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Monday, November 19, 2012

Meeting Attractions & Attentions

Do you ever find it a problem to get the correct attendees to show up for scheduled meetings on time?

Lack of proper attendance and attention from the very start of meetings can drastically reduce the importance, quality and impact of meetings held for the intended purpose of instilling that very intention.

So what’s the answer?

Here’s a couple of methods I have used over the years:

The first method I would recommend you utilize to garner attention was humor. Humor is easy to find; it’s laying around everywhere you look.

You have to be careful with humor and insure it fits the situation and the group. Having crossed that hurdle, get with it.

I had been brought in to facilitate the installation of a manufacturing software package—migrating from a home-grown (with so many patches, you never knew from one day to the next that everything was working as intended) to an off-the-shelf system with all the bells and whistles available at the time. There were various levels of support for the upgrade at every level of management in the organization; making the task even harder. This fact alone permeated the organization and made scheduling and conducting the planning and training meetings a real chore.

I had to find a way around the lack of attendance, attraction and attention. I chose humor.

Each morning after arrival at the plant, I would scour the paper for the best cartoon or funny paper tri-toon and alter the captions to fit a situation of plant interest—always humorous and never harmful. It didn’t take long for the word to get around and soon attendance began to pick up. Initially, I added the toon at the rear of the meeting subject matter being discussed and initially the attendees waited to the appropriate point in time to flip over to that last page to obtain their comic relief. I later found that the members of management were sharing the toon with their department and section personnel—the following began to grow. The Fareside was my favorite toon to modify at the time but Hagar the Horrible, Dilbert, Peanuts and Beetle Bailey work very well also. For copy write infringement reasons I will avoid putting one up here.

I realized that trouble was afoot when everybody, just as soon as the meeting agenda and subject matter was passed out, began flipping to the back page to get their jolly just as soon as they received their paper. I had to shift the toon somehow.

The guys in my department that assisted with the assembling of the training material helped my interleaf the toon into different places within the different handouts. This worked for awhile—I had asked up front in the meeting that they not search for the toon, but wait and come upon it as it eventually showed up. This worked for short period of time.

After maybe three days, just as soon as the handouts were sent down each side of the conference table, there began the loudest shuffling of paper one can imagine—everybody searching for the toon. I should have known this was the next evolution of where we were headed. I had actually picked the exact wrong subject to humorize for the last several days—the proposition that the entire factory would soon be required to wear smocks both on the work floor and in the office areas—although an idea promulgated by the Group VP; it was not well received at any level of the organization. The sole supporter was the laundry service that supplied smocks to those uniform renters that had previously selected to wear them.

The humor idea had run it’s course and I found another method quickly. The smock idea, by-the-way, was never implemented.

The second method I have used successfully is to employ tactics that encourages early arrival. Those arriving early are rewarded in some small way with a reward befitting the situation. The reward can range from candy to the latest company T-shirt. Keep in mind here that those arriving too early should be eliminated from the competition—too early may indicate another problem that management needs to address; why else would they be there?

One method to insure that everybody is on time that I have always liked is some sort of trivia contest. I really like the gathering of short—often obscure—quotations and having the early arrivers venture guesses who the author is. The more thought provoking and the older the quotation the better in my opinion—especially when the author is mostly know for logic 180º in the opposite direction.

Here’s an example of two I used before a meeting about six years back:

(1) “What is the most rigorous law of our being? Growth. No smallest atom of our moral, mental, or physical structure can stand still a year. It grows—it must grow; nothing can prevent it. It must grow downward or upward; it must grow smaller or larger, better or worse—it cannot stand still. In other words, we change—and must change, constantly, and keep on changing as long as we live. Who is the really constant man? The man who changes. Since change is the law of his being, he cannot be consistent if he stick in a rut.”

(2) “Technological progress is not merely an accomplishment of capitalism, but a vital ingredient. Business must innovate, invent, and experiment if it is to survive; the business that rests content on its past achievements is not long for this enterprising world.”

The prime idea to keep in mind is to move into the meeting agenda as soon as it is appropriate to do so. Remember my rules on meetings: (1) never longer than one hour and (2) always provide an agenda in advance.

The additional attractors and attention-getters are for one reason and one reason only: Getting attentive players to the meeting on time. Never let the extras lag on into the meeting time.

Oh yah. Just who were the two authors involved in the quotes (opinions) stated above? Both opinions were first seen by the public way over 100 years ago just as applicable today as they were when first uttered. Most of the guesses I would receive from those early-attendees were never in the correct century and all early-attendees were routinely amazed at the windage adjustment required to even hit close.

(1) Mark Twain, “Consistency”, a paper read at the Hartford Monday Evening Club, following the Blaine-Cleveland campaign, 1884, The Complete Essays of Mark Twain, Da Capo Press, 1963, p. 577

(2) Taken from Karl Marx’s Das Kapital published first in 1865 excerpted from Robert L. Heilbroner, “The Worldly Philosophers – The Lives, Times & Ideas of the Great Economic Thinkers”, Simon and Schuster, Inc. 1953, p 138.

Give either of these two approaches a try if you experience an attendance or attention problem. Remember to stay between the lines and appropriate!

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