2/07/2008

Corporate Survival Guide: Meet the Challenge

One of the most critical actions that Corporate Warriors perform is meeting. We meet in the morning. We meet all afternoon. We meet to summarize our days in the evenings and we meet with our global workforce at night. We have breakfast meetings, we meet over lunch, and we have crucial meetings with drinks and dinner.

With all of these meetings, it's obviously vitally important that we have the right skills to conduct ourselves appropriately in each and every meeting. Through my years of experience on the Battlefields of Corporate Excellence, I have gleaned the most important factor in effect meeting: Staying awake.

Some people talk about the importance of attractive slideware with cool transition effects, or authoritative voices and a decisive speaking tone, or even the ability to reasonably discuss important topics. But all of these capabilities pale in comparison to the Corporate Warrior's ability to simply keep from nodding off and drooling onto the conference table or, even worse, drooling into your laptop keyboard, causing it to short out and bring the meeting to an embarrassing halt.

We can look beyond meetings to other, less important, facets of our lives to validate this assumption. For example, in all of the presidential speeches you've seen, from the State of the Union to the quick wave of "I can't hear you over the chopper blades" as the Big Man boards the helicopter, what is the single characteristic that the president exudes consistently? Right - he is always awake.

In the myriad of plane flights you've taken to transport you to other venues for more meetings, what is the single-most important factor in the pilots' abilities to fly and land the airplane safely? Right - staying awake.

In fact, I challenge you to come up with any important goal ever achieved by anyone important while the person was asleep (apart from the 1956 record-setting Helsinki snore-athon, of course).

Staying awake is probably the most important skill that any of us employee in doing anything. And since meeting other Corporate Warriors is the most important thing we do in life, it is even more important to remain vigilantly sleepless at during those meetings. Just imagine the poor decisions and lackluster discussions that might happen in our absence were we to simply doze off during a particularly tedious bit of level-setting process parley - it makes me shudder.

Now that we've established the importance of keeping those eyelids propped, you're probably wondering how to do it. After all, we have to sleep sometime, and between the all-day meetings, evening and night meetings, preparations for meetings, trips to the barista, and toilet breaks, how can we possibly stay awake at these most critical times?

It's possible, but it takes discipline. Fortunately, if you follow my 7-step program , you'll be able to do it.

Program Wakeup

1) Drugs
Drinking coffee to get through the day is old news. After all, companies have been using this legal drug for centuries to get their workforce through their tedious jobs, day after day. Coffee was apparently invented a mere two weeks after the industrial revolution, when management saw workers actually getting bored operating the looms and lathes. At first, management simply doped the cafeteria water fountain with liquified No Doze, but genetic engineers soon came up with a way to have the coffee plant, previously a mildly poisonous weed, actually bear fruit that contained enough stimulant to do the job.
But, like your gym workouts that you talk about but don't quite manage to have time for, you need to take coffee drinking to the next level. Don't choose between drip coffee and espresso; get a double-espresso as a depth-charge shot in your large coffee. And skip the Mocha-Frappa-Latte-Ccino drinks with the Italianesque names; you need the pure stuff. And get a pound of beans to go when you get your drink every hour; you can pop them just like you do your antacid pills. Sure, they taste awful and lodge in your teeth, but suck it up: they're also keeping your career alive, buddy.

2) Talk
It's not good enough to simply attend your meetings; you have to participate. For one thing, it's important for the people in the organization to know you exist. More importantly, the people above you need to know about you. But most importantly, recent studies from the Management Institute for Managing Studies have shown that it's physically impossible to talk and sleep at the same time.
It doesn't matter what you say; just talk. Nobody is listening anyway; they're concentrating on staying awake themselves.

3) Argue
Sometimes, it's not good enough to have a reasonable conversation. At some point, someone else will butt in and wrest the discussion away from you as they fight their own fatigue. That's why you need to, at least once an hour or once every meeting, jump into the discussion with a heated argument. Pound on the table, raise your voice, jump to your feet it you have to; whatever it takes to raise your blood pressure and pump a little adrenaline into your flagging system.
Like the "Talk" element covered above, it doesn't matter what your point is; no one cares. But they will care that you are passionate about something and obviously care; it will serve you well in the upcoming re-org.

4) Chew
Step one above included the use of espresso beans as a daytime snack. This is important for the drug itself, but also to keep something in your mouth. Research has shown that the body is less inclined to sleep if it's going to choke on something by doing so, so get something in that mouth of yours besides vapid conversation. Espresso beans are a good example. Also, gum works well, but try not to blow and pop bubbles. Mints can work as well, and have the advantage of always making everyone think that you smell so darned fresh. Of course, you don't want to completely gross out your co-workers, so, "be discreat." Examples of foods that don't work as well during a meeting include soup, spaghetti marinara, chewing tobacco (unless you are meeting in Texas), and the fruit durian, an Asian delicacy that smells like an outhouse.

5) Snort
Some Corporate Warriors are fortunate enough to suffer from allergies, but for the rest of us, we need to fake it. There's nothing like a constant sniffle and occasional sneezes to keep your body alert. If you don't have a cold and don't have allergies, you have to make do. In the old days, they used snuff for this purpose, but today we have many options available. I have found that the small paper pepper packets from cafeterias are just about perfect for the purpose. One packet snorted before every meeting ensures that you will sneeze and sniffle for most of the next hour. Lacking that, you might try mints; crushed Altoids work well, while Tic Tacs may lodge uncomfortably in the nose if snorted whole.

6) Drink
You should already be sucking down enough coffee to keep the legal Columbian economy afloat, but sometimes coffee is not enough. In particular, coffee is processed gradually by your body, causing an unwanted delay in bathroom breaks. Water, on the other hand, runs straight to the bladder, causing you to need a bathroom break on a frequent basis. Experiment with amounts that work for you, but a potty break every fifteen minutes is what you're shooting for. Beer is even better for bathroom frequency, although it has other downsides such as increased fatigue, speech slurring, incoherent arguments, and occasional fisticuffs. Beer should therefore only be used by politicians.

7) Make a Point
Finally, here is the ultimate stay-awake methodology; use your pen.
Many laptops have a mouse joystick in the middle of the keyboard. It’s that thing that looks like a clown nose but is far less disturbing. Remove it.
Now, insert the back end of your pen into that hole. The tip should stick straight up.
Position the laptop directly in front of you, a few inches away from the edge of the table.
Now your final fail-safe mechanism is set up and ready to go. If all of the above steps fail to keep you awake, you will eventually tip forward toward the table, jabbing the pen into your forehead (or perhaps your eye; let experience be your guide on positioning it appropriately). Besides being an amazingly effective mechanism for waking you up, it's also a fantastic metaphor for the Corporate Warrior; upon failing to stay awake, you voluntarily fall on your sword. But the pen is mightier than the sword. In this case, you die only metaphorically (in most cases) but then awake instantly, ready to discuss, argue, and wipe the ink and blood from your forehead.


If you are new to Program Wakeup, you may want to start slowly, mastering one step at a time. Soon, you should be able to practice all seven effectively, allowing you to achieve your full meeting potential.

Note that I've summarized the program above, but it's also available in DVD format, a 3-week Executive Offsite Seminar, and in my Forward Osmosis audio tape series, for easy listening while you're in transit to a meeting or asleep in one.
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