Conference Call or Meeting? by @MeetingBoy

While I complain a lot about meetings and conference calls, there is no escaping them. They are the death and taxes of corporate life. Sometimes people need to get together to decide or discuss things, and so in the interest of being constructive, I’ve made a list of when to call a meeting versus a conference call, because sometimes the wrong venue is the problem, not the agenda.

So if you’re someone who needs to get his team together, how do you decide whether to have your employees sleep at the conference table or their desks?

Rule #1: A pointless meeting handled via conference call is still a waste of time. It’s just a waste of less time. During the corporate vs. independent debates, consultants said they hated going in for pointless meetings because they didn’t like unbillable travel time. A meeting people have to go to that wastes their time will waste less time on a call, but let’s just stop wasting each other’s time.

In fact, maybe this should be the new Golden Rule of Office Life: Respect others’ time as you would have them respect yours, regardless of their rank in the organization.

So the following shouldn’t happen whether in person or on the phone:

  • Status meeting or any other meeting where people only care when they are the one talking. A status meeting is really a series of two-person meetings where one person reports their item to the manager. No one listens to another person’s status. No one cares. So in a 12-person department meeting, 10 people are having their time wasted at all times! That’s 84%.

Can we stop doing status meetings and just start doing these via email. Or text. Or never. Yes, let’s try never.

  • A meeting without an agenda. If the meeting has no purpose, nothing will be accomplished. Fact.
  • A meeting where all you’re doing is reading something word-for-word.

Read my lips: I C-A-N R-E-A-D. So tell me something not already in this slide or shut up.

Rule #2: Never use the phone for a group discussion when everyone can meet in person in less than 5 minutes. The whole point of working in an office is proximity, so take advantage of it. Once you go to the phone, people feel less self-conscious about checking Twitter or playing Angry Birds, just as they do when the lights go down in a meeting.

Rule #3: Any time more than two people will do most of the talking, you need to meet in person. Because once a lot of people need to talk, the phone becomes very confusing as to who is talking and who’s turn it is. I covered this point in a previous post.

An exception when the phone would work is when multiple people in one room need to ask one remote person questions, because then the local people can keep from cutting each other off. This comes up plenty when a key decision maker is traveling and the show must go on.

Rule #4: Any time you are disseminating information to a dispersed group, use the phone. Earnings, briefings, instructions, overviews, kickoffs– these things are all perfect for conference calls because one person will do all the talking.

Never make me travel to a lecture. I can ignore you fine from over here.

Rule #5: Any uncomfortable conversation, brainstorm, or debate needs to happen in person. If you’re pulling the team together to figure out what went wrong, you’re going to need people to look each other in the eye and take responsibility. On the phone, people feel no compunction about blaming others and dodging their own share of the disaster, but that’s harder to do in person. Of course that’s not to say that there aren’t some sociopaths in the workplace who can look you in the eye and lie about anything; it’s just that there is no solution for sociopaths.

Of course my boss doesn’t consider himself a liar. When he looks you in the eye and tells you something that’s not true, he’s being honest about believing that rules don’t apply to him and that he’s better than you.


When you’re trying to incubate an idea or build a consensus, people are going to all chime in, and only in person can this work because on the phone they will all talk over each other, and no one knows what’s going on. In the end they will agree to anything because they will be frustrated at not being heard and just want to move on.

Why does the project suck, boss? Well, it was confusing when everyone kept interrupting each other, so I caught up on Words With Friends and then just agreed to everything.


Rule #6: If there’s a language barrier, it will be worse on the phone. So meet in person. If you struggle to make yourself understood over the phone, the person on the other end is also frustrated. If this happens in person, people are often more sympathetic and more patient. Also there will be non-verbal or even written things that can be done to make it go better.

And if you can’t meet in person, then get someone who can talk for you to join you on the phone so they can help.

We struggled for a half hour on that call because of a language barrier, but we met in person and got it solved. But there’s no solution for a stupidity barrier.

So there you go. Six rules and one golden rule. As soon as someone chisels these onto stone tablets for me, maybe we can change the office world for the better.
Any to add? Let me know in the comments.
         

Sometimes, it’s all about a good mug shot: A recap of the @MeetingBoy debates

Last week I held debates on which was better or worse– working for The Man or working for yourself. I had three opponents – Lauren from ARoundTuit Organizing & Productivity, Patrick from The Sunshine Initiative and Andy from his own blog, andytraub.com. While they all did well, let’s be honest– they had the easy job. I had to somehow defend the advantages of working for a company and a boss.

They all painted a pretty rosy picture, though Andy was willing to concede that when you start out on your own it isn’t easy. As he said:

Don’t go out on your own….

Without the support of your spouse.

A service you know people want.

A pool of clients.

And some cash reserves.

And a good mug shot.

I think right there– cash reserves and pool of clients— is why most people don’t go out on their own, and may never have the chance to. Something else that came up is that while you may be working for yourself, you may need others to help too, especially to do the tedious chores. Andy mentioned that he had a virtual assistant:

Andy: I have a VIRTUAL ASSISTANT that does a lot of work for me too. He’s in the Phillipines.

MeetingBoy: So you’re his boss! You’ve just passed the hassle down to him. Or by virtual do you mean he’s some sort of robot butler? TO BE CLEAR: MY JOB WOULD BE A LOT BETTER WITH A ROBOT BUTLER!

Andy: No, he’s a great human being. Name is Jeff, speaks great English and loves working for $6.50 an hour.

MeetingBoy: Maggie, tell your engineers at join.me/LogMeIn to get to work on the ROBOT BUTLER. I’ll be in the test group.

All three scored a lot of points in three areas that I can’t possibly best them in:

1. Less meetings. Because they are billing people by the hour, they find that their clients are more productive in meetings and that there are fewer of them. I remain skeptical on this point, because my boss has brought a number of consultants in, and if anything he wastes more time bragging and trying to impress them with how much he doesn’t need their help and knows everything anyways than he does on internal meetings.

2. Not as many fools to suffer. The big point they all made is that they (mostly) get to pick who they want to work with, rather than being stuck with whatever idiot boss or coworkers I’m paired up with. It seemed like the longer they’d been on their own, the more freedom they had to fire a bad client. However, Andy painted quite a rosy picture on this one, to the point where it sounded like he was the boss of his clients, to which I responded: You sound like the really hot girl in high school who can see everyone on her own terms, and they just drop everything for her. Certainly that can’t work for everyone.

3. Less micromanaging. Since most micromanaging occurs because the person can come over and harass you while you’re working, the opportunity for people like my boss to stick their nose into every little detail is greatly reduced.

However, I still think that they lost in a two key areas near and dear to my heart:

1. They are taking client calls at any time, even weekends and vacation. They claim they don’t have to, that they love their job, but the only time I answer my boss’s call on vacation is when he’s left at least 200 messages in a panic, and my calling in makes me the hero and him the fool. Otherwise, “I was in the mountains. No cell service. What did I miss?” People at work think I take really exotic vacations, when really I just refuse to answer the phone.

2. Money magically appears in my account every week, no matter how lazy, sick, surly or distracted I may be. And if my laptop or cellphone breaks, gets a virus, or is lost, well, they just issue me a new one.

In the end, going out on your own is a personal decision, and of course one which I could never do myself. After all, if MeetingBoy ceased to work in an office for a boss and with a bunch of lazy, stupid idiots, then he would cease to exist. Sadly for me, happiness is an existential threat.

If you’d like to read more, check out a few of my favorite excerpts:

And Patrick has already posted his take on our debates in two parts, the great debate 1 and the great debate 2.

And since he had a little fun with it, as did I, you should check it out because there’s some funny parts, as well as frank discussion. A favorite bit is how working from home might be too quiet for him:

“ALL I have is privacy. Like, J.D. Salinger privacy. …We have a new rule that I’m not allowed to talk to my wife for an hour after she gets home because at first I was talking her head off.” – Patrick

Till next time…

         

The MeetingBoy Debates: Corporate vs. Independent

Attention: What are your thoughts on corporate vs. independent business? MeetingBoy is about to talk to the best in business – but he needs to know what you want to know about. See below, comment & let’s get to debating.

Since I became MeetingBoy in June 2009, the top response I get is “do you work at my company?” Second to that is “you remind me why I’m glad I don’t work for a company any more and now work for myself”. And frankly, I don’t get that. How is that different? Don’t you still have clients, and aren’t clients really just bosses? Aren’t you still working with people, and aren’t people still lazy, stupid, and unreliable?

But of course I’m biased. So I have proposed a series of debates, Corporate versus Independent, which will happen on join.me free screen sharing later this month. And I’ve roped in some people to debate me, including Mike Figliuolo of Thought Leaders and Peter Shankman (see his blog).  But I need your help– I’ve got a preliminary list of questions, but I want to know what you want us to answer. The debates should be a mix of education, humor, bitterness, and resentment.

Proposed Questions

1. Trust: How do we know you’re working, and not on Twitter all day? How do we know you’re working on what we’re paying you for?

2. Managing: How can you possibly get things right without the boss’s notes and directions? How long does it take for you to find things have changed? How often do you have to check-in to make sure you’re on the right track?

Is it possible to succeed without my boss’s constant micromanaging? Because according to him, it’s not.

3. Support: How do you get paid? Isn’t it tedious to have to go collect everything, to write your own contracts? How do you get help when things are broken?

4. Boundaries: Are you ever on vacation? Not taking calls?

Haven’t you ruined your home by making it the office? And every coffee shop too? Because no one is ever going to believe you are really doing what they’ve asked you to do, don’t you have to work when you’re sick, work after hours, and work on weekends? There’s no way to ever completely prove yourself to the people paying you, is there?

5. Compensation: It always seems like consulting pays better, but doesn’t a million unemployed people who can all claim they are “consulting” drive down your ability to get a good rate? How do you argue for a raise? For more money/time when things are tougher than you expected, or the client throws you a curveball?

6. Time-wasting meetings: Sure, you don’t have the meetings we do in corporate, but don’t you just have the same number of conference calls?

7. Conference call or meeting: Which is worse, better, why?

8. Keeping current: Where do you find new buzzwords, make sure yours are current, if you’re not in the office to hear what the corporate peacocks and copycats are all saying?

9. Social interaction: Do you get lonely? Do you need privacy? What’s the right amount of each?

10. Conflict & Accountability: How do you make people do things? Hold up their end? Not change their mind and make it your problem? Don’t you need to get in their face? Make them worry about looking bad?

Like I said, there’s probably more to argue about, so please add your questions– or your tweaks to the above questions– in the comments below.

Who should debate me?

Aside from the people listed above, is there someone else who spins great tales of the independent consultant/work for yourself life that you think should debate me? If so, let me know. And if you think you should debate me, tell me why.

UPDATE:

The debate schedule for Wednesday, February 23, all times EST:

9AM Lauren Davidson (@OrganizerLauren) of ARoundTuit Organizing & Productivity

12PM Andy Traub (@AndyTraub) of andytraub.com

2PM Penelope Trunk (@PenelopeTrunk) of penelopetrunk.com

7PM Patrick Saleeby (@littleepistles) who also writes a weekly roundup of Tweets From The Trenches on his blog

All debates will take place on join.me at https://join.me/MeetingBoy. All you need is a browser to watch and comment.

This should be enough times for anyone around the world to catch one, and I hope you do. It’s quite a lively group.

@MeetingBoy

         

Whose Turn Is it? And Who’s Talking?

Another great post from @MeetingBoy… can’t wait to see your suggestions.

Even when conference calls aren’t a total waste of time, there’s still two problems that always come up. I have some ideas for how to solve them, but I’d like your suggestions for how to solve them without resorting to violence.

(Trust me, I’ve got that option covered.)

1. Who’s turn is it?

Because people can’t see each other on conference calls, and because many phones will mute people until the other person stops talking, it becomes very difficult to get someone to yield the floor. Shout all you want, they keep talking. Of course that one time you wheel out a string of expletives is the one time your boss actually comes to a point.

Or then there’s that awkward dance where two people try to talk at the same time, realize their mistake and stop, then when the other person stops too, they both start talking again. Sound familiar?

There’s no Roberts Rules of Order for conference calls. Which is crazy because every society has found ways to keep people from interrupting. Hell, even in The Lord of the Flies they had the conch.

In an attempt to stop this sort of thing on calls I’ve run, I’ve texted people to “SHUT THE HELL UP! We got it.” This helps less than I’d hoped– poor cell coverage and the unlikelihood someone will check their phone when they are talking have rendered it moot.

And of course no one has yet to invent a phone that allows the moderator to mute other people. [NOTE TO INVENTORS: If you’re working on this, please also add a second button that allows the moderator to apply electrical shocks to other people on the call. I’d pay a million dollars for a phone that does that– it would be like playing God!]

How can this be solved? join.me has suggested that if you use their product, then the moderator could tell people whose turn it is via chat. I haven’t seen this attempted, but it might work. What else?

2. Who’s talking?

On every conference call where people don’t know each other well, at some point people get confused about who’s talking. Who just requested that– Ted or Barry? Which one is Kristi and which one is Lisa– 3 minutes after they’ve introduced themselves I’ve lost it. And once you’ve lost track of which voice is which, then forget about it– you’re lost. And then there’s nothing you can do, unless you want to always be asking “Who was that? Can you guys identify yourselves each time, because I happen to be an idiot.”

Maybe the guys who made the Shazam app are working on an app that will identify people’s voices on conference calls. Otherwise, on the next call, I’m going to demand that:

1.  Kristi speak in a southern accent

2.  Lisa speak Valley Girl

3.  Debbie speak like a Russian prostitute in a cheesy action movie

4.  Heather do her Snooki impression

5.  Stacey talk just like the sheriff in Fargo

6.  Melody use baby talk

7.  Maggie pretend she’s a late night FM deejay

8.  Lewis use a duck voice

9.  Don use a Barry White voice

10. Steve use falsetto

11. Robert pretend he’s auditioning for another adaptation of Pride and Prejudice

12. and of course I get to speak normally

Sure, it might sound extreme, but it will work. Unless, of course, people break character -then we’re back at square one.

Another suggestion I got on my brainstorm was that rather than have to identify yourself each time, people will each be assigned a funny word they must use to start each sentence. For example, Mike will always say “crikey!”, Robert will start each sentence with “back in my day”, Steve will start by laughing at his own joke (no change required), and Don will start everything “well, I may be an ass, but…” Of course Lewis will start each sentence by saying “Can you repeat that?” because he never listens when other people talk already. And we’ll still know Jason because he rambles and rarely makes a point. And Kevin will start everything with “My call dropped. What did I miss?” just like always.

One final thought– maybe this is the one time that the bad connections are actually useful:

1.  Monica is on the choppy cellphone

2.  Ana sounds like Darth Vader because she won’t hold the phone away from her face

3.  Corinna is stuck on VOIP and sounds like she’s in an echo chamber

4.  Aishwarya is on an annoying delay from India

Of course for this to work everyone has to have a different crappy connection.

What other suggestions do you have for solving these problems? And let’s try to answer other than suggesting video conferencing, which obviously lets people use visual cues– as long as those cues aren’t lost to the choppy video relay. How do you solve these problems on regular conference calls?

         

Brainstorm with @MeetingBoy – Why Conference Calls Suck

Our good friend @MeetingBoy is back, and he’s talking conference calls – probably a favorite subject of working people everywhere (hint: that was filled with sarcasm.) Check out his latest event below. We’ll see you there.

Now is the portion of the day known as the conference call. I call it talk radio time. You listen to idiots out in the boonies spouting off. —@BlondHousewife

Conference calls suck. I’m working on a new post about the things people do on them. I want to go beyond my original post Stop Wasting My Time – Conference Call Edition, and get a list of what you see people doing that is counterproductive and needs to stop. I’ll give away a few calendars to people with helpful suggestions. Please leave a comment here, or join me at https://join.me/MeetingBoy on Monday, 1/17, at 3PM EST.

         

Jingle: 12 Days of Meetings

In case you missed the online brainstorm with MeetingBoy, he posted the lyrics to his new song “12 days of Meetings.” Be one of the first to sing this song on YouTube and MeetingBoy will gladly send you one of this 2011 calendars (they are hilarious, by the way.)

Here’s his original post:

On the first day of meetings, my office gave to me: a status call in Conference room B!

On the twelfth day of meetings, my office gave to me

12 salesman lying
11 angry clients
10 stupid buzzwords
9 bad ideas
8 urgent emails
7 copiers jamming
6 bosses yelling
5 conference calls
4 budget cuts
3 Reply Alls
2 PowerPoints
And a status call in Conference room B
contributors: @mr_anthropist@discoverpiano, and @leo_g_ash

And between now and Christmas Eve, I will give away up to 5 @MeetingBoy calendars to anyone who records themselves singing it and posts to YouTube. If I get more than 5 people singing, I’ll pick my favorites. So start caroling!

– MeetingBoy

         

12 Days of Meetings – a brainstorm with @MeetingBoy

It’s that time of year again. You know, that certain atmosphere your office gets around the holidays. Maybe it’s all the chocolates floating around your office from various vendors, or the vacation days people are trying to use up before they lose them… anyway, you get the idea.

We wanted to celebrate this special time in the office with @MeetingBoy by creating a special song to the tune of “12 Days of Christmas” – but office-style. Here’s what he’s got so far, but he needs your help at 2 pm EST on Friday at https://join.me/meetingboy to come up with a great tune. Bonus: He’ll post the final lyrics on Saturday, and do a giveaway for up to 5 people who post themselves singing the lyrics on YouTube before Christmas. What’s he giving away? You’ll have to ask him on Thursday.

On the twelfth day of meetings, my office gave to me:

12 salesman lying

11 workers blaming

10 bosses yelling…

He wants your help to finish it, so start brainstorming and join him at 2 pm EST on Friday at https://join.me/meetingboy.

         

Get your hands on a 2011 @MeetingBoy calendar

Last week when I got to the office I had a package waiting for me (isn’t snail mail so much more fun now that all you get is emails?). MeetingBoy sent me some of his 2011 calendars. Pretty cool, right? So cool we thought we’d do a little something for our join.me and @MeetingBoy fans. Here’s MeetingBoy, breaking it down:

As part of my ongoing relationship with join.me, I’ll be asking people a question on Monday each week on their Facebook page, and then at the end of the week, Maggie (the person from join.me) will choose a winner and send them a 2011 MeetingBoy Calendar. I will also pick out my favorite answers and post them on my blog at meetingboy.com, so that the best (i.e., funniest and cleverest) get seen by all. The first question is up on join.me’s Facebook page.

Some nitty gritties: The calendar giveaway will be every Monday until February 28th, so there’ll be plenty of chances to win. Don’t forget to check out Facebook every Monday and Friday to see the questions, answers and winners. And hey – if you impress MeetingBoy with an answer, who knows what will happen. Good luck.

Don’t forget to “LIKE” our join.me Facebook page as well!

         

Brainstorm on Meeticus – The God of Meetings

Remember Meeticus? You know, the God of Conferences that @MeetingBoy created during our last brainstorm? Well, it’s time to bring him back and figure out exactly what he’s all about.

Tomorrow at 2 PM EST, @MeetingBoy will be holding a join.me brainstorm at https://join.me/meetingboy to discuss Meeticus and all things related to this (fictional but possible) Greek God.

Come prepared by thinking about these questions:

1.  What are the characteristics of Meeticus?

2.  What’s his story?  What’s his background?

3.  Where do you see him fitting in to every day life?

4. What ritual sacrifices would he require?

5. How does he fit in with other gods? Will he be the bore they all avoid?

6. How does he appear to his followers? A burning printer?

What are we missing? Leave a note in the comments below.

         

Five Meetings To Avoid – @MeetingBoy

Oh, @MeetingBoy. What an expert. After his join.me session, we were discussing one of the questions that came up: Have you ever been to a good meetings? What’s that like? It got us talking about the topic of meetings that should be banned from the office (and that’s a nice way of putting it. I am a lady, after all). Here’s his top five meetings to avoid – if you can help it.

Five Meetings To Avoid

By @MeetingBoy

Many meetings are ruined by people – the attendees, the meeting holder – but some meetings are just doomed no matter what.

1. Weekly Status Meeting. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Status meetings should go the way of the dodo. No one can make a status meeting interesting, because the whole premise is flawed. Instead of holding status meetings, the project manager (or some poor stooge who reports to them that they delegate all their boring tasks to) should go from person to person to get their updates. Or the project manager could make each member of the team stop by their office for five minutes to catch them up. Either way, the total amount of time wasted would be greatly reduced. Do the math:

12 member team in status, each has 5 minutes of updates:

Status meeting = 12 people for 1 hour + 1 hour for project manager = 13 hours

Individual updates to project manager = 5 minutes for 12 people + 1 hour for project manager = 2 hours

Either way the project manager only spends one hour, but everyone else on the team saves 55 minutes. Why doesn’t this happen? Why?!!!!

#joinmetip: You can use join.me to collaborate quickly with other team members or project managers – without wasting anyone’s time. Time is money, people.

2. False brainstorms. These are brainstorms for projects with tiny budgets and narrow room to operate. Lately, I have these all the time. What they really want is what we did last quarter…but in green. A different shade of green. You don’t need a room full of creative people coming up with ideas when you don’t really want ideas! It’s not really a brainstorm at all.

3. Meetings to plan other meetings. Because it’s a planning meeting, people feel they don’t need an agenda, so it becomes hour after hour of flailing.

The true agenda of a meeting to plan another meeting:

  • Remind everyone what a big shot they are and that their meeting is super-important. Not like all those other meetings.
  • Keep people from working on other projects, making them more dependent on this one.

Meetings to plan other meetings aren’t to make the meeting more efficient, but to prepare people for the boredom in the later meeting. It’s supposed to be a boredom vaccine.”

#joinmetip: As we like to say, get your people together without getting your people together. What does that mean? It means instantly collaborating with exactly who you need to meet with – without ever moving from your seat. Or having a “meeting” to plan other meetings.

4. All-company meetings, especially annual recap ones. The ratio of actual information dissemination to VIP preening and bragging is criminally low. In fact often the whole thing could have been accomplished with a 2-sentence email:

Raises–only 2%, bonuses canceled. Company financial health poor.

5. All other meetings*.

*except raises, bonuses

And of course this list isn’t comprehensive. I could go all day:

  • Any meeting where it’s unacceptable to say “that’s what she said”.
  • Any meeting where Ralph Wiggum would be in the 50th percentile.
  • After a popular celebrity dies. No work will be done or discussed.
  • When the boss is in a bad mood.

Although these didn’t make the top 5, can you make a case for any one of these meetings? Do you have any of your own to add?