Keeping Everyone Interested

I didn’t do well in High School, 2.2 grade point average.  In fact, I fell asleep (often) in Math class.  I started well, trying to pay attention.  However, that didn’t last long.  The droning of the teacher saying mindless facts, asking us to rote memorize them so we can parrot them back at test time filled my ears.  I started getting bored.  Why am I here?  What does this matter?  I started to day dream.  My eyelids started to increase weight.  I put my head on the desk and thought, “I can listen while my head is down.  I can listen with my eyes closed”  The next thing I knew, the bell rung and I woke up.  I left the desk and went to the next boring classroom.

Later in Community College, I was lucky enough to be allowed to take some ‘honors’ classes with the “smart kids”.  I don’t know if it was the people or the teachers, but the classes were engaging and exciting.  I felt excited and my passion started to come out.  I wanted to learn!  I wanted to achieve something.  I wanted to think!  This is the person I wanted to be.  I wanted to be AWAKE!  All of my non-honors courses were boring and I got terrible grades.  The advanced courses, I got straight A’s.

I was in a meeting recently and started to get bored.  There was PowerPoint, but it was the worst kind.  Bullets, bullets and more bullets.  The organizer went around the room asking for this status or that, politely asking a question or two along the way.  I started to day dream.  My eyelids got heavy.  I wanted to interrupt and ask, “What are we doing here?  Why does this matter?  What are we trying to accomplish? Does everyone need to be here?”  I decided to just quietly excuse myself from the meeting.  This is rude, of course, but I thought interrupting would be worse.

I am in tons of meetings that have people on their laptops, checking email.  The interest level is low.  This can’t be the most productive way to use everyone’s time.  There must be a better method.  Is it really debatable that a company does best when everyone is AWAKE.  I know this is obvious, but look around, most companies act like they are day dreaming alot.

In reading the book about Apple called Insanely Simple, the author describes one of the rules for Apple meetings: Excuse the people who don’t really need to be there.  I have my own rules such as:

  • Don’t put your notes in bullet form in PowerPoint.  People don’t want to read your notes.
  • Only invite people who are actively participating
  • Keep it short, don’t fill the hour just because you booked it.  End when the decision is made.
  • Have a decision to make.  Don’t just meet for the sake of meeting.  Have an agenda.
  • Differentiate between status scrums, brainstorming sessions and educational meetings.  Give people a chance to mentally prepare themselves for what is to come
  • Find people who are bored and engage them or excuse them

Maybe I am over-reacting, but I think it is everyone’s job to keep everyone else engaged.  We are our brother’s keepers.  We are responsible to the companies we work for to help the company succeed.  That happens when everyone is engaged, awake and interested.

One reply on “Keeping Everyone Interested”

Spot on Glen. Meetings and classes: Be interesting and make it valuable to all those involved. I often ask myself when I am going to schedule a meeting, “why should they care, who cares about what, do they have interested-skin-in-the-game, what is the call to action, what is the goal, what is the outcome/decision, why do I care, etc.” I can’t stand meetings and I can’t stand what I call “soap box derbies.” Me and other people trying to out duel the other with something that THEY think is interesting, while not building the foreground/foundation of why we should care. And finally, the first question I ask myself before meetings is “Why?” If the quip to the answer is “that’s cool,” a good meeting is possible.

Whatya think?