea or concept to the team at the next regular meeting.

7) When standing, all of our speakers tend to ramble almost not at all. Everyone is arriving on-time and because they are more formally "presenting" instead of talking/rambling from a chair or from the back of a room - they tend to be on point and have thought ahead of what they need to say. (Some people are actually bringing note cards now)

8) The circle concept also lets EVERYONE see the speaker (don't you hate when someone's head is in the way?) and lets the speaker respond directly to the person/group most directly affected by the Q&A

9) Items not on the agenda(moderator decides what comes to the "table") can be presnted if pressing, or can be submitted to moderator to include at next meeting.

After several meetings here's our results:

1) Meeting runs 15-20 minutes instead of an hour+
2) Same or MORE information is relayed with less chatter and wasted time
3) Balance between people consistently being on time and the bonus of new fresh (usually OOTB) ideas makes for some interesting research
4) Polling the group shows that we all walk away feeling like we wasted less time, learned something new (if not from the updates to the bosses then from the fresh idea presented)
5) So far everyone feels that the standing meeting also eliminates a lot of the idle hands and the "Driving you to sleep" boredom we sometimes had. Granted, we do have a few people who shift their weight constantly but, it's better than the creaky chairs and table tapping, etc we usually get.
posted by emjay at 9:43 AM on November 24, 2008

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