How to Kill a Meeting

(bonus - and destroy the relationship with your team)

“You will never fully convince someone that he is wrong; only reality can.”
Nassim Nicholas Taleb

Article by Lili Kaneva

How to Kill a Meeting
 
Yoga and mindfulness practices teach us to be fully present in the moment because it is all we have. Oh, poor you - sitting in this endless torture of a meeting and thinking: “Is this all I’ve really got?!”

A monotonous voice blabbers on. Now you already could barely distinguish any meaningful episodes. The story is so far off from any scope and purpose, that you have to double check if you are in the right meeting or you’re on someone else’s Zoom?

 

“Master of Disaster” How-to Guide

But how do you get to such a level of Meeting Management mastery? Is it humanly possible to mess up a meeting so badly that seeing an invite coming calls a Pavlov-like reflex to click on the NO button? Let’s see if we can help you summon your evil genius and achieve that with that short article.

Like everything else in life, messing up is also a process. Let’s follow through:

1. Make Sure No One Understands the Meeting Objective
Today is The D-day. You wake up fresh and you just know that you can do it - you can set up the worst meeting! You naturally drift to the first point - what is it going to be about? Of course you can’t just use short productive goal statements. That would immediately communicate a purpose to your victims and you must avoid that. Sitting in a meeting and actually knowing what you have to achieve at the end of it can be motivating and mobilizing. You know better than that! So you open the meeting description and start writing an endlessly long email using statements like “I feel it may be good to…” (it communicates you are not certain about what you want and your plans are grounded in emotions), “we may do this or anything else you suggest DURING the meeting” (it will turn your meeting in a discussion on the purpose itself), “we can decide something now and reconsider later” (it directly says this is a complete waste of time because you miss authority or information).

2. Pile Your Event on Top of Others
Poor scheduling can help the cause of creating a meeting disaster a lot. No one can survive endlessly being in back-to-back meetings so this is just what you have to make sure you are doing - put maximum strain on participants by booking your meeting just in between other calendar events. You get bonus points if you put in the description a fake apology for the poor scheduling and explain it by your own busy schedule (a favorite status mark). Remember you set the stage for endless discussions with your meeting objectives. That means you can rely that the Meeting from Hell will spill over to the next event. This is wonderful because the level of stress and urgency layered over the feeling of helplessness (that you masterfully created by poor objective setting) will probably explode in unproductive communication, blame and (if you are really lucky) in long-term conflict. Moreover, if you want to get the Master or Disaster title, you have to stack your meeting on a Monday morning or a Friday afternoon. Otherwise it’s just no good.

3. Spike Confusion During Preparation
Sending out preparation materials can be turned into an art. In a favorite flavor, you don’t send any useful information (even if there are clear documents you can send like pre-reads, summaries of previous agreements or demos) but you write a judgemental email to the audience aimed at blaming their lenience. You can pick some classics like “you should be aware”, “the tool/practice/policy/process that you all should be familiar with” or get to master level by blending the subtle blame with downright provocation. There are a lot of layers in lines like “I would expect that you don’t need more information at this point”. With this type of shaming you are building on the initially created confusion - after the blame no one will dare ask for clarifications. Wonderful! Cement the worthlessness and march on to the event.

Spike Confusion During Preparation
 
Beware of one risk though. Some wishful thinkers may try to meddle with preparation and send actually useful information. Worry not! There is a way to deal with this. Top the shared resources with a lot more and organize everything in a manner impossible to read. If you are sharing a google document point to the folder (with lots more inside). If you are sharing a report with versions, make sure it is not clear which is the right version. Use dashboards from different tools and try to have conflicting statements there. It is always a good idea to point to a status report and then to share a dashboard that contradicts with each other (which is easy if you track progress with both tools). The added value of your information avalanche is not only the defeated attempt of that annoying colleague to make your terrible meeting actually useful, but also elevating your status. If you confront, contradict and ultimately overtake the stage forcefully, you are obviously the more influential person. Good for you!

4. The Final Act: Meeting Day
With so much work now behind your back, you have a few small steps to success. It all comes down now to how you handle (or not handle) the meeting. Start from the beginning! Remember how you squeezed that meeting in a tight calendar spot? That makes time really critical for everyone so do your best to waste it. Start small talking with people while participants gather and rumble on, ignoring the time or the fact that everyone else is already in and waiting for you to open the meeting. When you finally address the attendees remember you should not communicate anything related to the purpose or structure of this meeting. What you can do instead is start talking about random details around the idea for this meeting. Make sure you rat-hole on a minor detail and entangle everyone else in the pointless conversation. Time is on your side!
Unfortunately, during the event there may be one of those hopefuls that always try to save the day. Such a person may try to moderate the discussion or derive conclusions. Useful strategies to defeat such knightly attempts are:
  • Direct confrontation - use force and a rich display of power (it really doesn’t matter if you have it or not). Hijack the discussion, interrupt and object to conclusions. Make a clear statement that this is your meeting!
  • Add irrelevant information - if the meeting victims are on to something meaningful retreat to the formerly used strategy of piling ambiguous information. Make them constantly wonder: aren’t they missing something? You can always open an endless task - oriented dashboard and start talking through every little detail that is there.
  • Be the victim - swift changes of mood are always good for the working atmosphere so why not suddenly start complaining? Pick any subject and make a scene on the effort you are investing, your undervalued achievement and the cruel nature of your co-workers. Shifting the subject from facts to emotions is enough to kill the smallest grain of productivity.


The Final Act: Meeting Day
 
Using these simple techniques will allow you to easily miss any time-mark you have initially set. Of course you should not stop there - rumble on until the last attendee excuses himself exhausted.

Meeting from Hell: Mission Accomplished?

All joking aside, meetings are the backbone of good communication. Having this in mind, could bad meetings be the backbone of effective communication? Do people realize how much they need to improve as meeting organizers? Is Mr. Taleb wrong and all the ink spilled on efficient meeting organization is actually a great investment? Most likely the answer to all three questions is NO. There is hope though. At some point, following the steps above will result in a series of failures - structural, deep, total failures of your projects. The kind that forces one to stop and reconsider what they are doing…and voila! Enter reality. Then and only then will all those meeting articles come in handy. They shall be read and absorbed by eyes open to change. Until then - enjoy our guide!