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22. Conferencing

Reading maketh a full man, conference a ready man, and writing an exact man.

—Francis Bacon

If conference makes a ready man, then teleconferencing and videoconferencing should make him ready that much more efficiently. Surprisingly, although the technology of audio- and videoconferencing has existed for almost the last two decades, it has been painfully slow in catching on.

Some speculate that participants are justifiably self-conscious on camera or miss the opportunity to travel far and worldwide to make contacts in person. Perhaps, like so many things, that has changed post 9/11.

To wit, the quarterly audio conference calls required by every public company includes hundreds of industry and financial analysts, the press and stockholders in both one- and two-way conversations with CEOs and CFOs.

Despite its popularity, or lack thereof, technology marches on. The conference table videoconference may soon give way to the individual camera at desk or laptop or cell phone. Perhaps, much as it took the personal computer to revolutionize computing, it will take desktop-mounted cameras or individual cell phones to revolutionize audio- and videoconferencing.

Always at the forefront of putting technology to work, Intel recommends implementing technological tools to make meetings easier. The emphasis on teamwork in today's workplace has created a movement towards implementing collaborative technology in the meeting room. This technology includes computers, LCD projectors, and interactive whiteboards. Employing these technologies will allow meeting participants to access computer-based information, share data, and automatically save information generated during their meetings — all functionality for enhanced group collaboration.

Desktops and Laptops

With desktop and laptop computers, as in other areas of business, technology is helping make meetings easier and more efficient. In many organizations today, e-mail is being used as a quick and easy method of communicating information internally without the need for meeting. In fact, four out of five executives share meeting notes with colleagues — three-quarters of them by e-mail. However, even with the help of e-mail to communicate, nearly half of the executives polled still feel overwhelmed by the number of meetings they attend. This indicates that technology is helping today's meeting dilemma, but not entirely solving it.


As Walt Kelly penned in his Pogo cartoon series years ago, "We have met the enemy, and he is us." Whether audio- or videoconferencing, or a meeting in person, the technology is only as good as the people who run it.

Since the technology does exist, many global companies are still trying to adopt videoconferencing to communicate across distances. In 1996, manufacturers shipped approximately 300,000 systems and by 1997, nearly 1.4 million copies of videoconferencing software were loaded onto PCs across America. Given the need for fast communication in today's workplace, the cost in time and energy of international travel to communicate over distances and the increase in the number of meetings to facilitate team-based decision-making, many orga nizations say that they would like to implement videoconferencing as a common meeting practice.

Glen Miller, the director of worldwide video and satellite communications for Pharmacia Upjohn, has installed enterprise-wide videoconferencing equipment and witnessed the benefits of this technology. "The ability to interact with others remotely produces huge corporate benefits," says Miller. "Last year, for example, videoconferencing slashed more than $6 million in direct travel expenses for Pharmacia Upjohn. It also freed up about 2,000 workdays that managers and executives used to spend in transit."

The challenge, as always, is to communicate, learn, and commit to the techniques and technology that will improve conferencing, a technologically enhanced meeting.

The Peter Principle

Like people, following the Peter Principle, every meeting seems to rise to its own level of incompetence. Individuals bring such different perspectives to the table in meetings that communication is much more confused than we tend to think. Whether you're responsible for the budget, production, bucking for a promotion, fearing you'll be fired, or distracted by other things going on in your life, you hear and speak through a filter of personal agenda.

If it's your job to move the group toward a solution or your point of view, you must lead different minds with different agendas as well as what George David Kieffer in his book The Strategy of Meetings, calls the group mind. He adds that if someone in the group is intent on defeating your purpose or simply disagrees with you, it's harder still.

When it comes to the group mind, says Kieffer, the whole can sometimes be less than the sum of the parts. Much less. And surprisingly, decisions made by the group can be riskier than any of the individuals would make on his or her own. This is thought to be a result of either the fact that there is less responsibility by each individual for the decision or that risk-prone individuals seem to dominate meetings.

A fight-or-flight mentality exists for many in meetings and it seems to be compounded by how long the meeting lasts, which is typically too long. There is a law of diminishing returns in most meetings and the good meeting manager knows and reads it. If 80 percent of the results are accomplished in 20 percent of the time, why go on?

A meeting should not be your first line of defense or solution; it should be your final one. Because meetings are so fraught with peril as a waster of time, talent, money, motivation, and reputation, proceed with caution! Remember that less and fewer are more.

Follow the Leader

Whether you called the meeting or not, your boss is there or isn't, Kieffer argues that every meeting is "your" meeting. As a participant, you must participate in achieving the best result. In rowing, the coxswain calls the strokes, but every rower pulls her own oar.

And more than in any other sport, except perhaps for meetings, the experiences of coxswaining and rowing are altogether different from each other. You're each in a different battle in the same war. Your objectives may be different, but your responsibility to win is the same.

You can win the point and influence people by contributing to not only the substance of the meeting but to its spirit.

Meeting Is the Message

For Kieffer, a meeting is a medium, and in the famous words of Marshall McLuhan, "The medium is the message. That is to say, the way we acquire information affects us more than the information itself." A meeting, again in McLuhan's words, "does something to people; it takes hold of them, bumps them around."

Thus the manner can affect the participants and the organization more than the material. As we saw from that very popular television show, Survivor. Who needs whom? What alliances will help you succeed or fail?

The now-popular phrase, "herding cats," is operative in meetings. Unlike horses or cattle, people seem to be averse to going in a direction together. The journey of a thousand miles may begin with a single step, but not if everyone is stepping in different directions.

You must separate the process from the purpose, the problems, and the people. What process will favor your agenda or solution? Fight for that first.

Any problem-solution process begins with the complaint, the history, its perspective in light of other complaints, the diagnosis, and the prescription for cure.

Make sure that all of the decision-makers in your meeting are beginning together on the task at hand. If not everyone is in agreement or can be persuaded about the purpose of a meeting, you are going to fail in getting to a conclusion.

One of Stephen Covey's habits of highly successful people is to begin with the end in mind. Meetings, in contrast to any good story, often have a beginning, a muddle, and an end. A muddle means getting mired in the middle with no light at the end of the tunnel. It is best prevented by frequently taking the temperature of the room. Is it hot or cold? On track or off? To what degree are we cooking towards a solution? If the discussion seems disorganized, go back and redefine your purpose.

When it comes to people: Who will become defensive? Who will align themselves together? Who will bully? Who will zone out?

There always seems to be a fly in the ointment of every meeting. Sometimes, more than one. Picture him, stuck there, but not going quietly. His strength, resolve, and fight may make him a squadron leader if you can get him unstuck and position him correctly to channel his energy more positively.

Be on purpose; understand that a meeting is a means to an end like a decision or a solution. Seldom the end in and of itself.

The following is from Intel's basic principles of effective meetings class materials and should be applied to your own tele- and videoconferencing.

The basic principles of effective meetings at Intel include meeting types; roles and responsibilities; meeting behaviors; and meeting preparation and follow-up. Topics include mission and process meetings; agendas; meeting minutes; diverse meeting participants, and geographically dispersed meeting issues.

The goal of this course is to build competence in one of Intel's core business practices. Participants will more fully understand the importance of meetings and will learn skills for preparing for — and participating in — meetings back on the job.

It is important to be sensitive to differences among participants from diverse backgrounds and cultures. You might discuss how styles of meeting participation could vary among team members from different groups or countries. Consider what it means to hold meetings with respect and trust, and to listen to all ideas and viewpoints in groups of diverse participants.

You have the foundation for an effective meeting when you can answer the following:


There are two basic types of meetings at Intel; each type has a different purpose:

When meetings get off-track, it is usually because we have lost sight of which type of meeting we are in — or we have mistakenly jumped from one type to the other. It is your responsibility to know which type of meeting you are in, and to prepare and participate accordingly.

Process Meetings


Sustain organizational structure and processes

Ratify or veto proposals Make decisions

Share or update information

Allocate resources

Reflects the organization — all who need to know

Business Update Meeting (BUM)

Staff Meeting

1:1s with manager (could become Mission meeting)

Mission Meetings

As needed

Leverage group intelligence to accomplish a specific result

Solve problems

Make recommendations accomplish a deliverable

Plan a project

Relevant and necessary to accomplish the task — generally 5-6 individuals

Task team

Project team

Development team


An effective meeting agenda:

Agendas might be sent via email; they might also be posted on share drives, in eRooms, or using Web Meeting Manager. It is your responsibility to review the agenda and come prepared to contribute to the outcome of each agenda item.

Rule 1: Separate Items

Keep the various types of meeting work separate. At the very least, separate mission and process sections of the agenda. Keep agenda items separate within in each section, along with WHO will present, and the PROCESS for addressing that topic.

Rule 2: Estimate Time Frames

Schedule amount of time for each item, even if an estimate. END the meeting at 10 minutes before the hour.

Rule 3: List Attendees

List who is expected to attend the meeting. The guiding principle for meeting attendance: ONLY those relevant to the agenda.

Rule 4: Pre-publish

Pre-publish the agenda (1-5 working days in advance, keeping in mind various time zones). Attach appropriate documents, or inform participants where the documents are located (e.g., an eRoom or Web Meeting Manager). Note if NetMeeting will be used, so they can plan accordingly.

Rule 5: Clarify Decision Method (at least in the first team meeting)

Clarify the method for making decisions (i.e., consultative, consensus, authoritative, voting) BEFORE the meeting begins.

Rule 6: Clarify Expected Outcomes

Clarify expected outcome for each agenda item. Screen potential topics to ensure that they are relevant, important, and appropriate for the meeting.

Meeting Roles


Having defined meeting roles makes a meeting more effective by clearly laying out expectations. If someone is designated to take notes (Recorder) or invite participation (Gatekeeper), meeting participants will move agenda items toward their expected outcomes.The meeting leader might assign roles ahead of time, or the assignments might be done at the start of the meeting.

Following are the essential meeting roles:


  • Drives the meeting process.
  • Ensures that outcomes are reached by focusing on the effectiveness of the group process.
  • Assigns other 'helping' roles, when needed, such as a NetMeeting facilitator to coordinate presentations.


  • Keeps the group aware of time passage to check against time allotted for the task.
  • Helps keep the participants on designated agenda times.


  • Provides group memory for all to see (if the (Scribe) meeting is face-to-face, in one conference room).
  • Documents meeting summary, decisions, ARs, bin list items, and next steps.
  • Might also publish minutes.


  • Invites silent members to speak, or discourages those who talk too much. Example: "Carlos, you have experience in this type of activity. What is your opinion on the direction we are taking?"

Scheduling Meetings

Geo-Dispersed meeting challenges

With many employees working on geographically dispersed teams, early and thorough preparation is even more crucial, especially when the participants are in different locations around the world.

Time Considerations

When participants are located in different time zones, this can limit your window of opportunity for meetings. Consider the following when scheduling meetings:

• Time zones, weekends, national holidays

Some groups meet this challenge by:

  • Rotating meeting times to share the pain
  • Structuring sub-groups or task groups so that the members are within closer time zones, where possible
  • Doing their non-urgent work in an eRoom, and holding meetings less frequently.

Culture and Other Dimensions of Diversity

Meeting style can be very different for people from different personal backgrounds and cultures. In diverse groups it helps to take into consideration the differences among participants, and to learn about each other's varied approaches.

Telephone Bridges

If you are responsible for scheduling a phone meeting:

Follow Intel's bridge-scheduling process. Publish the dial-in number, reservation, and passcode on your meeting invitation and agenda.

Conference Rooms

If some of the meeting participants will be in conference rooms, be sure to list conference rooms at each site, with seating capacity and phone numbers.

(Reprinted by permission of Intel Corporation.)

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