Staying Silent, Getting Active Or Walking Out - Five Ways To Shake Up Painfully Dull Meetings

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos insists people sit in silence for 30 minutes at the start of each meeting.

Sometimes meetings are so boring you find your mind drifting away and planning what to have for lunch that day, or wishing for a fire alarm drill to let you escape. This is all well and good until your boss asks you a question, and you have to frantically dart at your notes.

Some of the world’s most successful entrepreneurs famously hate dull meeting - so maybe, just maybe, the way we’re doing them is all wrong.

We’ve rounded up some of the best and most quirky ways you can shake up boring meetings.

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Spend half an hour in silence.

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos insists people sit in silence and read a narrative style six-page document before each meeting.

According to The Times, Amazon has a “weird” meeting culture, where PowerPoint presentations are banned and executives are made to write a six page memo instead. Half an hour is put aside at the start of every meeting for attendees to actually read it.

“We read in the room. Just like high school kids, executives [elsewhere] will bluff their way through meetings as if they’ve read the memo,” he said. “So you have to carve out the time so everyone has actually read the memo - they are not just pretending.”

Eat pizza.

Bezos also operates operates an unorthodox way to keep number of attendees to a minimum - if two pizzas won’t feed everyone in the meeting, then there are too many people invited. (Burning question: what size pizza are we talking?)

While sadly for Amazon employees that doesn’t actually mean getting pizza in every meeting, it’s still a good way to trim down an invite list. Sometimes too many cooks spoil the broth and this approach favours the idea that meetings should be limited to just a handful of people to avoid time wasting.

The late Apple founder Steve Jobs also subscribed to the idea of keeping meetings focused. He once reportedly once stopped a meeting to ask a person he didn’t think needed to be there to get out.

Apple uses the internal phrase DRI, which stands for directly responsible individual. The DRI’s name can appear next to agenda items they have accountability for, cutting unnecessary back and forth.

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Define what you actually want from the meeting.

If your meetings seem to rumble on with no particular focus, then perhaps you should take the advice of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and ask whether the meeting is to discuss an issue, or to make a decision.

Professor André Spicer at City University of London’s Cass Business School told the BBC that if a meeting isn’t clearly defined from the outset, then they can lack direction from the start, turning into an opportunity for people to “rant about person interests”.

“If there’s no point, then there are no decisions,” he said.

Another school of thought suggests turning agenda items into questions. So instead of ‘discuss marketing plan’ write ‘when will the marketing plan be completed?’

Have a bit of fun.

An away day usually conjures up the image of a reluctant colleague being made to throw themselves backwards to be caught by team mates. But according to some experts, you can introduce a little bit of away time every day by turning your dull meetings into walking meetings.

According to Psychology Today, walking meetings can be a good way to develop creative ideas, and can be a good break from our sedentary lifestyles. This is because being outdoors can increase “divergent thinking” - which is similar to thinking outside the box.

There are also companies that encourage staff to colour in and doodle during meetings, in order to help them decompress and get creative.

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Walk out.

Not advised for people who aren’t suitably senior enough to get away with it, Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla simply walks out of a meeting if it rambles on for too long.

Time is money, and Musk reportedly wrote in an email to staff that told them to cut regular meetings, cut big meetings, and leave meetings that aren’t productive.

“Walk out of a meeting or drop off a call as soon as it is obvious you aren’t adding value. It is not rude to leave, it is rude to make someone stay and waste their time,” he said in a memo.

“Excessive meetings are the blight of big companies and almost always get worse over time. Please get of all large meetings, unless you’re certain they are providing value to the whole audience, in which case keep them very short,” he said. “Also get rid of frequent meetings, unless you are dealing with an extremely urgent matter. Meeting frequency should drop rapidly once the urgent matter is resolved.”