Meeting Monster #4: Distracted Drivers

Keep all eyes on the road ahead

Running a meeting is like operating a piece of machinery with as many moving parts as there are people in the room. If participants in the meeting are distracted, they may not hear all the information they need to make the best decisions for the organization.

As the presider, you are in the driver’s seat. It is important to make sure that all parts of the equipment are running properly so that the decision-making machine can do its job – efficiently and effectively. Here are a few tips to keep all eyes on the road

1. Close and lock the doors

It is no surprise that people are inundated with information and electronic distraction. Emails, text messages, social media posts are all vying for attention and can actually block our ability to see what is happening right in front of our eyes.
Do not be afraid to resort to luddite approaches to meetings by banning laptops, tablets or even phones from the meeting. The agenda of the meeting or the wording of a resolution is exactly the same when it appears on paper rather than on the screen. Alterations to these documents may actually require greater mindful attention.

The very same people who may object and cling to their devices or object to paper use are often the very same people who appreciate the greater concentration that comes from taking time away from electronic devices and working in a more “old school” manner.

2. Beep the horn gently

For some people, the addiction may be too great. Instead of turning off their phones they simply mute them, but still keep an eye on any messages. People facing laptops often have any number of windows running in background. Even if they aren’t actively engaging with the distractions, their roving eyes are not focusing on the discussion at hand.

If you notice people glancing at their phones, it is important to call it out as soon as possible. You don’t need to make it personal by calling out any particular offender directly. A gentle reminder such as “Members are reminded to avoid any distractions,” should do the trick.

3. Rev the engine slightly

If you find that there is one individual who is repeatedly distracted despite your best warnings, the next option is to bring them into discussion. Call on them first to address the next topic on the agenda. As the presider, you can start the discussion in a multitude of ways, e.g. by those who raise their hand first, by going around the table, or by calling on individuals. “We haven’t heard from Julie in a while, let’s start the discussion with her.” You can do this when they are clearly distracted or when they are not.

It might be awkward to call on a distracted meeting participant, and you might have to use the silent treatment while you wait for them to regain their focus. But consider that punishment for the distracted driving. The rewards are also great. When someone starts a conversation, they usually are more engaged in the subsequent discussion than when they are just one voice in the middle of many. You may find the distracted driver is now fully driving the conversation.