Nod more, and other absurd yet useful meeting tips from a former Google manager

Everyone gather in a circle.
Everyone gather in a circle.
Image: Unsplash / Margarida CSilva via CC
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Meetings! There are so many in this world, and far too few people who bring fancy doughnuts to them. But in the absence of a tasty snack, writer and comedian Sarah Cooper may be able to help you survive your next confusing PowerPoint presentation.

Cooper, who sat through her fair share of meetings as a user experience designer at Yahoo and a design manager at Google, is an astute observer of the absurdities of everyday office life. On her blog, The Cooper Review, she both delights and confuses readers with cartoons that blur the line between satire and reality. “Draw a Venn diagram,” she advises in a post about how to appear smart in in front of your colleagues. “It doesn’t matter if your Venn diagram is wildly inaccurate; in fact, the more inaccurate, the better.” (Full disclosure: this post, and others by Cooper, have also appeared on Quartz.)

A similar spirit of keen-eyed mischief informs Cooper’s new book, 100 Tricks to Appear Smart in Meetings (out Oct. 4). But despite the arch tone of her cartoons, Cooper told me that she—like most people—has a love-hate relationship with brainstorming sessions and check-ins.

“On the one hand, everyone hates meetings,” Cooper said. “But on the other hand, if there’s an important meeting and you weren’t invited, you really want to be in it. Then you get there and you’re like, ‘Why didn’t I just stay out of this?’”

Cooper’s best tips for triumphing in meetings are, true to form, both practical and ridiculous enough to be ripped from Office Space. Here’s a few survival techniques she’s learned after years spent observing her coworkers in conference rooms.

Image for article titled Nod more, and other absurd yet useful meeting tips from a former Google manager

How to get (and keep) people’s attention:

At Google, Cooper says, “I’d sometimes do a little quiz at the end of the meeting to make sure everyone was paying attention to everyone else’s updates.”

Cooper also recommends having a rotating cast of people running the show: “It’s helpful to have different people leading the meeting instead of the same person every time—it makes it a little more interesting.”

The body language that will make you look good:

“Nodding is really important. I think the thoughtful, chin-in-hands position is also always good. Taking notes. Chances are that half the time you aren’t actually listening and your mind is somewhere else, but you can give the appearance of listening.”

The technique that will make your colleagues love you:

“The thing that works well for me is listening well and summarizing what has been said. If you’re able to show you can repeat what others have said and help come to a consensus, that will make people feel like you’re a valuable part of the meeting.”

On the guy at the meeting who everyone hates:

“For me, it was the Time Nazi who is just sort of like, rapping his fingers on the table or sighing constantly or just obviously doesn’t want to be there. He’s saying things like, ‘I don’t know if we have time to discuss that’ and shutting things down before they even get started. If you want to be a part of projects and be collaborative, meetings are a necessary part of life.”

The best meeting snack:

“It’s a toss-up between M&Ms and pretzels. If you share them, that makes you look good too.”

How to get out of a meeting:

“My favorite trick was to just not go. The best part of that is, if you get pinged, like, ‘Hey where are you,’ it shows everyone else that you’re important because they couldn’t start the meeting without you. At that point you can say, ‘Well, I need to reschedule or I have a conflict.’ But the sad part is, if you don’t show up and nobody notices, your job might be in jeopardy.”

How to make your voice heard:

“People who speak up don’t have this self-judgmental fear of looking or sounding stupid. They just spit out whatever comes to them. And often people will work with whatever you throw out there. It’s very rare that someone gets completely shut down.

So it’s about turning that voice off that’s inside your head that says, ‘Did someone already say that’ or ‘That’s stupid’— the voice that’s self-regulating everything you do. The people who put themselves out there, 60% of the time maybe they do look dumb, but 40% they say something poignant or meaningful.”

How to survive a painful meeting:

“I remember some meetings, I was very scared of falling asleep, so I would pinch my leg to wake myself up. Or you can always try observing everybody and making a list of things people do and putting it online, and then turning it into a book.”