4 Meeting Fails to Avoid at All Costs

There is a slow-motion disaster unfolding before your eyes. It is a cringe-worthy moment at work. And you are watching it all go down. You wish you could plug your ears and avert your eyes — but you cannot because you are sitting in a small conference room.

A hungry colleague dialed into the conference call and is munching and crunching at rock concert decibels. Another co-worker with drooping eyelids begins to gently snore. And to top it all off, the meeting presenter accidentally opens up a slideshow of vacation photos from a family reunion held at a pool. Wow, there is uncle Chuck. 

Yes, these awkward moments happen. We have all experienced at least one mortifying meeting fail. And most of the time, they are a one-time accident that can and should be ignored.

Maybe you have seen the viral meme of “conference call bingo” that is circulating online. Or the toddlers who interrupted their father’s live interview with BBC News.

But for every flush-cheeked fail, when someone creates many memorable meeting moments in a manner that no one wants to remember, there is usually a core issue that could have prevented the repeated violations.

Here are some that come to mind from my own experience:

Lack of respect Remember that time is really all we have and what we do with it matters. It is not something you can buy more of — so respect yours and everyone else’s who you meet with. Before the meeting, silence your cellphone and other devices. If you are working from home, inform family members that a meeting is underway.

Lack of preparation Even a little bit of planning can help you and others avoid mishaps. It seems simple, but send out a meeting agenda in advance. It helps everyone know what to expect and have time to prepare. (No one wants to be blindsided.)

Lack of focus You may be tempted to work on other tasks during a meeting, especially on a video call. But this is unfair to others (per the note above on respect). And besides, the mute button is not a fail-safe. How many times have you been in a meeting where someone thought they were on mute, but most certainly was not? (Barking dogs, baby talk to kids and pets, and back-channeling comments galore.) Give the team your full attention and participation.

Lack of care Most meeting fails can be avoided with a little communication. Before writing this post, I asked folks on LinkedIn to share their worst meeting moments — many stories revolved around being asked to share ideas without attentive listeners. Or worse, having those ideas drowned out by rude colleagues. It all comes down to kindness and courtesy. Think of others before you barrel ahead with your own plans.

The occasional and accidental meeting disaster is bound to happen. It keeps us humble.

And when it does, we can either slink under the conference table to hide or handle it like adults. Sometimes, apologies are in order. Other times, the whole group can laugh about it and then move on.

But you can always learn from the experience — even if you were not the source of the confusion. Ask, “How can I avoid this next time?” It is a good exercise and will help you to be more considerate and respectful of everyone in the room (whether you are in-person or not).

What meeting fails have you experienced?

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