If you’ve been working at all in the past 50 years, you’ve probably sat through a lot of meetings and presentations. Sales meetings. New employee orientations. The boring weekly staff meetings. Employee development training. People need to communicate and share information and ideas, but with all the new technology available, it’s a wonder we can communicate at all. Just trying to get a bunch of people to successfully dial in to a conference call (if the phone works, and if the provider’s service doesn’t’ go down, and everyone got the email with the phone number and access code, etc., etc.) can be an exercise in futility. And that’s the simple stuff.
Yesterday I had my first Skype meeting with a client. I went on Skype’s website and signed up for an account, got my login and password and was all set…so I thought. The time came, and I got a notice from Skype that my client was logging in, so I went to Skype and didn’t see the client. No pictures, no one staring at me from the great beyond. I also had another website open and saw I had a message flashing that I needed to log into Go-To-Meeting for so he could walk me through a process with screen shots and other visuals. So I did that, got connected, and checked back, only to find several email message from my client who still couldn’t see me on Skype. Go-To-Webinar also had a phone number and access code for audio, so I quickly dialed up and was soon talking to a frantic client who was obviously more into digital communication than I was. Great technology—two very different levels of competency.
We ended up going through everything and concluded the meeting, but this is a great example of how digital communications can be more of a hindrance than a help. Not everyone is on the same level of interest, understanding, comfort and confidence with multiple forms of communications technology. There are great new tools, like using hand-held remote controls during a meeting to vote on issues, survey the audience, or using Twitter to gather feedback in real time. Great if they work. Confusing, distracting and a waste of time if they don’t.
I saw a video recently where companies are encouraging employees to pick up a pencil and paper and write or draw by hand. A pencil, paper and an idea encourage creativity. Taking notes is a personal expression of what is important to you and how your mind works best. I like to jot down notes and then use my own symbols, like stars, arrows and circles around words to emphasize what’s important. My notes on the same information would be totally different from someone else.
To help people focus and get creative, use these “vintage” communications tools at your next meeting.
1. No handouts. Give everyone a notebook and pencil and tell them to take notes. In my experience, few people ever make a note on the handout pages from a PowerPoint presentation.
2. No PowerPoint. No, the slides won’t be emailed later, either. No one goes back and reads them again, anyway.
3. Put people into discussion groups. Don’t leave it up to them. Put different colored dots on the notebooks and then have people get in groups according to colors.
4. Have groups write down ideas on whatever you’re discussing or brainstorming. Use flip chart paper and hand out markers.
5. Have the group appoint a spokesperson. They then will give a presentation to the whole meeting on the group’s ideas.
I don’t care if the new PowerPoint has better graphics than a Steven Spielberg movie. After the fifth slide or so, if nothing is required other than sit and stare at the screen, people will blank out, start to daydream, text or check emails under the table or just log on to their laptops and ignore you completely. Get people engaged and interacting. Their notes will reflect what they want to remember and may even put into action.