Prairie Memories by Gary Heintz: Meetings
I ran across a quote the other day that brought up memories of a conversation I had with a good friend a few years ago. The quote was by Dave Barry, an American humorist. It stated, “If you had to identify, in one word, the reason why the human race has not achieved, and never will achieve, its full potential, that word would be ‘meetings.’”
Meetings probably have a purpose, but I’m seldom sure what that purpose is, and I am also not always sure that purpose is ever achieved. For a meeting to be successful, it requires a lot of preplanning by the person who thinks he or she has the solution or a plan that will make the lives of all those who attend easier or more productive. The biggest challenge in the execution of a meaning seems to be holding the attention of the attendees, meaning being able to talk above the personal conversations going on in the room, ignoring the heavy sighs of boredom coming from the back of the room, and trying to determine if the person in the front row is asleep or just resting their eyes, all the while keeping that exaggerated sense of excitement in your voice.
I have been in meetings that made me wonder if those present were being punished for something, and the meeting was an adult form of being put in the corner for being unruly. I have been in meetings that were so disorganized and raucous where all that was missing were party hats and confetti. With a little encouragement, we could have broken into the ‘Happy Birthday’ song. I have been in few meetings that were ever run like the meetings you see on TV, where plans to seal a big business deal or capture the enemy stronghold are laid out in a few seconds then carried out to precision. It doesn’t happen.
Case in point. A few years ago, Carmen Magee, co-producer of the Dakota Western Heritage Festival, said she would attend a meeting I wasn’t able to attend to see if we could enlist the aid of a group in raising funds for the Festival. I was in Kansas City visiting family, and told Carmen I had explained our problem to the group and she just needed to get their decision to help us, yes or no. The meeting was to start at 7:00, and I told her she should be in and out in a few minutes time. About 9:30 that night, she called me. I could tell she was frustrated about something. I didn’t have to wait long for her to tell me about the never-ending answer and question session, the group members straying away from the topic, the repeated questions, and finally, after two hours, being told they would have to ‘think about it’ a bit longer. “If we ever hold a meeting like this about the Festival, I’m quitting,” she said. The more Carmen talked, the hotter she got. I had seldom heard her get angry, in fact I am not sure I have ever heard her in that mood before or since. I was concerned about the lack of an answer to our simple question, but found myself smiling while Carmen let off steam. I waited for a pause in her tirade, and said in a comforting voice, “Carmen, we’ll figure it out. In the meantime, you need to take a long walk”. She laughed and said “I AM taking a long walk!”