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:
* Taking phone messages for people who are in meetings, and,
* 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
There are two major kinds of meetings:
* 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.
* 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 be 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).
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.