Thursday, May 17, 2012

Surviving the all-day meeting: tips and strategies

All-day meetings can be a necessary evil in your job, but they don't have to adversely impact your positive attitude.  There are many things that you can do to get through an all-day meeting at least partly sane.

You must do your utmost to pay attention to the discussion.  This is very important.  Your input is valuable and you can't comment intelligently if you haven't been paying attention. I can't stress this enough.

But there comes a time in every meeting when it all goes south.  Someone will jump on his favourite hobby horse and ride off into the semantic sunset, while a couple of other participants will veer off onto esoteric tangents that no one else understands.  If you are not the meeting chair, there's not much you can do to bring the meeting back on track.

That's when you reach into your 'all-day meeting toolkit' and find a way to pass the time without going totally and irrevocably batshit crazy.  Here are some ideas.

1. Imagine scenarios which are WORSE than being in the meeting, where, if given the choice between the two, you'd pick the meeting. Award yourself extra points for creativity. Some examples are:
  • in a helicopter with a broken tail rotor, plummeting and spinning towards the barren, rocky ground of some desolate tundra
  • trapped in a time-share resort presentation with 22 crying babies and seated next to someone who says, "Have you seen my tarantula?  He seems to have climbed out of my purse". 
  • on the bathroom floor, hugging the toilet the morning after you consumed >17 margaritas
  • in Arkansas*
This should help you feel better about being in the meeting.

2. Look around the meeting table and try to match up participants with similar characters on The Big Bang Theory.  Award yourself extra points for not snickering out loud or betraying your thoughts with inappropriate facial expressions.
  • do it again with Friends
  • do it again with Game of Thrones
  • do it again with The Sopranos

2a. Try to figure out who would win, the Sopranos or the Lannisters, if they ever came up against each other.  Award yourself bonus points for imagining conversations between Tony and Tyrion.  Award yourself extra bonus points if you imagine Tony using the words "F#*&ing dwarf". Award yourself super extra bonus points if you imagine Tony having to remove a dagger from his thigh.
  • do it again for Downton Abbey vs. Grey's Anatomy
(I don't have any earthly idea how that last one would work, but trying to figure it out would distract you, and, really, distraction is the best you can hope for in one of these meetings.)

3. Mentally reorganize your wardrobe.  Imagine you are wearing your hottest outfit.  Now imagine what each of the meeting participants would look like wearing your hottest outfit. Deduct points if any of them look better in it than you do.  Deduct extra points if the person who looks better than you do in your hottest outfit is of the opposite sex.

4. Listen carefully for sentences that sound dirty when taken out of context and write them down. Award yourself extra points if you're taking minutes for the meeting and you include those sentences in the final written notes.

(When discussing the different symbols that can be used on geological maps to represent normal faults and thrust faults, one of the geologists in the all-day meeting I was in yesterday said, "I'm really not impressed with their thrusts."  *snicker*) 

5. Pick some jargon or buzzword and award yourself points whenever the word is said out loud.  Promise yourself one chocolate bar/beer/ice cream cone/margarita/reward of your choice for each mention. 

(I picked "planar features". I will be very drunk and/or fat this weekend.)

6. Decide which of the following Monty Python sketches best represents the underlying theme of the meeting:
  • Four Yorkshiremen: Everyone bitches and moans about how much harder they have it than everyone else at the meeting has it.
  • Argument Clinic: Two individuals or factions within the meeting insist on taking opposite sides of every issue on the agenda.
  • The Dead Parrot: One individual or faction attempts to convince another that the project being discussed will really work. The second individual or faction keeps presenting compelling evidence that the first individual or faction is wrong.  The first person/group is unfazed and keeps trying to discredit the evidence.
  • The Spanish Inquisition: Lots of people rush in and out and there is a general confusion about what are the main points on the agenda and what the meeting proposes to accomplish.
  • Spam: Participants are expected to make a final corporate decision by choosing from a long list of very similar sounding options. (Or, if there are any Vikings present, then obviously this is the sketch you choose.)
If all else fails, stand up abruptly so that your chair rocks backwards, clutch your stomach, and say, loudly, "Could you all please excuse me for a moment, it's that darn dysentery again".

That ought to buy you at least 20 minutes out of the meeting room.


*kidding, just kidding, I'm sure it's a great place


  1. I love it! I will have to share this with select colleagues when we, once again, are forced to the torture chamber.

  2. #7 Write a witty and erudite blog post about all the ways to entertain yourself during an all-day meeting. Bonus points awarded for entertaining your readers greatly.

    Award yourself bonus points and then more on top of those.

  3. Anonymous8:26 AM

    You said you'd write it and you did it beautifully! Now I wish I had made it to the meeting. Let's plan this for the next one. Hey, I can mute the phone, but you can't mute your laughs.


  4. I just got out of one of those this month. Now I almost wish I did have to go...

  5. Natalie11:32 AM

    Almost makes me wish I went to those all-day meetings!

    Then again...maybe not.

    Great post, Alison! Way more entertaining than ANY all-day meeting could possibly be.

  6. Cassi - Thanks! Let me know if using these strategies helps you and your colleagues in your next meeting.

    Jen - Thank you! I will award myself 20 points and 3 margaritas. :)

    BFF - The idea for this all started when CH got stuck on the definition of some database term and I thought, "He sounds just like Sheldon from Big Bang Theory". And it just went from there. I ended up as Penny -- not so much because I'm blonde and female, but because when they were discussing the minutia of database hierarchy it could have been theoretical physics as far as I was concerned. :)

    Jazz - Well, if you can't duck the next one, at least you have some strategies.

    Nat - Thanks! If I see you giggling at the editorial workflow meeting next week, I'll know why. :)

  7. Oh how I love you, Alison!

    I usually spend the time zoning out, writing and drawing things in a notebook that would probably get me put on an "Improvement Plan" or just straight-up fired if my bosses (plural) saw them. Your suggestions give structure to the void ...