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Last Updated: Tuesday, 9 November, 2004, 12:19 GMT
Why are meetings so boring?
By Duncan Walker
BBC News Magazine

Turgid business meetings are said to cost the UK 8bn a year. Everyone has to go to them, so why must they be so awful?

It's not just the complimentary beakers of lukewarm orange juice and trays of sandwiches that go to waste.

Sandwich
Sandwiches don't make a boring meeting any better

By the time the typical business presentation drones to an end the interest levels of the average listener will have curled up far faster than the crusts left for the cleaners.

The glazed expressions elicited by this army of Power Point-crazed middle managers costs the country about 8bn a year in wasted time, a study suggests.

Why then, if there must be meetings, are they so often deathly dull?

Dogged belief

Max Atkinson, who teaches public speaking techniques to business folk, points the finger of blame at slide shows.

SEVEN HABITS OF HIGHLY INEFFECTIVE SPEAKERS
Over-reliance on slides
Using a conversation voice
Umming and erring instead of pausing
Lack of eye contact
Repeatedly 'clicking' a pen
Bad jokes
Lack of enthusiasm

"In a lot of organisations it's not regarded as a proper presentation unless there's slides," he says.

This dogged reliance on "visuals" detracts from a speaker's eye contact with the audience. And used as a support by the nervous speaker, gimmicks become more important than delivery and enthusiasm for the subject.

"The extraordinary thing is that even people who don't like being on the receiving end when they're sitting in an audience still use the same slide-dependent approach when making presentations themselves," adds Mr Atkinson.

Travel expenses

A visiting professor at Henley Management College, he has calculated that if the average 30,000-a-year manager spends one hour a week in meetings where they don't pay attention, the total cost to British industry is 7.8bn a year.

Include travel expenses, preparation time, the cost of refreshments, hiring venues and equipment and the figure grows even more.

Yet still this self-defeating cycle continues, with thousands "attending presentations, from which they are getting little or no benefit".

David Brent talks to staff at 'The Office'
'Chilled out entertainers' create problems of their own

Another guilty party is those who, in true David Brent style, insist on telling bad jokes in a desperate attempt to keep the audience on-side. Others constantly fidget, fail to make eye contact or use their normal speaking voice when more attention should be paid to intonation and pauses.

Nobody is immune from the danger of being coerced into attending a boring meeting, says Mr Atkinson, but those likely to be addressed by finance directors or the IT department are in particular danger, he says.

Bubbling along

So can the British boardroom be rescued from these legions of monotone, fumbling Power Point diehards?

Mr Atkinson has a few tips for those who want to up their game. The ability to use metaphor, storytelling and rhetoric help keep interest levels bubbling.

And nothing is more important than the speaker having a passion for their topic.

"There's no such thing as a boring subject, only boring speakers," says Mr Atkinson. "A year ago I heard a guy give a speech about the history of pensions and he had 800 people rapt for an hour."


Been to a boring meeting? Let us know using the form below.

When in a boring meeting I cover one eye and fix the speaker's head in the blind spot of my other eye (this takes a little practice), which makes the head disappear. This makes the meeting much more interesting.
PRE, Brighton

My method for getting out of boring meetings is very simple. I move my chair an imperceptively small distance towards the door every 20-30 seconds and within half an hour I'm out of the room and nobody is any the wiser.
Mark, Leeds

I'd take issue with the professor's assertion that there's no such thing as a boring subject. I'm called upon to attend some right stinkers and take it from me, if Kylie Minogue leapt out of cake, clad in nothing more than her scanties, and proceeded to host the meeting, she only hold the room's attention until slide three of the inevitable Powerpoint presentation.
Francis, London, UK

If Kylie actually sang the presentation and gave you a backing video instead of a PowerPoint presentation, not only would you remember it, but the whole meeting would be over in less than five minutes.
Martyn, London

I once fell asleep in a meeting, toppled backwards off my chair; kicking a table over as I went. I didn't last long in that job
Oli, Manchester

We used to hold weekly meetings where everyone had to stand up, so that everyone kept brief and to the point. Sounds silly but it worked like a charm.
Caitlin, London, UK

I attended an induction meeting a few years ago and one of the attendees fell asleep in the afternoon. As he slid down in his seat, his head tilted back and he swallowed his tongue. Only the quick intervention from the meeting presenter saved him from choking to death.
Adrian Sinclair, Farnborough,Hampshire England

I once went to a meeting where I actually fell asleep. In itself not too good. Even worse was that there was only myself and the person I was meeting with.
Ed, London

What complimentary sandwiches? People should work in the health service do not have such luxuries even if meetings straddle right across lunch time........we are doing very well if there is even a cup of tea on offer
Graeme Hancocks, Leeds, UK

I remember one stand-up meeting which was hi-jacked by a project manager, who spoke for nearly three-quarters of an hour on a topic irrelevant to the majority of people at the meeting. He was then followed by someone who wanted to talk "off-topic, if we didn't mind". His took five minutes, and was of great relevance to everyone - it was what the meeting was all about!
Stephen Buxton, Coventry, UK

Long hair helps - you can pretend to concentrate on reading something whilst you close your eyes and let the presentation drift over your head, but you need a desk to lean on.
Andrea, Manchester

We used to have meetings to schedule further meetings. The problem got so bad that only the people whose purpose it was to hold these meetings actually got their work done. The rest of us had to try and squeeze our jobs into our "free" time.
Rob, London, UK

I actually quit my most recent job because of the vast amount of time - and taxpayers money - wasted over and over again in meaningless meetings..
Paul Robinson, Manchester

I'm in a boring meeting as I'm typing this. They think I'm taking notes. Revenge is mine!
Paul, Hong Kong

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