The week of the meeting

Meetings are important. Particularly for student/supervisor and boss/employee communications, but also for any sort of team work, one face to face chat is generally worth a thousand emails. Some people have too many, and some people have enough, but I think we can all agree that across the board of professions out there, knowing how to attend a meeting is a fairly necessary skill.

So why is it that the meeting I attended last week was a display of some of the least professional behaviour I have ever seen? The attendees were professionals: scientists, managers, leaders and actual grown-up adults. And yet, the level of attention paid was similar at times to that of primary schools students. Email checking, texting, leaving the room frequently, having secondary conversations with other attendees, farting loudly… ok, maybe no loud farting, but everything else was definitely there.

This experience last week, and with other meetings over the past few years has led me now to present to you the SHITELLY factor, a function that I have just made up to quantify how badly some people behave at meetings. If your SHITELLY score crosses the SHITELLY threshold, then you are officially a Random Uninterested Distracted Employee who Doesn’t Understand Decent Etiquette. Yep, a RUDE DUDE.

The SHITELLY factor works like this. There are eight variables in the SHITELLY function, each ranging in value from 1 to 10. Some variables are our of your control, while others are within your grasp. Try to keep your SHITELLY score at the next meeting under 40.

The variables are, in the order that makes the best acronym:

S = Size, where 0 equals two people and 10 means more than 50.
The bigger a meeting is, the more likely you are to feel that you can take your mind off the matter at hand and onto your emails. In a meeting of 45 people there are plenty of places to hide and not pay attention. It’s pretty hard to zone out in a meeting of two, although not impossible.

H = Headspace, where 0 means you are on your A-game and 10 means you are dead.
A deadline, a hangover, or a problem at home may see you unable to concentrate on the meeting. If a paper is due the following day, or your child has just been suspended, or even worse, your Cheezels levels are dangerously low after a big night, this can have an obvious detrimental impact on behaviour.

I = Interest, where 0 means very interesting and 10 means a meeting on paint-drying watching technique.
If the subject of the meeting is interesting, then in theory you should be sitting straight, ears pricked, taking notes and asking questions. A boring meeting about protocols or anything in a language that you don’t understand (trust me, i’ve been there) is likely to greatly increase your SHITELLY score.

T = Tools, where 0 means you brought nothing at all to the meeting and 10 means you have your laptop with excellent wifi.
In reality, this variable is probably the most important. If you have access to your computer, be honest, the temptation to check email, news, weather, email, sport, email and options for dinner increases exponentially. A smart phone is similar, although slightly less distracting to others. Using a notepad is much better, although if the value of I is high enough, perhaps you will simply use the paper to make lists of things to Google later, rather than paying attention.

E = Environment, where 0 means a table in a quiet park on a still day and 10 means a warm dark lecture theatre.
Features of the meeting environment that affect the ultimate value of the SHITELLY score include room size, where a circular table is better than a long narrow table, or a lecture theatre, where you can simply hide at the back; light, where a dark room is worth more than a light airy space, and temperature, where, as for most activities, too hot or too cold only increases the final result.

L = Length, where 0 means less than 30 minutes and 10 means more than a week.
Presumably, most people can pay attention in a meeting for 30 minutes to an hour without checking their phones or needing to go to the toilet. A five day marathon, or even four hours of a meeting without a break, can lead to an increase in the SHITELLY score that only grows over time.

L = Leader, where 0 means an excellent coordinator who has already given you the agenda and knows what they’re doing, and 10 means, well, imagine the worst leader you can think of.
Whoever is running the meeting has big impact on how you’re going to behave at that meeting. Hopefully it’s someone you respect, who listens to others and has a realistic plan for the meeting, rather than someone who just wants to talk at you for three hours, or someone who forgot the meeting was on.

Y = Years of experience, where, 0 can mean newbie or expert, and 10 can also mean newbie or expert.
The impact of this variable on the final value of the SHITELLY score is hard to quantify. If you are new to the meeting world, then one would expect good behaviour, with high interest levels and professionalism, giving a low value. Similarly, if you have a senior position in your field, you would be expected to set an example for younger attendees and be a model meeting attendee. But, there is a lot of components to this. Perhaps you are so new that you are not expected to contribute anything to the meeting, and so you can feel free to zone out. Or maybe you are so senior that you feel you are are far too busy to pay full attention, and need to check your emails every 50 seconds.

Of course, these variables are not evenly weighted in reality, and their importance can vary from person to person. I have been to meeting of less than five people where someone has completely zoned out because the table was large enough for their computer screen not to be seen by others (weighting E over S), or because the topic was boring to them (I over S). And I am not saying that I have always come out with a low score on the SHITELLY scale. I am guilty of zoning out and being a RUDE DUDE at meetings as well, mainly due to the influence of S, H, I and T.

But this sort of behaviour wastes people’s time, money and energy. And I don’t care about your Y value on the SHITTELY score, it’s plain offensive to ignore a meeting that you are attending, even if you are the Queen. It can also become dangerous, if someone attending a meeting misses an important point because they are checking the football score.

So please, for the goodness of meeting goers everywhere, circulate the SHITELLY score, leave your laptop at your desk, and make sure that you are not a RUDE DUDE at your next meeting.

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3 thoughts on “The week of the meeting

  1. Also in the times before WiFi I made the conscious decision to skip a talk once in a while. I cannot concentrate 100% all day for several days. Maybe you miss something in that one talk, but all over you pick up more.

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  2. Yes that’s a good idea Victor. A well-designed meeting (and here I am talking more about meetings than conferences) should also have enough breaks so that people don’t feel as though their brains are fried!

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  3. Yes, meetings (two-way communication) and conferences (one-way communication) are very different. At meetings such behaviour is also much more disruptive and disrespectful. That not everyone in the room is interested in your talk at a large conference is completely to be expected. In fact you can be happy if one person in the room is thus inspired by what you tell to make a significant change in his/her work.

    At the EMS conference in 2014 there was no free WiFi in the rooms for the presentations (there was a working room with WiFi and you could buy access for a few Euro, which hardly anyone did). I really liked that, people paid much more attention. Unfortunately, this year they had the normal WiFi service again.

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