Creative Leadership

Why Your Last Meeting Went Bad

I attend a lot of meetings, and although 90% of them are unnecessary, I realize the remaining few can be incredibly important. Pitching an idea, making a presentation, networking, coaching, leading a team, getting project updates and more, usually need meetings in order to happen. But in far too many cases, most of us would admit to massive meeting failure. You don’t get that important job, your creative idea is turned down, you’re outvoted, or the presentation goes south.

So what’s the problem? Over the last year or two, I’ve been making notes on why meetings I’m involved in go badly. Take a hard look at this list, because chances are, one or more of these symptoms may be keeping you from being more successful at your meetings.  (And be sure to re-read this list before you schedule your next meeting with me!)

1) The person who won’t stop talking. I was invited to coffee last year by a guy pitching his company’s services to our team. But from the moment we sat down, he launched into a nonstop pitch about himself, his company, his product, his past, all the people he knew, and more. Never once did he ask about us, our company, or what we need. It was a one-way monologue, and one that I’ll never be part of again.

2) The person who checks his mobile device. Last spring I was in a meeting with 2 people, and each time one talked to me, the other pulled out his iPhone and checked his messages. That instantly telegraphed to me that his phone was more important than me. I finally said, “Why don’t you respond to your messages and then we’ll continue the meeting.” Even after that, he kept checking! I won’t be meeting with him again.

3) The person who doesn’t prepare. At a meeting recently, a woman (who called the meeting) asked me, “I really don’t know anything about you. What do you actually do?” A brief 5 minute glance at my blog or our company website would have told her 95% of what she needed, but she obviously hadn’t even taken the time to do that.

4) The person who is late. Showing up late for a meeting tells me that you don’t value my time. Enough said.

5) The person who won’t get to the point. There’s a lady I’ve now had two meetings with and I honestly can’t tell you what she does or what she wants. Trust me, there won’t be a third meeting (I’m amazed I gave her two.) Get to the point. Make it simple to understand. Don’t waste people’s time.

6) The person who isn’t dressed appropriately or eats by himself during the meeting. I’m a casual guy and will give people a lot of grace when it comes to clothes. But never forget that the way you dress, and your overall attitude is communicating a message. What’s the message you want to communicate?

7) Finally, the person who doesn’t care about me. I can usually tell within a few minutes if the other person cares about me or is only interested in what I can do for them. You’ll get far more from relationships if the relationship is more important than what you want out of it. The old saying is true: People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.

Any of these hit home? (For a few readers, they should.)  And have I left anything important off the list? What drives you nuts when you meet with someone?

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  1. Ah, meetings… I’ve had many good and a number of BAD meetings. For me the worst ones are when you can clearly see the person you are meeting with has no real interest AT ALL in what you are saying, or pitching, or are passionate about. Those are tough. I actually like meetings when the people involved are VERY honest and there is a direct and open back and forth. Those don’t happen often enough. Lots of the meetings I go to, that really don’t accomplish anything, are meetings where everyone is simply trying to be nice to each other. I want truth and honesty in a meeting. At least then it may be possible to find out if common ground or common purpose can be found. One of the things I most hate about ‘non-verbal communication’ is that it’s virtually impossible to have an honest and helpful exchange of ideas (and sometimes facts) if people won’t say what is really on their minds. You can tell they are not on board with you by non-verbal cues – but there is no way to change that (or fix a misconception or clear up false understandings of facts etc…) if they won’t say what they are thinking. Everyone just goes away with their pre-conceived notions – saying to those close to them what they REALLY think – which may or may not be totally based on incorrect data, facts, or understandings. Those meetings are truly a complete waste of time.

    1. …and you’ve pitched a lot of network drama programs, so know of what you speak. I couldn’t agree more Dave. In fact, I’d rather just close the meeting early than have it go on and on when nothing is really happening…
      Thanks for the insight!

  2. My only note is that too many meetings end without a GAMEPLAN (and too many start without an agenda!)

    I just had a conference call yesterday, and the meeting was about to wrap up when I said, “Hey, we’re not done — we need a schedule to act on! What date is this action item to be finished, what date approved, what date put into action,” etc — they got it, and in a few minutes we had accomplished the goal of the meeting.

  3. I agree with all of the above. First impressions are very important and determine whether you will get a second meeting or not. I have taken a lot of pitch meetings over the years as a TV network executive. The worse thing a producer can do is to come in unprepared, not having done his/her homework on the network, what’s currently on its air, and thus, pitching projects that are completely off-brand. It’s hard enough to get on a network exec’s calendar for a meeting. If you waste their time, there will be no second meeting. Tardiness, poor fashion sense…can be forgiven. However, lack of preparedness means you don’t know what you are doing and that you cannot be trusted to pull off an important project.

  4. Two more things, not so much about persons but meetings themselves. I’m weary of meetings that don’t have:

    – an owner, a person that leads it and does indeed create action points
    – a time frame, I’m hesitant to go to a meeting if I don’t know how long it will take

  5. All great points, Phil. Additional factors I’ve seen contribute to meeting train wrecks include:

    – The wrong people invited to the meeting (Not everyone needs to be included in everything–or worse, the actual decision makers aren’t involved)

    – The leader doesn’t keep everyone on track (Rabbit trails strangles productivity)

    – Meeting doesn’t end on time (This disrespects everyone’s time & they’ll be less likely to participate next time)

    – No real purpose for the meeting (Standing meetings to ‘check in’ can also be huge time wasters)

  6. I’m a firm believer in ACTION STEPS. Every person in the meeting must leave with a clear list of things they need to do – and deadlines!

    Another important thing to remember is to only include the people who really need to be in that meeting. Don’t waste people’s time, if that meeting isn’t crucial to their job.

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