Marathon meeting
October 8, 2006 2:33 PM   Subscribe

I have to go to a big all-company all-day meeting tomorrow. Help me stay sane while I'm there.

Eight hours of speeches! I'm a big-time multitasker who doesn't even watch TV without a book or a crossword puzzle in my lap. There will be too many of us to be closely observed, but I do need to be discreet. I'm planning to take a crossword puzzle or two, a Sudoku or two and a Power Bar in case lunch is yuckky. What am I forgetting?
posted by Jaie to Work & Money (27 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Do you have a 5G iPod? Some of the new games look sort of neat. I like Texas Hold-Em, although I'm miserably bad at it. Don't forget water/coffee/tea, either.
posted by rossination at 2:38 PM on October 8, 2006

I feel your pain, and sympathize deeply. Suggestions, based on my continued success at not focusing in meetings:
-bringing in work that can be handwritten initially or should be for increased flexibility. (outlining presentations, sketching designs, implementation flow charts)
-spending time on letters that should be handwritten and otherwise may never get sent.
posted by whatzit at 2:38 PM on October 8, 2006

You're forgetting to pay attention. I help put these things together at my company, and believe me a shitload of hard work goes into them, from venue selection to figuring out who is going to say what. These meetings are there to help you. They are put on for your benefit. The least you can do is pay attention.

That said, planning 8 hours of speeches only is really, really poor design on the part of HR. Are you sure that's the actual format? If it really is planned that way, it's highly probable they'll be getting into some important mission-critical stuff. Take a pen and paper, take notes, absorb.

And, if it really ends up being that bad, go to HR afterwards with feedback.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 2:40 PM on October 8, 2006

Powerful tasting portable stuff (super-strong mints, or wasabi peas, etc) that can wake you up if you need it.
posted by LobsterMitten at 2:40 PM on October 8, 2006

I take a windows smartphone to stuff like this, so I can IM, email, surf the web, etc. Its not a great form factor, and its kind of a pain, but it beats listening to a motivational speaker telling you how to leverage the synergies.

Another thing you can do every once in a while is grab your phone, put it up to your ear, get an annoyed look on your face, and walk out.
posted by stupidcomputernickname at 2:52 PM on October 8, 2006

Don't go.

Nothing of critical substance is ever said at companywide meetings. Inevitably meeting notes will be published, and you can read them at your leisure.

The HR folks who organize these meetings live in a different world from the rest of us. They actually believe that sitting in a room with someone droning on is an excellent way to transfer information. Or encourage teamwork. Or bond with the masses. Or something.

Recognize it for the bullshit that it is, and make an executive decision that your time is best spent elsewhere.
posted by tkolar at 3:10 PM on October 8, 2006 [2 favorites]

tkolar writes "Nothing of critical substance is ever said at companywide meetings. "

Not true. Our most recent one involved diseeminating information about a new acquisition, amongst other things.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 3:22 PM on October 8, 2006

A rubber handball to squeeze. Improve your grip strength--with the bonus of staying connected to your body. Big risk at those things is being too much in your head.

(Also you can throw it at anyone who says the meeting is there to help you.)
posted by Phred182 at 3:27 PM on October 8, 2006 [1 favorite]

Remember to drink a lot of water. This will both keep you sane and give you a reason to leave the room once in a while ;-)
posted by KimG at 3:30 PM on October 8, 2006

I've never been to an all-company meeting where information was presented that affected my daily routine one iota. Even the all-company meeting where it was announced that the company would be folding didn't require an all-hands meeting. Everyone already knew we were circling the drain; the only new information was that we would find out later that day who was going to be kept on as a skeleton crew to shut down operations. And we could have heard that from our managers, since they had to come around to everyone individually and let them know whether they were laid off as of today or as of next month anyway.

I second tkolar's advice, unless there's a good chance that skipping it would be a career-limiting move.
posted by hades at 3:30 PM on October 8, 2006

You can view it with foreboding, plan for it as you would a root canal, and attend as a martyr. It will suck.

Or, you can take dirtynumbangelboy's suggestion, and give it a chance. Don't go loaded for multi-tasking. Use the time to really concentrate on the meeting, think through the implications of the material being presented, suss out any company big wigs in attendance, and read their carefully composed faces as a gypsy reads tea leaves.

During the breaks, make a new casual friend from a colleague you wouldn't have otherwise recognized in a police line up. Enjoy the healthful refreshments thoughtfully provided at no little expense. At lunch, mine the grapevine of other departments for rumor and scandal. Leave with material for reflection and further discussion, and behind in you, in your wake, an astonished trail of company executives and decision influences who heretofore were unaware of your unflagging enthusiasm for change implementation and your thoughtful support of company objectives.

It's a one day fully expense paid vacation to neverland, so enjoy yourself. You could be working.
posted by paulsc at 3:30 PM on October 8, 2006

Call in sick. If it's important enough for everybody, there will be more than one mode of disclosure.
posted by Merdryn at 3:45 PM on October 8, 2006 [1 favorite]

I dealt with days like this, when I had to go to them, by going in with as clear an idea as possible about what I needed to come back to work with (where I fit in the reshuffles du jour; whatever), and trying to get that out of the way as soon as possible.

After that, it was 7.5 hours of scoping out the buffet (yum, free foods!); seeking out like minded peons to snark with (quietly, quietly); mindmapping and notetaking (doodling and letter writing); and going outside at lunch and breaks to 'clear my head for the afternoon session' (even a walk through industrial wasteland is still a walk and better than eight hours straight of corporate doublespeak).

Depending on who else was there, visits to the pub to make fun of the Tony-Robbins-alike of the day were in order too.

I guess, really, I made it bearable by making sure I got what I needed to out of it and by, unobtrusively, I hope, not taking it too seriously.

Of course, if, as dirtynumbangelboy says, this actually is for your benefit, and there'll be important information you'll really, really need – ignore my suggestions and pay attention!

FWIW, this wasn't the case where I was. I could've got everything I ever needed from these days over the net, at my desk.
posted by t0astie at 3:46 PM on October 8, 2006

Oh, I just saw paulsc's comment. Can I second his recommendation to make contacts? Bonds forged in the adversity of the company meeting can = big favours later on.

Or the just as valuable opportunity to do someone else a favour.

So, yep. Meet people!
posted by t0astie at 3:54 PM on October 8, 2006

Bring plenty of paper and pens and spend the eight hours thinking strategically about your job and career. Write down some topics ahead of time for you to ponder and answer during the session when there's an awful lot of droning going on.

* What does my job look like six months from now? One year? Five years?
* How can we land the next big sale?
* How can we land the next 10 big sales after that?
* What employees under me need to improve their skills? How can I help them?
* How can I rearrange my office space to be more efficient?

Stuff like that needs to be though about in a strategic way, but very often, the day-to-day bullshit gets in the way. I would look upon a work-sanctioned eight hours to just sit and think as a motherfucking godsend.
posted by frogan at 4:19 PM on October 8, 2006

dirtynumbangelboy wrote...
Not true. Our most recent one involved diseeminating information about a new acquisition, amongst other things.

I see. That information was presented solely in verbal form at your company meeting, never written down, and never made available to any person who wasn't there?
posted by tkolar at 4:20 PM on October 8, 2006

I gotta go with tkolar on this one, don't go. Whatever is said will, invariably be regurgitated and commented on in several formats by usual gang of yes men who seem to float around every company I've ever worked at. Get sick, have a flat tire, whatever it takes.
posted by doctor_negative at 4:30 PM on October 8, 2006

The problem with long talks is that the material seems riveting to the people who write it and present it, but it's never as engaging for the people who have to sit passively and consume it. The talk ends up a lot longer than it needs to be and the speakers often completely miss the fact that the audience isn't into it as much as they are.

Is there any way you can go for the beginning and slip out after a couple of hours if it isn't worthwhile? If the meeting is large enough and you need an excuse, you can say you're going to meet other coworkers in a different seating area.

If you absolutely must sit through all 8 hours of talking, try bringing something that occupies your hands in some kind of repetitive motion. I have a very hard time absorbing information passively, but when I knit I can listen for much longer. If knitting isn't your thing, you could try a Rubik's Cube or a stress toy, as others have suggested.
posted by rhiannon at 5:10 PM on October 8, 2006

You could print out some long Wikipedia articles and read them. If they are stapled together they look just like meeting notes. A small toy like rhiannon suggested is good too. You could work on long-term plans and write in a calendar.
posted by halonine at 5:54 PM on October 8, 2006

All day, company-wide meeting? Sounds like the 5th circle of hell to me. It's amazing to me that the people who organize these things seem to honestly believe that a)these meetings are the most efficient ways to get information to people, and b)they boost morale. They aren't, and they don't.
You want to give company morale a kick in the nuts? Announce an all-day meeting.

Or maybe I just have a case of the Mondays...
posted by Thorzdad at 6:26 PM on October 8, 2006

At my last big meeting, we made informal bingo cards, sorta, with a list of words or events that would transpire. Each player would guess how many times a particular unique phrase would be used, or a specific event would occur (cell phone ringing) and put a buck in the pot. It actually helps, and you end up listening more.
posted by craniac at 7:05 PM on October 8, 2006

Don't forget a sweater. Many conference rooms, especially if it's warm out, are kept cold to keep people awake.
posted by Mr. Gunn at 7:08 PM on October 8, 2006

tkolar writes "dirtynumbangelboy wrote...
Not true. Our most recent one involved diseeminating information about a new acquisition, amongst other things.

"I see. That information was presented solely in verbal form at your company meeting, never written down, and never made available to any person who wasn't there?"

Don't be an idiot. Of course it was publicly available; we're a publicly-traded company. What wasn't publicly available was the Q&A with our CEO and the people from the new company.

What also wasn't publicly available was the learning activity we did. So, you may have become jaded due to HR drones putting together what you see as pointless meetings, but that doesn't mean that all such meetings are pointless.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 10:15 PM on October 8, 2006

I was involved in one of these my first year out of undergrad (mine was just our "group" rather than the whole company, but that meant 150 or so people). My situation was particular perilious as I was the guy who stayed up til 6am the previous night preparing materials. In order to stay awake, I amused my fellow junior analysts by tallying the number of times our group-head said the word "leverage" when not refering specifically to financial leverage. He got up to about 80 or 90 IIRC. And we also recorded the number of times he invented new buzzwords--this guy was a true artist. My buddies loved it. Though it did get me into a little trouble, but nothing serious.

Also, I became hyper-competitive during the team-building activity, which helped keep me awake.
posted by mullacc at 10:56 PM on October 8, 2006

dirtynumangelboy wrote...
...but that doesn't mean that all such meetings are pointless.

Fair enough.

My major bitch with this sort of meeting is that at all of the large companies I've worked for, everyone was expected to go to them. There was never a hint of "you're invited to this event" -- it was always mandatory.

This one-size-fits-all approach to disseminating information is the height of large company inefficiency. I'm sure that there are quite a few people who benefit from these meetings, but I (and several other people in this thread, apparently) am not one of those people. For me they are a form of institutional torture.

(On the plus side, my visceral response to this issue has clarified for me that I really don't want to go back into management. Management pretty much has to attend these damn things.)
posted by tkolar at 10:25 AM on October 9, 2006

it was always mandatory.

Yes... because it's work...and going to work is mandatory.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 8:26 PM on October 12, 2006

Yes... because it's work...and going to work is mandatory.

No, it isn't.

A significant portion of my work-life has been spent at home, because I have worked for companies that were wise enough to recognize that the work I was performing was best done wherever I was most comfortable doing it. Some tasks required me to be in the office, others I chose to do at home, and the company benefited greatly by sitting back and letting me make that decision.

This is called "accounting for individual differences", and it makes for happy, productive employees.

You should try it. Perhaps you won't have to spend as much time wondering why your employees are so ungrateful after you've lovingly crafted your own version of heaven (and their version of hell) for them to live in.
posted by tkolar at 9:00 PM on October 12, 2006

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