Death by Meeting


by Debra Wheatman


The setting

A nondescript, windowless conference room somewhere in Corporate America with exceptionally uncomfortable chairs, three of which are broken, a projector, and a Polycom phone.

The players

Meeting host. Host has invited you all to participate, ostensibly to get your opinions on some topic. Host begins the meeting by going over the purpose of the meeting, the objectives of the meeting, the agenda for the meeting. Host assures everyone that this meeting is a Super Important Good Use of Everyone’s Time. You’re not so sure.

Spotlight hog. Spotlight monopolizes the whole meeting. He is one of those guys who clearly loves the sound of his own voice. You wonder how it’s possible for someone to talk endlessly, yet say nothing. In a way, you admire this skill.

Remote participant. Remote is at home and is calling in. She often has trouble hearing what’s going on, and rarely can connect to the WebEx. She’s probably sitting there in her sweatpants, her phone muted, playing fetch with her dog while the rest of you are stuck listening to Spotlight. You’re a bit envious of Remote.

The Dissenter. Dissenter remains mostly quiet, but interjects as needed, with questions such as, “Yeah, but, is it scalable?” or “I don’t see this working without the buy-in from Ted’s team.” You suspect the Dissenter isn’t really paying attention, and just spends her time thinking of dissenting comments to make, but is not truly interested in any commentary that they elicit. You would probably be correct.

Chorus. Everyone else. Chorus is mostly silent but does advance the narrative with body language, such as sighs and eye rolls. It’s like a Greek tragedy, only with less substance.

The scene

Host: Okay, so I’ve called you all here for a pre-meeting to prepare for tomorrow’s meeting. I know everyone is busy, so I want to stick to the agenda that I’ve put up here on the screen.

Remote: I can’t see your screen. Are you sure you’re connected? Do I have the right link? Can someone just send me the presentation?

Spotlight: You know, I was thinking about this pre-meeting, and I think it would be a great idea if we had it weekly. We should come up with a name for it, one that accurately communicates our strategic vision, and conveys what it is we’re trying to accomplish with our pre-meetings. In our regular meeting, we could have everyone go around the table and say what they think, and then we could integrate those into the deck for our next presentation. Oooh, we could get team tee shirts, which everyone could wear on the days that we have the pre-meetings. I can see if the marketing group has any ideas of how else to use tchotchkes for team building. You know I’m very well respected over there. They think I have the best ideas.

Remote: I’m sorry, Spotlight, but I couldn’t hear that last part. Could you repeat that?

Chorus: Audible collective groan.

Dissenter: You know, while I think that’s a great idea, I’m not so sure about the execution. Also, what about corporate branding? We have to ensure that we’re complying with brand guidelines and standards because you know what happened last time.

Ground Hog Day Interlude. Spotlight and Dissenter get stuck in an endless loop of the same discussion/argument. Members of the Chorus give each other the side-eye.

Host: Wow, everyone has great ideas, but I think it’s best to take this discussion offline right now and get back to the agenda. Unfortunately, I have a hard stop in four minutes so I will have to reschedule. Are everyone’s calendars up to date? I’ll make this a recurring meeting. Thanks, everyone.

Chorus: Dejected sigh of resignation to their fate.

Lather. Rinse. Repeat.


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