How to cope with boring meetings

Because you'll sit through thousands during your career...

Updated: 
Businesswoman sleeping in conference room during meeting
Got any meetings coming up this week? You'll be lucky if you haven't. The average British worker will sit through 6,240 meetings in the course of their career, a survey has revealed.

But of the 2,000 workers studied by headset manufacturer Sennheiser Communications, six in ten said their boss likes holding a meeting for the sake of it, and described most of them as 'pretty pointless'.

Indeed, 70% of employees said they constantly zone out whilst in meetings with the average attention span being just twenty minutes. Nearly one in five say this has caused them to mess something up, and more than a quarter said they've made at least ten monumental clangers.

"There is nothing worse than being sat in a meeting that doesn't really concern you. So it's not surprising then that so many people zone out, nod off or doodle," says Sennheiser marketing manager Charlotte Gaskin.

"Of the respondents we polled, many said that often a quick and concise conference call was more effective than a lengthy meeting which often resulted in expensive travel expenses."

The poll found that one in five employees has nodded off in a meeting at least once in their career; one in ten actually dribbled or snored. A quarter of these got away with amusement from the boss, although 18% found themselves in trouble.

The upside of meetings, of course, is the coffee and biscuits - and Sennheiser calculates that over the course of a 40 year career the typical employee gets through 10,391 cups of coffee, accompanied by 8,257 biscuits.

Meeting organisers take note: chocolate digestives are the top choice, and 16% of workers only attend meetings for the chance of getting decent coffee and biscuits.

So how do people cope with the boredom? Sennheiser has created a list of the most popular strategies:

1 Doodle on a notepad
2 Daydream about plans for the weekend
3 Plan what you are having for dinner that night
4 Stare aimlessly out of the window
5 Exchange glances with your colleagues
6 Think about what you're going to watch on telly that night
7 Think about how much you hate your job
8 Scroll through your newsfeed on Twitter or Facebook pretending to check your work emails
9 Text friends or family making out you are texting a colleague
10 Write a shopping list.

Doodling can at least improve your artistic ability - Doctor Who, for example, taught himself to draw portraits when on trial after being framed for assassinating the president of his home planet, Gallifrey.

But on the whole, these are frankly the techniques of amateurs. Many experienced meeting-goers have far more effective ways of entertaining themselves.

Buzzword bingo is one of the best-known, although you'll need a partner in crime. Simply create a bingo card filled with some of your boss's favourite phrases - 'synergy', maybe, or 'proactive', and cross them out as they occur. The winner is the one to clear their card first - although you'll need to try and hide your jubilation from the boss.

A newer, and more erudite trend is to compose haikus, which again can be given a competitive element - there are a number of examples to inspire you here. Some people up the stakes by actually sneaking them into the conversation:

"I have a question
I thought this was a meeting
Where are the donuts?"

And don't underestimate the entertainment value of your own imagination. Have you ever considered how you could escape from the meeting - and the building - by unconventional means? Are there enough power cables in the room to create a long enough rope to flee via the window, for example?

And some people swear by imagining sexual encounters between two of the other people at the meeting, the more unlikely the pairing the better.

The good news is that many organisations are catching on to the fact that over-long, unfocused meetings are a waste of time and money. At LinkedIn, for example, meetings are frequently conducted during the course of a 20-minute circuit around the grounds. Other companies hold meetings standing up.

Other organisations simply introduce rules to keep meetings as brief as possible, by limiting the amount of time, for example, or the number of participants - Google, for example, allows a maximum of ten.

"Every meeting should include a brief and clearly defined objective before ever getting scheduled and everyone attending the meeting should clearly understand this end goal," suggests Jeff Shore of Shore Consulting.

"A goal indicates a bias for action, not merely a discussion. Everyone in attendance must agree to drive toward the goal as rapidly as possible."

What nobody ever seems to have managed is to eliminate meetings altogether: there really are times when only being in the same room will do. So for the time being we'll all have to keep on grinning and bearing it - and trying at least to appreciate the biscuits.

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