The past year in which the concept of “the meeting” shifted almost entirely into the digital realm challenged everything from the constitution of the working day to the breadth of collective patience.
Or, as Matthew Corriere, MD, at the helm of the Vascular & Endovascular Surgery Society (VESS) 2021 Winter Meeting (Jan. 21–24), put the year-in-meetings: “Usually the VESS Executive Council meeting happens every month, or every other month, and then it started happening two or three times a week. I found we were actually having meetings about whether we were going to have a meeting, or whether the SVS [Society for Vascular Surgery] was going to have their meeting, and if they didn’t have their meeting, should we have our meeting. It got really, really meta quickly.”
Corriere, rounding out his 2020–2021 term as VESS president, was delivering a presidential address he dubbed “Meetingology.” The winter gathering of VESS intentionally adds an informal note to proceedings, with attendees and presenters encouraged to dress down—even this year when the pandemic forced remote delivery. Hence, the mock serious rebukes fired the way of suited-and-booted trainees and students who apparently hadn’t received the memo on appropriate attire at the virtual podium.
The VESS presidential address follows a similar tone. So went Corriere’s boutique advisory, from a self-described “meetings connoisseur,” on the hows and whys of good (and better) meetings—and ways to avoid bad ones.
Last year, he told the VESS virtual audience, “we started being ambushed and subterfuged with this endless set of meeting requests at the same time as many of us were hauled out of the OR [operating room] and had no idea.”
A few years ago, Corriere had set himself a New Year’s resolution that he’d limit his weekly time allotment for meetings to four hours. He has failed thus far, he reflected—and the COVID-19 era offered little indication he would be making up ground anytime soon.
“There’s a growing angst about stopping the meeting madness, why your meetings stink, and what we’ve got to do about it,” he said. According to the book, “The Surprising Science of Meetings,” by Steven Rogelberg, PhD, there were 55 million meetings per year pre-pandemic, Corriere pointed out.
There are costs to that, he said. In dollar terms, they amount to $1.4 trillion across the U.S.: “That doesn’t include Zoom costs, and it also doesn’t include indirect costs. Those are opportunity costs. If you’re in a meeting, you can’t be doing something productive somewhere else.”
This conjures a term to which he said he relates: “Meeting Recovery Syndrome,” or time spent winding down after a frustrating meeting.
In general, bad meetings tend to go along certain lines, Corriere argued. They might have ill-defined goals or lack an appropriate agenda. Key people may be missing. There might be too many participants. They may suffer from timing issues or poor interpersonal dynamics.
He provided 10 tips designed to extract good meetings out of groups of people. “Decide why you’re gathering, and if there’s not a good reason, cancel the meeting. Thoughtfully exclude people who do not need to be there,” Corriere said.
The meeting environment should serve the purpose, he continued. Close the door; host with generous authority; be present; make an agenda with the most important item first; encourage “good controversy”; actively manage the clock; and conduct regular quality assessments.