Step Away from Your Devices During Meetings

by  Jon Mertz  |  Leadership Development

Today’s world is an electronically connected one. It is rare to escape it all. However, there are times our full attention is needed, and meetings are one of those times.

Here is what is happening.

  • As people walk into the meeting, they have their laptops in hand. They sit down, and up go the lids.
  • As the meeting begins, a smartphone is pulled out of a pocket, and a text is sent.
  • During the meeting, people are staring into their laptops and typing something.
  • People across the table are receiving an instant message from someone on the other side.

How can anything productive be accomplished in such a distracted meeting? What message is being sent to the participants and leaders in the meeting? People at all levels in an organization are exhibiting this behavior, but it seems to be condoned by the leaders through their complicity.

It is time to step away from our devices for an hour, listen, interact, and reach agreement on the issues being discussed.

In school, we used to get in trouble for passing notes during class. In today’s meetings, we are passing electronic notes via instant messages. What is being exchanged? Why can’t it be shared with the group? We should make people doing this get up in front of the meeting and read what they just sent via an electronic text or message!

If our attention cannot be gained for 60 minutes, then cancel the meeting! Multitasking is one thing, but multi-meeting is almost ridiculous!

Here is the message leaders are really sending by not giving their full attention:

  • I am so important that you can only have one-third of my attention for the next hour.
  • What this meeting is about is not that important, so I am going to stare into my laptop and do something else.
  • I am going to give my real opinion about this meeting to a person across the table through an instant message.

There are many challenges we are trying to address. We need us to sit up, listen, and participate fully. If our presence was requested at a meeting, then we need to be fully present!

Here are the rules. First, the “you shall not” rules are:

  • You shall not surf the web during a meeting.
  • You shall not send an instant message to anyone in the meeting.
  • You shall not send text messages with any mobile device.

Next, the “you can” rules are:

  • You can research topics that are relevant to the meeting.
  • You can type notes.
  • You can share information from your device to a projector for all to see.

Meetings are a time for people to listen, discuss, and solve problems. Meetings are a time to share and discuss with your voice and ears. Meetings are a time to align people, activities, and initiatives. Meetings are a time to give your full attention.

Let’s make the most of our meetings. Let’s set the right example.

During meetings, what rules have you set for the device-enabled and electronically-connected?

What’s Next? Please leave a comment below to join the conversation…

About The Author

Articles By jon-mertz
Jon Mertz is one of the Top 100 Thought Leaders in Trustworthy Business and author of Activate Leadership: Aspen Truths to Empower Millennial Leaders. At Thin Difference, Jon writes and facilitates a conversation on how to empower, challenge, and guide the next generation of leaders.  »  View Profile

What People Are Saying

Tim Milburn (@timage)  |  15 Feb 2012  |  Reply

I think this post is a great discussion starter. I attend a variety of meetings and the use of electronic devices is sometimes helpful, necessary, and beneficial. For me, the issue is one of being “fully present.” In my work with students, the cell phone has become an appendage and creates an immediate distraction from what is going on right in front of them.

I like the idea of setting ground rules at the start of a meeting. If the idea of “rules” seems autocratic, then stating clear expectations at the start of the meeting helps to set the tone for the importance of everyone’s time together.

Of all the devices, I think a tablet is the least intrusive and most helpful in a meeting. Cell phones are too easy to text from and laptops put a monitor in between the person and the group. I use my iPad during meetings to both type and write notes, manage to-do’s from the meeting, and check calendar items.

Jon Mertz  |  15 Feb 2012  |  Reply


Thanks for your insights! Being fully present is the goal, I believe. Brainstorming expectations of how to make meetings the most productive can help set the ground rules without being autocratic. Part of the approach needs to be the mindset of the people attending; part needs to be common sense; and part needs to be productivity in resolving challenges and/or offering ideas.

Appreciate your additions to the conversation. Thank you!


PM Hut  |  16 Feb 2012  |  Reply

Hi Jon,

I do remember having meetings where the owner of the company was using his iPad or Blackberry or whatever other device he might have while someone else was talking – I couldn’t think of anything ruder. Not only that, we would have to repeat at one point the same thing over and over again because all of a sudden he says: “Sorry, I wasn’t following”. Oh, and by the way, most of our meetings were initiated by the owner of the company….

Jon Mertz  |  16 Feb 2012  |  Reply

That’s tough. This is why we need to lead differently by exhibiting the right actions, and meetings are a great starting point. People may complain about productivity while taking actions that waste time! We can do better… it’s about eliminating some of the distractions and changing….

Thanks for your comment.

Erin Schreyer  |  16 Feb 2012  |  Reply

Jon, I love that you included both “can do” and “can NOT do” tips!! Brilliant!! You have great insights here, and it’s amazing the negative message someone could be sending without even realizing it. I think many of these same things apply at home too…because, do we put our cell phones away there? Most don’t…including me. I appreciate this reminder!!

Jon Mertz  |  16 Feb 2012  |  Reply

Thanks, Erin! I agree. We need to go back to being present in our meeting and in our family life… electronic channels provide a lot of value, but it cannot overtake our real presence in meaningful interactions and relationships. Thanks again. Jon

Jo Lynn Deal  |  03 Mar 2012  |  Reply

Great advice. This is a tremendous problem. I believe asking the team members to each give a report/update and require others to give input to that member might help facilitate listening. The meeting leader also needs to lead by example and address the issue at the start of the meeting. I have yet to attend a meeting where someone had to step out for true emergency. You brought up a great point saying if it’s so important, share it with the group. Success relies on the leadership truly leading.

Jon Mertz  |  03 Mar 2012  |  Reply

Leading by example is the key, I believe. Thanks for adding to the conversation. Appreciate it!

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