The Number One Meeting Rule: If You Are In, Be In.

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About 4 minute(s) long

I really don’t want to be here!

How often have you sat in a meeting and wished you were somewhere else, or seen others who are clearly miles away – in some other work, some other place or time.
The signs are always there – staring into the distance, fiddling with a gadget or being engrossed in the laptop.

When I convene any meeting of more than 3 people – I stress my number rule of group collaboration:

It’s ok to be out, but if you are in – be in!

What does it mean to be ‘In’?

Being ‘In’ means being 100% engaged in the conversation – you don’t have to talk all the time or do anything spectacular, you just need to be mentally and emotionally present.
When you are in – you are focused on the conversation. You are listening, questioning, participating with others to reach the purpose of the conversation.

It is a specific kind of mindfulness – being in the moment, listening without judgement and being open to what is emerging – with the added aspect of doing it towards the purpose of the conversation.  Being ‘in’ is pretty hard to sustain for long periods.  Clearly, how long anyone can sustain it at a stretch is relative and personal – for me, I struggle to be ‘in’ for more than 45 minutes at a time.

Why is it important to be ‘In’?

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Image by Valerie Everett

There are few reasons why being present and accounted for in any conversation is important, here are some that I think are particularly important:

You get more from your conversation
Your senses are open to more that is being said – you really hear what is being discussed. You notice more, you question more and you likely get better answers.

You give more to your conversation.
When you are engaged and present, your collaborators feel that you are engaged and so you are more likely to have your input respected and heard. With your senses in the conversation, it is more likely that your collaborators feel they are being heard – one of our fundamental human needs.

Your conversations become more productive.
Imagine if everyone was ‘in’ – there would be fewer distractions and fewer distractions tolerated. You and your group could focus all your resources on the purpose at hand. With this kind of collective focus, your group will

You can count on your co-collaborators and they can count on you.
There is nothing worse than not being able to count on the participation of people who show up at a meeting. You are there for a purpose and there are people who don’t really want to be there – they are less likely to help tease and idea into some wonderful. If they contribute at all, it is usually because they are prodded to respond and even then, it is the barest minimum engagement.

When you are ‘in’ , your collaborators learn to count on you being present and you can count on them for the same.

5 Tips for being ‘In’.

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  1. Have more interesting meetings
    You are more likely to be ‘in’ if something that is being discussed interests you  –  either that you can contribute to or learn from. So learn to say ‘No’ to meetings that do not interest you.
  2. Have shorter meetings
    It is a safe bet that anything over 1 hour without breaks will burn out the ability to be ‘in’ of most people. Encourage people who invite you to meetings to keep them shorter to help you give your undivided presence.
  3. Ban laptops in meetings, discourage phone fiddling
    Meetings where everyone is armed with their laptops are awful – everyone has their head down doing who-knows-what. Declare a general amnesty and ask attendees to check their ‘weapons’ at the door – this could actually be another way to get shorter meetings. Few people in this ‘always on’ world can bear to be away from email or IM for more than an hour!
    Also – ask that people not check their phones – put them on silent or vibrate – instead build breaks every 15 minutes or so to help them get their notification fix.
  4. Be Explicit.
    Be explicit about being ‘in’ , but make it ok to be ‘out’ and people don’t have to attend if they are ‘out’.
  5. Explicitly Check In
    For longer meetings – do a check in at the start and after every break. Also make it ok for attendees to ‘check out’ at any time – by raising their hand or simply notifying the group with as little disruption as possible.

I hope these tips help you be more present in your meetings and to recognise when others are. I’d love to hear what other ways you find to help you and your group be ‘in’.


Image by David Blackwell.

I’m the founder of Amazemeet and like most people who’ve worked in professional organisations for the last 20 years, I’ve spent a lot of that time in meetings. And they mostly sucked.

I’m on a mission to help people and organisations do meetings better.

Author: Mike Sutton

I'm the founder of Amazemeet and like most people who've worked in professional organisations for the last 20 years, I've spent a lot of that time in meetings. And they mostly sucked. I'm on a mission to help people and organisations do meetings better.

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