Staying Alert in Meetings

You may spend more than 50% of your workday in meetings. You may listen to conversations to which you are expected to contribute or to assimilate information. You may be listening to 45-minute presentations from managers on a new process or product. You may be leading a question and answer session with a group of customers and be expected to summarize the discussion.

Any of these situations require that you pay careful attention. You may be tired, bored, and comtemplating a meeting with your son’s teacher at 7:00. You are wondering why she has called the meeting with you and your wife. Many personal issues can distract us.

What can you do to focus mentally and physically in these various challenging situations during a typical workday?

Skip the desserts. I’m glad when clients have fruit and nuts for snacks at breaks and go light on the brownies and donuts. I know I will have a more attentive audience.

Make a game out of listening—especially to boring or repetitive presentations. Seek to learn something new. Challenge yourself to think of a way you might make the same tedious material more interesting to the group. Determine to find an idea in the content of the discussion that you will share at the family dinner that night.

Sit toward the front and in the center if you are in a classroom-style room listening to a speech. You will feel more pressure to be alert since the speaker will have you directly in his or her sight.

Doodling may be a good activity when you are not taking notes. Although this sounds counterproductive, this action will engage your right brain and you will respond with both the left and right brain, which will increase your alertness.

Certainly taking notes will keep you on task with the speaker or discussion topic. Don’t take notes in sentences, but use a key word or phrase method. If you take too many notes, you can lose the line of thought of the speaker.

Sit by people who will encourage you to pay attention by their own behavior. Avoid sitting by the jokesters and ones who want to carry on their own conversations instead of being attentive to the direction and content of the meeting.

Falling asleep and possibly snoring is no way to impress the boss or increase your understanding of what is happening in your organization. Once, during a speech that preceded mine, a person fell asleep. As we all tend to do when we realize that we have nodded off, he jerked his head back up suddenly, pulling a muscle in his neck. His pain was so severe he had to be carried out of the room on a stretcher!

So try to see yourself in similar situations and use these techniques to stay alert and make maximum use of meeting time.

Steve Boyd
Steve Boyd
Stephen D. Boyd, Ph.D., CSP, is Professor Emeritus of Speech Communication, College of Informatics, Northern Kentucky University, near Cincinnati. Steve won the Toastmasters International Speech Contest in 1970 and was chosen Outstanding Professor of the Year at NKU in 1984, among other awards and honors. Since retiring, he volunteers with nonprofits, spends time with family, travels, preaches occasionally, and enjoys reading and writing. Contact Steve at (859) 866-5693 or at

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