How to Crush your Meeting
Meetings are where you really assert yourself and show your value to the company by saying things in a room to other people at a prescribed time. We have a lot of meetings at Lyft, tracking towards our secret top-level company goal of 200 million meetings this year, so it’s important to crush them all.
This is something I published on the Lyft internal wiki. I’ve done ALL of these things myself at one point in my career. I’m sorry. A bit of Lyft nomenclature: John/JZ = the president, Logan = CEO, Jogan = their cute co-founder name, Rex = our beloved former COO.
Deciding on whether you need a meeting
Firstly, ask yourself: do you need a meeting? The answer is always “YES!”A meeting is a great way to spend time with strangers in an unstructured way, discussing things and then remembering in the last two minutes that you had something to say and then spending the next five minutes saying it, realising you have no more time and thus finding an excellent reason to un-constructively spend another 33 minutes at a later juncture.
Some examples of cases where meetings are better:
- Something that could be resolved with a corridor conversation. Wrong! Corridor conversations should be in rooms and should be room conversations, a.k.a. meetings
- A quick question that should be resolved over Slack/email: This kind of question is best asked in a large room with lots of people present, at the 28th minute of a 30 minute meeting
- Empty time on your calendar
- Time you’ve blocked off to do work
Preparing for meetings
The best meetings are improvised, ad-hoc and only have one follow-up action item, which is another meeting.
Creativity demands a lack of formal structure and a free-for-all of thoughts. So don’t organise anything. Decades of management theory claimed that a good meeting should have a purpose, agenda and roles. However, research has shown that this just leads to shorter meetings and thus shorter workdays and people leaving work early to do unproductive non-work things like spending time with our loved ones and dogs.
Prepare a vague and generic deck. Ideally, this should be a general purpose deck that you’ve used in the past for a large number of unrelated meetings, with very general content and large arrows. Add colour when presenting it by saying “Oh these numbers are out of date, but you get the general idea” (they don’t) and typos to add authenticity and show that you probably tailored it for the occasion (you didn’t). Open the meeting by fiddling with the AV for five minutes, finally opening to the deck. The deck should always be titled “Deck for Meeting”.
What to call it
The hardest part of a meeting is always what to call it. Good news, you have a cheat sheet! Call meetings one of the following:
- [The name of the team or person you’re meeting with]
- Some combination of the above
For example, if you’re meeting with Rex, call the meeting “Rex Sync”. He’ll love that.
Extra words are superfluous and waste valuable time you could spend talking, so be succinct in naming the meeting. You need as much filler content as possible to get through a meeting, especially as all your time is taken up with meetings and you have no time to prepare other content. If you don’t have enough filler, your meeting might end early and you’ll look someone who’s lazy and doesn’t have enough meetings on their calendar.
Use an established meeting word for your Google Hangout link like “meeting” or “sync”. If you find other random people on the call in a same-named meeting say “Sorry guys” in that way that shows that you’re not sorry at all and you expect them to figure it out.
Who to invite
Everyone in a meeting should have a role, and for almost everyone that role is ‘attendee’. A rough guideline for who to invite is ‘everyone’. If there is someone who sits within 10 feet of you, who has a vague interest in the company or who has nothing else to do, they should be in the meeting.
If you’re not sure if you should invite someone, then just check their calendar. If they’re free, invite them. Also, if they’re busy, it’s probably a fake meeting just to block out time, so invite them anyway. Be polite and invite people’s dogs as well. They’re in your fancy startup HR system for a reason!
Where and when to have it
Your goal in organising meetings is to give the impression that you’re a giant black hole, slowly sucking the entire company into an infinite mass in which time ceases to have any meaning. Therefore, always schedule meetings in the room closest to you and at a time of your choosing, irrespective of where other attendees are and if they’re available. If you can’t find a room within 100 feet, simply stand outside a room that’s not technically bookable, then go in and apologize, saying “Sorry guys JZ/Rex/some exec blocked this room out for [my project]” and wait until they leave. Keep saying “sorry” as you shark the room out from under their feet. You win!
People in other cities are actually just pixelated animated caricatures that show up on your display with dog or baby noises in the background and don’t need to be considered, so stop squandering resources organising rooms for them.
Finally, always remember locations and time zones. Here’s a guide to how to think about time zones:`
- If you’re in PT, then never schedule meetings with people in ET because they’ve already left and have forgotten anyone in PT exists.
- If you’re in ET, don’t schedule meetings with people in PT because they are still at morning yoga or in a 45-minute two-mile Line ride while discussing competitive pricing on Slack.
- It’s too confusing taking Central Time into account for anything so just send them a Slack message saying ‘yt?’ and if you see it saying ‘typing’, instantly call them because they’re obviously free.
- Nobody should ever schedule anything in Mountain Time as they’re always snowboarding, rock climbing, mountain biking or all three.
- If you’re in America and the other guests aren’t, then just schedule for whenever the hell you want.
This is the fun bit, unless you’re out of snacks.
How to start
A meeting’s outcome is determined in the first three minutes. You’re should skip the first few minutes as it’s really boring and usually consists of small talk like “so, big plans on the weekend?”. (Hint: never ask this question unless you are SURE the answer is “probably just catch up on sleep”, or your plans on catching up on sleep will be eclipsed by their plans to get their pilot’s license.)
Show up to the meeting no earlier than three minutes late. In any corporation, you need to demonstrate your implicit value by simulating demand. Arrive late even if it’s the first meeting of the day and you had nothing to do beforehand. Some great opening lines are “Sorry — my last meeting went overtime.” Great opportunity to drop an exec name. “You know how these #Jogan steering committee updates go.” (See below on a pronunciation guide for ‘#Jogan’)
Start the meeting with the obvious: “Well, I haven’t organised anything, so I was hoping this could be a general exchange of ideas on any subject.”
In the next minute or two, ask if anyone wants water or snacks. If they say no, go out and get them anyway, returning around the seven minute mark. People will definitely eat your snacks and will be buttered up, more likely to acquiesce to your demands that you haven’t thought of yet.
Launch the formal part of the meeting by referencing something amazing that has nothing to do with your product. “Team, in 1981 Apple introduced the home computer and changed the world. In 2006 Facebook revolutionised the way we socialise online. Now, I present to you my spreadsheet that forecasts fridge stocks based on estimates of new joiners, adjusting for guilt based on seasonal bloating.”
Inform everyone that you have a hard stop in seven minutes.
Brainstorming and discussing things
Occasionally pipe up with a vague insight. Here are some things you can say to sound smart:
- “Are we asking the right questions?” This is my favourite one. The answer is implicitly no, creating an infinite loop.
- “Are we being aggressive enough?”
- “What haven’t we thought of here?”
- “Let’s think outside the box for a moment.” Nobody knows what this means, forcing them to pause to give you time to think of something.
- “What’s the 80/20 answer?”
- “Let’s take a step back and consider first principles.”
- “Let’s take an 10/20/40/100,000 foot view.” Use a higher number than anyone else has said.
- “How can we 10x this?”
- “What is the competition doing?”
- “Are we putting lipstick on a pig?”
- “What are our immediate next steps?”
You can string these together, like “Is Uber 10xing lipstick on a pig?” While everyone is confused, throw candy at them from the mountain of snacks you fetched until someone else says something.
Be more awesome than you are
Try casually mentioning a senior exec by name show show your clout. E.g. “I’ll run this past John and see what he says.” If anyone looks at you for more than a second, look at them and nodding, say “I mean JZ”. Continue to refer to them and other execs during the meeting. E.g. “I’ll run this by Rex in our next catch up — I have a weekly stand-up with him” or “I bet #Jogan would like that!” (Note: always pronounce this “Hashtag Jogan”)
If someone else has a great idea then casually shoot it down. Remember: ideas don’t belong to people. Only meetings belong to people, and this is your meeting. Don’t do this too obviously though. Simply ask questions like “Will that scale, though?”, “Is that disruptive?” or “Does that align with our top-level OKRs?”. The secret to asking questions is to ask so many and so loudly that people get annoyed and stop talking about the disruptive, scalable and strategically aligned idea that your soon-to-be-ex colleague came up with.
If you can’t think of anything to say, start white-boarding furiously. The best white-boarding is in the following formats:
- Grids, especially 2x2 matrices
- Numbers and furious arithmetic
- Lists with check-marks next to them
- The words “Strategy”, “Bottom Line”, “OKR” or the latest buzzword heard from managers, like “Public market-ready”.
If there’s no whiteboard, then you can just draw on a piece of paper that nobody else can see. You can draw anything. Maybe a snake. They’re so easy! When you run out of ideas of animals to draw, scribble furiously with your and then casually toss it into the trash can to signal that it wasn’t working.
If you write other content on the whiteboard, ensure that it is extremely long and trails off at an infuriating angle before you ask someone more junior than you in the meeting (ideally, someone you only just met and who doesn’t work for you) to take notes.
Use clever references
Nobody has time to absorb raw information any more. Use an analogy! A pretty standard one is things that reach to the moon and back. Play around with the data until you have one that reaches to the moon. E.g. “We’re going to hit 250 million rides next year! Think about it this way: if every ride were represented by two medium bananas, they would reach to the moon and back!”
Other examples include:
- Geographic analogies: “You have 100,000 drivers in SF?? Man, that’s like the population of Adelaide, Australia in the mid-nineties”
- Physical analogies: “Wow, we have $15K in bad debt over the last week? If that were all in $1 bills it’d probably fill this plastic bag”
- Awkwardly personal analogies: “Wow, we have $15K in bad debt over the last week? That’s how much I’d have saved over the past year if I didn’t have a crippling addiction to online poker”
Tips for phone meetings/Hangouts
Never go on mute. This is your chance to shine and demonstrate your personality. Employ generous background noises to send messages saying you’re better than everyone else. Here are messages you can send:
- Baby sounds: “I’m a better person than you and I have work-life balance up the wazoo”
- Dog sounds: “I don’t have babies and I’m so happy!”
- Music: “I’m at a cafe. Ask me which cafe it is. Please! OK fine don’t ask. It’s Four Barrel. Want to know why? No? It’s because I’m better than you”
- Typing: “I’m probably taking notes (but probably just g-chatting to complain about people not going on mute)”
After this goes on for a while, ask everyone else to go on mute.
It’s over! Well, not quite. No good meeting ever ends early or at the appointed hour. You need an excuse to show up to the next meeting a few minutes late (see above guide to demonstrating value by simulating demand).
Be the first person to say “Great meeting guys!”. Especially when you didn’t even organise the meeting. Then, look at the most senior person in the room and say “I’ll catch up with you offline 1:1 to go over a few details”. Nod at everyone else and wait for them to leave the room. The last person to leave any meeting is also the latest to arrive to the next meeting and in both cases implicitly the most important person, and this is you.
When the unwitting junior sends out notes, make at least one correction to a minor detail and thank everyone for attending, ensuring you have the last say. Then send a note to his/her boss advising that attention to detail is important but thanking them for their work, but really, attention to detail is everything. Reinforce this through whatever feedback tool du jour is being employed, using a plain 🙂 to round things out.
Finally, publish the notes to the meeting on the wiki, where it will live forever in ignominy.
If you’ve read up to here, you’re probably 15 minutes late to your current meeting. This is a perfect time to email everyone to ask if you can reschedule because something came up. Congratulations, you’ve crushed it!