Surviving the two-hour meeting

There should be a rule that no meeting can ever last longer than two hours.

There should be a rule that no meeting can ever last longer than two hours.

Studies have shown that after 120 minutes, enough oxygen has been sufficiently sucked out of any meeting room that the participants inevitably hit a point of diminishing intellectual and spiritual returns. Studies have also shown that there is a 50% chance you'll be sitting in one of those weird conference room chairs that is either too high, too low, too stiff, too tilted, or has too many complicated levers to figure out how to adjust it.

One of my least favorite and recurring moments in professional life is when I'm so bored and tired in a meeting that I have to pinch myself in order to stay awake. I try to do it surreptitiously, but I wonder if other participants in the meeting can see me digging fingernails into my thighs, calves, and forearms while trying to unglaze my eyes.

When I worked for a Japanese company, it was perfectly acceptable to fall asleep in a meeting, particularly if you had just traveled across a major ocean. It was not uncommon to see a colleague in full-on snooze mode, mouth open and eyes shut, happily checked out of the drudgery being perpetrated on the other inhabitants of the conference room.

There is a real danger, however, to nodding off in a public forum, which is, of course, the dreaded head-bob that wakes you up and makes you wonder how many people actually just witnessed the head bob. And, of course, there's the drooling sleeper, but let's not go there.

It's not particularly acceptable for people to conk out in boring meetings in most countries. However, since I desperately fear being caught mid-drool in a corporate nap, I have developed a few secret tricks that not only keep me awake and occupied, but also make it appear as if I'm taking studious notes or noodling a complicated strategic issue.

An old standby is to try and remember my salary and annual compensation for every year that I have worked since graduating college. This is not so easy to do - can you remember what your salary was in 1996? This exercise is tricky because if the piece of paper I'm writing on falls into the wrong hands, or if the equally bored colleague sitting next to me has wandering eyes, then my entire personal financial history will be revealed.

Another surefire remedy is to try and list every country I've visited, which includes weird, arbitrary rules such as "had to spend at least one night there."

There are, of course, variations to this theme. I have tried to reconstruct my high school class schedule replete with teachers and grades, as well as my college classes and teachers. And then, of course, one can list their history of sexual partners, but for some that might only take a few minutes, while for others this could be a long, exhausting, depressing, and difficult exercise.

However, technology has become the modern savior from all meetings. Blackberrys, iPads, and laptop computers are perfectly suitable accoutrements for any meeting. As a result, for reasons that utterly stupefy me, it is now acceptable to send and read e-mails during a meeting.

And if you're typing on a keyboard and no one can see your screen, it is assumed that you're taking notes when, in fact, you might be bidding for a rare and valuable Pez dispenser on eBay or looking at pictures of your niece's wedding on Facebook.

All of which certainly beats pinching your inner thighs with your fingernails.

Maybe it's time I start to schlep a laptop to meetings.


Don Spetner is EVP, corporate affairs at executive recruitment firm Korn/Ferry International.

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