Close your laptop and pay attention

I recall a meeting in my stint at Panasonic when I was presenting my plan for a unified content and delivery system for in air applications and media suppliers. It had all the big wigs up to our VP of Engineering. I worked on my pitch as to why this was the right move going forward for the company and had all the relevant points to combat devil's advocates. I had been in many product pitch meetings so I was used to now seeing many people tuned out, attached to their keyboards. I vowed when my turn came that I would not let this happen as countless times I've heard in those meetings "I'm sorry, what did you say again?".

When I saw the clock struck 3pm I waited a few minutes for the attendees to take their seats. There were probably 30 or so people in the meeting as the golden rule in enterprise is "The more people's time you can waste the better". I sat there with the opening slide up, not saying a word. Eventually, minutes later the VP looked up and said "Are we starting this meeting?" I replied "Yes, as soon as all the laptops including yours are put away". There was a quiet moment of semi shock as most people didn't believe I actually just said that, but that is the beauty of a strong engineering market. When you don't fear for your job you're able to actually get work done. A little bit taken aback everyone closed their laptops and the meeting commenced. The meeting continued as planned and the project was green lighted and is still in place years later.

Rarely do people enjoy meetings outside of the meeting organizers themselves. However, they are a fact of life and if done properly can be a force for good within the company. It's when they get repetitive and meaningless that we start to complain. Rarely does anyone complain when shit gets done. Unfortunately, the human mind is unable to multitask, you can pretend you can, but you really are working with a single threaded design as I have yet to meet the person who can truly reply engagingly to an email while following word for word what is being presented during a meeting.

I often test this on people I see in meetings with their laptops open. Not once has anyone been able to answer the question correctly. "What was the last thing you heard?". Maybe it's just a pet peeve but I truly don't believe anyone has the ability to do these two things well at the same time. I often find it most beneficial to designate one person to take notes. When I know I'll need to recall something I'll make sure that person has taken that down properly, including reading it back to me for verification. If people feel that they can answer emails while being in the meeting then they probably shouldn't be there in the first place. Your reply to this should be "If you need to be on your laptop during this time, you should leave and we'll email you the meeting notes afterwards". This has the added benefit of meetings with fewer attendees.

I often see developers make this mistake. Developers on laptops during training (usually expensive) or when advisors or guest speakers are presenting. You shouldn't waste people's time by pretending you can multitask, people take note of this and it can hurt your personal brand within the company. This is something Jr developers need to grasp. It's better for you to fully absorb your surroundings, learning how people play off each other in the company, learning how the product works, how people talk about it, the acronyms, who are the product leaders. People respect you more when you give them your attention and engage with them.

If you're there, be there, meetings are not the time to be in the cloud.

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