Description: Meetings, By Dave Barry
A classic Dave Barry
How to Attend a Meeting
To really succeed in a business or organization, it is sometimes helpful
to know what your job is, and whether it involves any duties. Ask among
your coworkers. "Hi," you should say. "I'm a new employee. What is the
name of my job?" If they answer "long-range planner" or "lieutenant
governor," you are pretty much free to lounge around and do crossword
puzzles until retirement. Most jobs, however, will require some work.
There are two major kinds of work in modern organizations:
1. Taking phone messages for people who are in meetings, and,
2. Going to meetings.
Your ultimate career strategy will be to get a job involving primarily
No. 2, going to meetings, as soon as possible, because that's where the
real prestige is. It is all very well and good to be able to take phone
messages, but you are never going to get a position of power, a position
where you can cost thousands of people their jobs with a single bonehead
decision, unless you learn how to attend meetings.
The first meeting ever was held back in the Mezzanine Era. In those days,
Man's job was to slay his prey and bring it home for Woman, who had to
figure out how to cook it. The problem was, Man was slow and basically
naked, whereas the prey had warm fur and could run like an antelope. (In
fact it was an antelope, only nobody knew this).
At last someone said, "Maybe if we just sat down and did some
brainstorming, we could come up with a better way to hunt our prey!" It
went extremely well, plus it was much warmer sitting in a circle, so they
agreed to meet again the next day, and the next.
But the women pointed out that, prey-wise, the men had not produced
anything, and the human race was pretty much starving. The men agreed
that was serious and said they would put it right near the top of their
"agenda". At this point, the women, who were primitive but not stupid,
started eating plants, and thus modern agriculture was born. It never
would have happened without meetings.
The modern business meeting, however, might better be compared with a
funeral, in the sense that you have a gathering of people who are wearing
uncomfortable clothing and would rather be somewhere else. The major
difference is that most funerals have a definite purpose. Also, nothing
is really ever buried in a meeting. An idea may look dead, but it will
always reappear at another meeting later on. If you have ever seen the
movie, "Night of the Living Dead," you have a rough idea of how modern
meetings operate, with projects and proposals that everyone thought were
killed rising up constantly from their graves to stagger back into
meetings and eat the brains of the living.
There are two major kinds of meetings:
1. Meetings that are held for basically the same reason that Arbor Day
is observed - namely, tradition. For example, a lot of managerial
people like to meet on Monday, because it's Monday. You'll get used
to it. You'd better, because this kind account for 83% of all
meetings (based on a study in which I wrote down numbers until one
of them looked about right). This type of meeting operates the way
"Show and Tell" does in nursery school, with everyone getting to say
something, the difference being that in nursery school, the kids
actually have something to say.
When it's your turn, you should say that you're still working on
whatever it is you're supposed to be working on. This may seem
pretty dumb, since obviously you'd be working on whatever you're
supposed to be working on, and even if you weren't, you'd claim you
were, but that's the traditional thing for everyone to say. It would
be a lot faster if the person running the meeting would just say,
"Everyone who is still working on what he or she is supposed to be
working on, raise your hand." You'd be out of there in five minutes,
even allowing for jokes.
But this is not how we do it in America. My guess is, it's how they
do it in Japan.
2. Meetings where there is some alleged purpose. These are trickier,
because what you do depends on what the purpose is. Sometimes the
purpose is harmless, like someone wants to show slides of pie charts
and give everyone a big, fat report. All you have to do in this kind
of meeting is sit there and have elaborate fantasies, then take the
report back to your office and throw it away, unless, of course,
you're a vice president, in which case you write the name of a
subordinate in the upper right hand corner, followed by a question
mark, like this: "Norm?" Then you send it to Norm and forget all about
it (although it will plague Norm for the rest of his career).
3. But sometimes you go to meetings where the purpose is to get your
"input" on something. This is very serious because what it means
is, they want to make sure that in case whatever it is turns out to
be stupid or fatal, you'll get some of the blame, so you have to
escape from the meeting before they get around to asking you anything.
One way is to set fire to your tie.
Another is to have an accomplice interrupt the meeting and announce
that you have a phone call from someone very important, such as the
president of the company or the Pope. It should be one or the other.
It would a sound fishy if the accomplice said, "You have a call from
the president of the company, or the Pope."
You should know how to take notes at a meeting. Use a yellow legal
pad. At the top, write the date and underline it twice. Now wait
until an important person, such as your boss, starts talking; when he
does, look at him with an expression of enraptured interest, as though
he is revealing the secrets of life itself. Then write interlocking
rectangles like this: (picture of doodled rectangles).
If it is an especially lengthy meeting, you can try something like
this (Picture of more elaborate doodles and a caricature of the boss).
If somebody falls asleep in a meeting, have everyone else leave the
room. Then collect a group of total strangers, right off the street,
and have them sit around the sleeping person until he wakes up. Then
have one of them say to him, "Bob, your plan is very, very risky.
However, you've given us no choice but to try it. I only hope, for
your sake, that you know what you're getting yourself into." Then
they should file quietly out of the room.