How to shift the culture of terrible business meetings

We all know how awful meetings are – especially when there are so many of them. Johnny Warström of Mentimeter talks about the problems with meetings and how small businesses can benefit from making some changes.

We have a lot of meetings, but some of them are unengaging, boring and no one really takes on any opinions other than presenter’s.

Boring meetings are a huge issue in business generally.

However, there is a reason we book so many of them – there is a fundamental need for humans to interact and to collaborate when there’s an unclear task.

The problems with business meetings

The main problem is that there are so many of them! You also have problems pre-meeting: what type of information is distributed beforehand, who is attending, and if there is a clear purpose and goal.

One big issue is that people are not participating, so knowledge isn’t being gathered. It’s not the most optimal way of conducting the meeting as only one person is communicating so it’s a very one-way thing.

Dealing with different personalities

Some personality types definitely suffer in meeting situations. Derailing (going off-course) happens all the time.

There’s this ‘speak-first’ bias that happens all the time in meetings. The loudest person speaks and sets the tone and the agenda for the meeting. If you as a leader want to come around that then you can do other exercises to increase the chances of getting everything heard.

Unproductive meetings

Elon Musk simply walks out of unproductive meetings. I think they have a point with modern business meetings. They’re handled so badly that something needs to be done.

But if they’re bad and unproductive we need to find another better way of doing it. Let’s change that and see what happens to the culture.

That said, you have to think about the business internally as well. Maybe it’s better to give constructive feedback to your colleagues rather than doing what Musk does.

How internal culture can affect progress

Internal culture can limit how things are done. Small businesses have an advantage here – they’re not restricted by the mentality that ‘everything has been done like this’ and they can find different ways of solving the problem.

It’s just trying to re-invent the meeting setting.

This spills into wedding speeches and other presentations too. The leader of the situation wants to have more fun, engage people, make them learn. It’s not just in business – it’s in life.

So, how can small firms benefit over big business?

If you want to be an innovative company where people are being listened to, they feel their ideas are being taken into consideration and you have an inclusive and transparent business culture, there is a lot you can do.

I would say that small companies need to stand out somehow – they don’t have the muscle and the finances of the big companies. They can do this by being more innovative and fast-moving, by being better than the big, stale competitors.

Having the right tools can help you achieve that.

Being listened to is key to wanting to be at a workplace. If employees don’t, they do the one or two years then they’re off to your next career path.

Be proactive, then lead by example. These micro-changes will change the company, especially if you’re small.

The power is with the individual. There are so many companies that are successful.

Organising stand-out meetings

Take inspiration from others – firms like Spotify are conducting themselves in a very modern way. You can really choose what meeting structure you want to have these days.

Standing-up meetings are very efficient. You stand up for ten minutes, then you sit down. They’re good for solving one thing, getting your day started.

Then there are meetings where you want people to be super-alert so maybe you try a quiz and you want the playfulness. It doesn’t work in every type of meeting, but sometimes you want that extra edge.

Other companies encourage doodling and colouring in, have unusual forfeits for being late or start at very specific times.

Global cultures

The interesting thing is that there are so many different cultures.

In the US, they have the image of being outspoken and everyone saying their piece. Even then, there’s still a need for tools which make their true voices heard.

Japan has this hierarchical culture where they don’t speak their mind unless they’re asked specifically – they might listen to the leader first before they speak.

In Spain, Holland and Sweden they have completely different dynamics and style too.

But still, there’s something about this common dynamic for people to be seen and heard, to be participating in a meeting or presentation that brings everyone together.

Johnny Warström is CEO and co-founder of interactive presentation platform, Mentimeter 

Further reading on meetings

Pointless and unproductive meetings cost SMEs £973,000 every year

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Anna Jordan

Anna is Senior Reporter, covering topics affecting SMEs such as grant funding, managing employees and the day-to-day running of a business.

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