Overcoming a meeting slump: how to stay focused during board meetings

Board members often experience loss of focus during meetings, which can affect decision-making, productivity and creative thinking. Three aspects that are generally vital during board meetings. Studies have shown that board members do not maintain constant levels of attention during meetings. A meeting slump is very common among board members.

As a board member or Executive Director, you can play a key role in keeping the board engaged and focused on what’s important. But only if you maintain focus throughout the meetings yourself. This article provides board members and executives with some tips and tricks on how to stay focused during meetings and prevent them from entering a meeting slump.

1: Enter the meeting actively

Even better than defeating a meeting slump, is preventing a meeting slump. One way to do this is doing something active right before the meeting. Physical activity helps you focus, because it arouses your brain. This doesn’t mean you have to go to the gym or have to go for a run. Going up and down the stairs a few times or walking a couple of laps around the building is enough to activate your body and mind. Another way to lighten up your brain before a meeting is doing something you enjoy, like listening to music. This will clear your mind and makes sure you are going into the meeting fresh. This contributes to the effectiveness of the meeting.

2: Choose your seat carefully

Choosing a seat in a meeting is like choosing a seat in school. In school, the seat can affect your grade. In a meeting, the seat can affect your career. The seat in the back of the room is the seat people choose when they feel a nap is coming, when they want to chat with their buddies, or want to check their e-mail. To avoid an early meeting slump you have to keep distractions at a minimum. Therefore choose your place wisely. Avoid seats close to a window or doorway. The best spot is in the middle of the table in clear view of the main speaker. In that position you will be more engaged to the fellow attendees. Making eye contact, nodding and smiling are good ways to let everybody know you are actively interested and participating in the meeting. If you are well engaged, you will lose your attention less quickly and the chance you end up in a meeting slump is much smaller.

3: Stay active and contribute to the meeting

On average, board members spend 50% of their time on meetings. Research shows that 67% of these meetings are failures according to board members. It’s not surprising that when you think the meeting is useless, your body wants to slow down and ends up in a slump. When you lose focus during a meeting and start doing other stuff, like daydreaming, chances are the meeting is indeed useless. To combat the meeting slump you have to stay active and busy during the meeting. Two tricks to do this are:

Ask questions.
Questions are an essential tool for increasing the meeting effectiveness. By asking questions you force yourself to keep paying attention, which ensures that you better understand what is being discussed. In addition, it signals to other meeting participants that you are actively participating. This is good for your reputation within your board.

• Arrange speaking time.
Meetings often seem to last forever. This is particularly because the only thing you do is listen. When all you do listen, It’s easy to sit back, relax and lose your focus. Therefore, if the situation and the meeting permits, plan speaking time for yourself. You are always sharper when you know you have to contribute to the meeting later. In addition, time goes faster when you speak yourself. Before you know it, it’s time to pack up and head home without having fought against a meeting slump.

4: You are what you eat

What you eat plays a big role in your combat against a meeting slump. It might be a cliché, but a healthy and balanced diet affects your productivity during the day. A good breakfast with grains, fruit or oatmeal is a good start of your working day. However, your lunch might be the most important meal, because many people are less productive in the afternoon compared to the morning. Research indicates that a fatty meal leads to a post-lunch dip much faster. The same study shows that eating carbohydrates gives you more energy and increases alertness. Bring (healthy) snacks, water and coffee to the meeting to remain energized. By eating a snack you love you create a little moment of happiness during the meeting. This positive energy helps you to get out of your meeting slump.

5: Doodling helps you focus

Results of a study by the University of Plymouth point out that doodlers retain 29% more information than others. Unconsciously your brain remains very active, which keeps you out of a meeting slump. If you’re concerned about offending other meeting attendees with doodling, let them know that doodling helps you focus and contribute to the meeting. 

More and more boards are opting for paperless meetings above the traditional board packets. But that doesn't need to stop you from doodling. Bring a notebook or a bit of paper on which you can doodle—or if you're using iBabs on your iPad you can doodle right there on your screen. 

6: Take notes

Taking notes is another way to keep your brain active. It doesn’t matter if you write in a notebook or you type on a tablet. Either way, taking notes can help you better understand new concepts, organize your thoughts, encourage your creativity, help you share important information with other board members and so much more. It can be tough to document the entire meeting. Therefore, focus on facts, decisions, action plans, questions and answers.

You can indicate the fact that you are taking notes to other board members in advance. When they receive a copy of your notes, you automatically prevent yourself from entering a slump. Besides that, you are putting more thought into your note taking. Because there is no possibility to backspace what you write, you are putting more consideration in what you write down. Writing by hand is more thoughtful, which makes you process the information you write down more compared to when taking notes digitally.

7: Avoid distractions from your smartphone

The hardest part of staying focused during board meetings is probably avoiding distractions. Smartphones have become like a personal assistant to a lot of board members, but at the same time they can be our worst enemy, absorbing a lot of our attention that we actually need to engage in the meeting. Sending a quick email or text message or even checking social media is very tempting during a long board meeting. Which can even be harmful for the safety of the meeting. Once you are distracted by your smartphone, it is hard to navigate your attention back to the meeting. Therefore the real challenge in staying focused during meetings is avoiding distractions on your smartphone.

Improve your board meeting performance

If you manage to stay focused during board meetings you can have a key role in determining the outcomes of the meeting. There is no silver bullet for board members to stay focused, but investing time in improving your focus during board meetings and your board meeting performance in general, can really enhance positive meeting outcomes. Want some more tips on how to improve your board meetings? Check out our toolbox for effective meetings.

iBabs Meeting Assessment
iBabs is a leader in paperless meetings and enables you to reduce these piles of documents to the thickness of your tablet. Thousands of organizations have been using this system for more than 15 years.

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