Internal Meetings Part II: 5 Ways to Buck the Blackberry

There’s nothing more contentious than meetings. Internal meetings. We’ve all been in the gatherings where blackberry typing, pastry eating, and PowerPoints both seem to suck our time away, but in such a passive, friendly way that we don’t mind. How do we make this workplace institution better. Turns out there’s no way to address it in one post so we’ve dedicated a series of posts to the humble meeting and how to make it better.

So this could be the shortest post in the history of The Job Shopper:  ban Blackberries in meetings.

There, I said it.  Well, a lot of people have said it.  There’s a whole New York Times article about it. Here’s a quote that kind of sums up the signal that tapping sends:

It’s a not-so-subtle way of signaling ‘I’m connected. I’m busy. I’m important. And if this meeting doesn’t hold my interest, I’ve got 10 other things I can do instead.

But what does Blackberry or iPhone use really mean?  We can talk about changing cultural mores, scold rude people, lament the passage of time and pine for a day when people wore hats, but are we really getting at the reason why people are tapping away during meetings?  Is it possible that it’s not the technology, or ego, but the meeting itself?  Your meeting?

Making your meetings Blackberry-proof is impossible, but here are 5 things to cure both the symptoms and the root cause.

1.) Keep it short

In the last post I championed the short, fast presentation. That may well be part of it.  If someone knows that you’re going to drone on and on for an hour, taking 15 minutes to check emails seems doable.  Even if they get only 50% of what you say, that’s a half hour of time.    The reasoning is that if you’re going to take an hour, they’ll only give you a half hour.

2.) Create Time Limits

Revealing your time limits will help set people at ease.  “I’m going to talk for 10 minutes and then give you 10 minutes to ask me questions.”  That tells people that they’ll be back at their desks in 20 minutes.  Most emails can wait.

3.)  Invite Only

You don’t have to invite everyone to a meeting.  Inviting people who have no skin in the game and are there just to observe is like inviting a giant Blackberry into the room.  If someone doesn’t need to be in your meeting, don’t invite them.  And if they spent the whole meeting tapping away, consider not inviting them next time.

4.)  Be Up Front

Many companies ban Blackberries and iPhones during meetings.  The problem with this is that it holds people hostage rather than really engaging them.  If you’re up front and say:  “Look, I need your full attention on this for just 15 minutes.  I’d appreciate if you could hold off on responding to emails during that time.”  You’re not banning it, but just making a human appeal.

5.)  Give In

There are some meetings that are going to last a long time.  Telling people that they’re in this for the long haul and checking email is perfectly OK, and it may just diffuse the situation.  You’re still in control of the situation because you’ve given permission and blackberry usage won’t be as distracting for others.

So why go through all this?  Why not just ban them from your meeting?  The problem with bans, is that they just encourage us to break the rules and further adds to the mystique of being ‘too important to miss an email.’  Instead, look at ways that you can structure meetings to engage the right people, for a short period of time and let them get on with their day.

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Tim McPherson

By Tim McPherson

Tim McPherson, President and COO for Nesco Resource, has over 27 years of experience in all facets of the Staffing Services Industry.

One Response to “Internal Meetings Part II: 5 Ways to Buck the Blackberry”

  1. I’ve been searching around for some of the “rules” on blackberry use in meetings and this article makes an excellent point. So many meetings are poorly run and people are so inundated with work that they are using their multi tasking skills to stay on top of things. That doesn’t make it right, and doesn’t make for a productive meeting, but it’s easy to see how we have woven a tangled web.

    Suzanne Bates, author, Speak Like a CEO

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