Music + Technology + Random Nonsense from the Music Industry by Ethan Kaplan, VP Product, Live Nation

Avoiding Vampire Meetings

As a disclosure, I hate meetings. They are soul sucking, productivity draining wastes of time. However, they are necessary and a predicate of macro-productivity. Meaning: they halt your productivity, but are essential for a companies. Therefore, they are necessary for you, and day after day, week after week, you suffer through them only to emerge on the other side with a headache and a pile of voicemail.

Meetings at my office are no different. We try, mind you, to have a good meeting environment. Tasteful mid-century modern sofas, a plasma screen, a Starbucks machine. Hell, even cupcakes from Sprinkles! But still, I go into a meeting armed with ammunition to fight the need to scream (PPC-6700 and maybe a sketchbook) and leave feeling like an empty shell of a person. And I decided to fight back.

Why are meetings bad:

1) Its Not Me Its You Factor (INMIYF): Meetings usually are a way to offset blame. Meetings typically involve people who don’t necessarily work together, but rely on each other, or report to a common boss. Hence, they provide an easy point of transmission of blame, as after a meeting is over, you return to separate corners.

2) The Kaplan Family Dinner Factor (KFDF): like my family, everyone thinks that what they have to say is really important. So they say it, regardless of who is also speaking, and at what volume they need to speak to get heard.

3) Digital Identity Maintenance Factor (DIMF): Exemplified by everyone on their Crackberry’s, relentlessly maintaining their digital identities while their real world one languishes under the strain of market statistics.

There are more factors, but those are the three that bug me the most. Meetings start fine, as status updates or just getting things out there. Then they go into each phase in turn until it disintegrates into lunch. That is two hours gone, never to return.

How to Fix Then

So last week I tried to mitigate these factors. I only succeeded on two of them, but it worked. Since lists are the things that get the diggs, here you go:

1) Mitigate Blame Through Constructive Comments (MBTCC): When people start the finger pointing, take the opposite approach. Don’t blame people, just use constructive questioning and socratic techniques to guide the conversation back to “how can this be fixed” from the “what the fuck went wrong” territory. You have to do this slowly, especially with different types of people. Some people are comfortable in blame mode, and taking them out of it can cause explosions. With those types, offeset the blame on a non-existent entity (I choose to blame marble, computers or made up words).

2) Talk Quietly, Quickly And Carry Big Words (TQQACBW): I call this the Professor Farnsworth factor. If you talk quietly, slowly and use words like “mitigate,” “extrapolation,” and other words not commonly heard in normal vernacular, people are forced to listen to you, as they think you are saying something Really Important. I do this often. I also speak pretty fast and my hair is all spiky and I wear black rim glasses, so I like to think I look nebbish and important. Or just geeky. Whatever it is, speaking quietly works. I’ve heard this technique works on little kids who get all yelly too.

3) Bring food! Cupcakes work.

4) Lastly, Come With an Agenda (CWA!): This is really important. I found that the best way to mitigate the Crackberry factor was to fill everyone’s hands with a self-important piece of paper. It didn’t mean anything, mind you. In fact the title was “Tech Meeting Agenda Type Thingy,” and it had just bullets of things I talked about. However, people like pretty letters and sans-serif fonts, so a piece of paper with both on it transfixed them enough so that the Crackberry’s were put away, and their vacant looks went toward a piece of paper that might, given the right circumstances, mean something.

So there you have it! My recipe for meetings. Tomorrow at 11:30AM, we have another one, and I shall use these techniques to make sure that the meeting is fruitful, informative, and positive in outcome. Think of this as the silver bullet, the holy water and cross for the vampires.

[tags]Productivity, meetings, work, how-to[/tags]
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29 Responses

  1. [...] ater and cross for the vampires. Technorati Tags: Productivity, meetings, work, how-to digg it!

    by Black Rim Glasses | posted in [...]

  2. [...] I very much enjoyed Ethan’s recent post about avoiding “vampire meeetings” and thought I’d share a few of my own tips for getting the most out of your meetings — primarily from the perspective of being the organizer and facilitator. For the love of God, please respect your poor colleagues’ time. [...]

  3. [...] Ethan had a great observation about Vampire Meetings: Why are meetings bad: [...]

  4. Paura dei meeting?…

    Segnalo ora un paio di post interessanti sui meeting, per aiutarvi a superare il terrore di questi appuntamenti insidiosi.

    9 tips for running more productive meetings: più o meno quello che scrivevo qualche tempo fa
    Avoiding Vampire Meetings: pe…

  5. Weefz says:

    Nah, it’s not the san-serif fonts that get me – it’s the having something to scribble on that makes it look like I’m listening, when I’m actually writing down the shopping list for dinner ;)

    Kidding aside, paper agendas are a good place for notetaking since you can quickly scribble questions or to-do under relevant headings without getting left behind. They certainly don’t help keep meetings on-track like they’re supposed to, but at least I’ve found one use for them.

  6. Sherwood says:

    Notetaking? Indeed – agendas also gives people an actual place to write notes – I find it infuriating when people show up to a meeting without any means to record it. If their memories were that good, we wouldn’t need the meeting to begin with.

  7. [...] Links / places in cyberspace: Freewebs for people who still want traditional webspace; Clipmarks – yet another social bookmarking site; Mac Annoyances (I love my Powerbook, really I do); Podbop – can we have a Kiwi version? (OK if I was really clever I’d start my own); How to become an early riser – get another 30 minutes a day / 3.5 hours a week / 182.5 hours a year; And 9 tips for running more productive meetings and avoiding vampire meetings – guess what’s on my aganda this week? Or which sites I subscribe to in my feedreader. [...]

  8. [...] Ethan Kaplan har skrivit en ganska träffande artikel om Vampire Meetings . Dessa slags hemska möten är ganska få i min vardag trots att möten upptar en väldigt stor del av min arbetstid, men visst förekommer de. Hur som helst så känner man igen sig i situationen från de tillfällen man stått öga mot öga med dessa möten. Ett extra plus i kanten för alla kreativa bokstavsförkortningar! (INMIYF, KFDF, DIMF, MBTCC, TQQACBW mfl) [...]

  9. Nothing to do? Go to a meeting!…

    My God, there ARE people who actually like meetings. I missed this when it bubbled up in late January … musta been stuck in a meeting …. Actually, the work world can divided in two camps: those who find meetings……

  10. Paul says:

    Having a decision maker in the group will definitely help too. Especially when the meeting needs to produce a decision at the end of it. You definitely everyone to say “I will go back and check with my boss first.”

    I almost die when I hear this. And I hear this quite a lot. If you can’t make a decision, dun come… I can always send you the minutes later on. :D

  11. [...] May 19th, 2007 in Advice BlackRimGlasses demonstrating some real fear of having a meeting, especially for one on a Tuesday. [...]

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  22. nice list. i use the speaking technique for years – talk quietly and use seldom heard words – it works.

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  24. Phil Daoust says:

    I’m writing a big article about meetings (and the horror thereof) for Britain’s Guardian newspaper. Ethan, if you read this comment and you have time for a brief chat, could you please email me? I reckon you’d make the piece a lot more lively.

  25. cityville says:

    i was beginning to really feel i would probably be the only young man who thought about this, at the very least currently i find out i’m not loco :) i am going to be sure to find out more about a few several other blogposts after i get a tad of caffeine in me, cheers :)