All In Favor Say, "Oy" 

STAR Tannery, Virginia - I will join your club, support your cause, volunteer to man your booth; but please, for the love of all you hold sacred, don't make me come to a meeting.

Theoretically, having a meeting seems like a good idea: gather together all the players into one room so everyone knows what their role is and how it contributes to the goal of the project. It appears to be a great way to save time and aggravation, not to mention make a bazillion dollars for Stephen Covey (of Seven Habits of Highly Effective People Who Carry Day Planners fame).

The reality is quite different. At best a meeting makes official what has already been determined via e-mail and phones calls. At worst it's a two-hour unfocused idea free-for-all. I'm 51 years old and I've yet to attend a meeting that accomplished anything that could have been accomplished without annoying 95 percent of the attendees by requiring their presence.

Admittedly the absolute best meetings I ever attended were in high school. At the beginning of the school year, we'd pick what clubs we wanted to join. Then we'd attend a meeting, elect "officers," and then chat a bit, some of it even on topic (thanks to whatever poor sap of a teacher got suckered into being the club's faculty sponsor). Then we'd adjourn. The next meeting was in the spring when an announcement came over the loudspeaker about yearbook pictures of club members. If a club time fell during gym period, we'd show up whether we were members or not. That's how my picture ended up in my yearbook under Secretarial Club.

Once I entered the workforce I had to endure real meetings called by real bosses and requiring me to carry a pen and pad to create the illusion that I was going to write down important points. I would exit the meeting with a fairly realistic sketch of my left hand and not much else. They did have donuts, though.

I had hopes that when I entered the field of journalism, the loftily-termed "Editorial Meetings" would be fruitful. I figured, if you're churning out a multi-paged publication on a regular basis, you've got to know what's coming if you are going to meet your deadline.

I did enjoy editorial meetings - if I wasn't busy. We'd all gather with the editors and talk about local politics and gossip, banter around a few running jokes about local celebrities and discuss what dish we were bringing to either the Christmas party or the summer picnic, whichever was seasonally appropriate. And, of course, donuts. Then someone would look at their watch, announce the time with alarm, everyone would call out some pressing task they had to do and we'd all disperse. Then we'd go back to our desks and type out our list of stories and estimated length, which we then hand delivered (back in the day before e-mail) to our respective editors.

These days I'm out of the organized work force and into more dangerous meeting territory: social club meetings. Publicly, these common-interest organizations look like it would be a lot of fun to join: a group of people who all like to do the same thing. Oh, but there are meetings lurking behind that brief moment of frivolity: general membership meetings, committee meetings, board meetings.

A meeting in the hands of such novices is a dangerous thing, especially when someone utters the words, "Roberts Rules of Order," and the only one who doesn't know what that means is the person running the meeting. The result is either chaos or the proceedings being hijacked by the one person in the room who has a lengthy, boring story to go with every issue being discussed, usually involving grandchildren and whatever disease they have.

So I weigh my affiliation with any organization against the amount of meetings they hold and the president's knowledge of parliamentary procedure. If there are any lawyers among the membership, I give it a pass. Lawyers can bring a meeting to a screeching halt over a technicality that occurred five years ago.

The weird thing about meetings is that everyone - everyone - now admits they hate them. It used to be merely dislike, but now it has become outright hate.

I think it's that donuts have stopped being a feature at every meeting. Now there are things like vegetable platters, fruit baskets and bottled water. No one should have to endure healthy eating and a meeting at the same time.

Copyright (c) 2007, SteelWill, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Spot On is a trademark of SteelWill, Inc.

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