|Having a hard time paying attention during a meeting? Probably not the first time! Look around, someone
in the room is probably engaged in one of these activities. If you're leading the meeting, and you see one
of these going on - well, you'd better consider "improving your meetings!"
1. Pretend to Transcribe the Speech - It's not a life-draining mass of irrelevant lecture - it's a typing
tutorial! Send yourself a text message! Using your cell phone, imperceptibly pretend to type what you hear.
You can either take a depth-first approach by "typing" the largest phrase you can, or a breadth-first
approach by "typing" individual words as they fly by.
2. Count Letter Occurrences - Pick a letter you like, and try to count how many times it is used in the
words spoken. If you can do this with two or more letters at the same time, you have achieved mastery.
Alternatively, you could look for a word beginning with "a", then one beginning with "b", and so on down the
alphabet. Getting past "x" can take a little imaginative intervention, but it can't be you who says the word.
Standing up and shouting "Merry Xmas", whatever the time of year, might get them automatically
murmuring a reply before they realize what they're saying.
3. Annotate with Poetry - Mentally rephrase sentences heard so they rhyme. Come up with a Meeting
Haiku (example below) describing the subject matter of the meeting or your predicament. Haiku is a kind
of Japanese poetry that usually combines three different lines, with a distinct grammatical break, called
kireji, usually placed at the end of either the first five or second seven sound units.
4. Grammatical Parsings - Try to identify every verb in every sentence spoken. Once you get good at this,
up the difficulty by dredging up other sentence-structure rules and try to mentally diagram what you hear.
5. "Jive" Filters - There is a set of Unix software toys that take text as input and do some goofy conversion
on it (See: http://www.8oz.com/jive/). Turning your mind into a machine that does a similar conversion will
help distract it from the sad state that it is in.
6. Psychedelicize the Meaning - Imagine they're talking about something bizarre or fun. They aren't talking
about their "long-term business plan", they're talking about their plan to replace the nation's pets with
robots. Or observe attendees' behavior for specific, credible evidence that they are actually robots, aliens,
foreign intelligence agents, or escaped mental patients.
7. Buzzword Bingo - Get a piece of paper. Draw a five-by-five grid on it. Now write in the boxes as many
lame, pointless buzzwords or acronyms as you can think of that are typically used in your meetings. Make
copies of this page for your meeting colleagues to have as well. Deploy for a meeting. When you've
crossed off five buzzwords in a line, stand up and shout BINGO. First one to shout out wins.
8. Learn to be Interested - Quite a bit more useful than some of the others, but just as challenging. In
general, resetting your attention can lead to some very enlightening experiences.
9. Make a Portrait of the Speaker - Simply draw a picture of whoever's leading the meeting in your
notebook. They think that you're paying attention to them and taking notes of key points. In fact, you're
looking at their face thinking "...the right eye is slightly above the left eye by the width of a nostril..."
Eventually, the pictures might actually start looking like the person you're drawing.
10. Figure out an escape plan! Whether or not this fails, figure out a way to never have to repeat the
mistake of attending a meeting like this again. If you have success with this one item, you can rightly justify
the cynicism of playing the above games.
11. Try to make the speaker's head explode - Using just your force of will, try to make the speaker's head
blow up, as in the David Cronenberg movie Scanners. They think you're being attentive when you're
actually thinking, "Come on, come on. Blow up already. Boom! Splat! Do it. Do it." If the meeting is bad
enough, you may want to change strategy and try to make your own head explode. Alternatively, while
they're talking you plot how you'll make their head explode when it's your turn to talk...
12. Pen Twiddling - Some practice pen twiddling, and have now mastered even the double helicopter with
finger-spin reset. Beginner? Learn how to choose pens by how well they spin.
13. Handheld Games - There are some cute games for the cell phones and Palm Pilots. For bonus points,
try one of those games that use the IR port. With the proper IR software you could carry on a conversation
with a like-minded soul during the meeting (or at least play battleship). You might also try transcribing the
meeting, who doesn't want to improve their Graffiti recognition/speed? But choose your game carefully.
HardBall, a clone of the old Atari "Breakout" game, can be just entertaining enough to get you through a
boring meeting, but anyone who looks at your fingers while you play it can tell you aren't taking notes.
14. Take control - If you have sufficient confidence or clout, and trust yourself to handle potential
political/emotional repercussions involved in taking over someone else's meeting, then assume the role
of moderator yourself and get things moving. Even if you don't fully take over, a few well-placed
interruptions to ask "What's the next item on the agenda?" or "Can you two go over the details later?" can
keep things moving along.
15. Revenge - See how assertive or obnoxious you can be without making other meeting participants
angry. Subtle insults that go over the heads of the meeting leaders, but are understood by other bored
participants, are the pinnacle of achievement.
16. Leave When Bored - If you are in a meeting and you are bored, LEAVE. You have that right as an
attendee. It's your time, after all. It is one of the odd rules that could never possibly work, but seems to. The
strength of this practice is that if you own the meeting and you know that people will Leave When Bored,
what do you do? You put the most important stuff first. Second, you probably think through why you're
having a meeting in the first place. Third, you'll be judicious in whom you invite. Pretty neat, huh?
17. Argue from Ignorance – Raise your hand and ask a question. Engage in debate. When used with
another person, this activity can be expanded by pooling our ignorance.
18. The Robot - This one is from one of the Dilbert series: During a meeting, you are a big robot. The
bridge is in your head and you are the captain of the robot; just imagine being Capt. Kirk living in your
head. You can give the robot orders like 'head 5 degrees starboard' and just move your head a bit to the
right. It's fun to play around with controlling yourself while playing your own captain.
19. Win Some Money - Act like you are taking notes, but really be solving Pentostrough's Theorem, which
has a $200,000 prize associated with it.
20. Emergency! Pull your cell phone out of your pocket, glance at it with a startled look, and get up and
leave. Optional: after standing, state out loud, “Oh my gosh! I gotta go, serious problem…”
Example: Meeting Haiku
Why am I sitting
In this dark conference room now?
Outside, the sun shines
Another slide show
More details than I could want
My desk gathers dust
Prove that you are smart
Ask more questions that show how
You feed your ego
Cool winds stroke soft grass.
Birds sing sweet in budding trees.
Is this meeting done?
Wasted in this conference room
On status updates
All our good intent
Lost in thick fogs of groupthink
Can't wait for the break
Reference: Many of these activities were published in http://c2.com/cgi/wiki?
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