The Emotional Arc of Meetings

I’ve started the New Year with a near constant tour of conference rooms, war rooms, classrooms, huddle spaces and other places where meetings of any kind are held. In the first three weeks of the year, I’ve visited four major cities and countless business and university campuses. I’ve been trying to gain a deeper understanding of meeting culture and how technology is impacting those trends, for better or worse.

Some of the most consistent and obvious themes that I’ve noticed is that meetings need to start faster, involve more input from participants, and support seamless collaboration, which is centered around the content we all carry on our devices. Most AV companies and integrators are already aware of this trend and are looking at better meeting scheduling systems, more interactive spaces, and better data connectivity. These same issues are also a major reason why our customers are adopting Solstice in the first place. But if you look beyond those important challenges, I’ve noticed another pattern. A potentially more important pattern. This is that meetings burden attendees with a certain amount of emotional and mental burdens that impacts productivity. Many organizations now know this, and AV should take notice.

businessman-in-anger-screaming-300x200-0116But what does this mean? I’ve heard “meetings suck” before. But what’s actionable here? For the groups I’ve been meeting with it means that their employees only have a certain amount of intellectual and emotional capital to spend throughout the day and meetings seem to have a high price. These astute companies have discovered something very interesting:

Meetings, more than anything else at work, impose an emotional tax on attendees — that isn’t being spent on more productive tasks.

The root cause for this emotional tax is related to the additional stress that a fixed, planned, and “on-stage event” creates in the minds of the attendees. The interesting thing here is that the emotional exhaustion doesn’t arise from the work itself. Most workers love what they do, and seek out opportunities for collaboration. The emotional tax arises from the stress of having your technology lag or falter while others are waiting on you. We often have to suffer through “I pushed the conference call button and still don’t hear you!” or “Did you try this?” All while the group waits.

When you combine these technical issues with the social pressure to involve others, to be nice to everyone else in the group, and to generally just give off a good vibe – the emotional tax grows. This type of social interaction is referred to as ‘social acting’ or ‘surface acting.’ Psychologists have shown that semi-public interaction that involves feigning interest, insincere laughter, and keeping the peace causes a huge drain. One study by the British Psychological Society blog reports that surface acting can impact other tasks throughout your day, and that individuals who are consistently emotionally exhausted are harder to retain in an organization.

Now, here’s the kicker: A meeting that involves higher emotional tax creates ‘meeting recovery syndrome,’ which leaves individuals less effective for a long period after the meeting ends.


These recovery times can be as much as 50 percent of the meeting length of the meeting itself. We’ve all experienced the emotional drain that comes for a long, top-down, “important” meeting and the impact it can have on the rest of your workday. As someone that is designing software to improve our customers’ ability to collaborate and meet more effectively, this may be the single biggest area of productivity gain for us to focus on in the next year. So, while it’s true that we’ve been able to address the seven minutes of meeting startup, decrease context switching costs in meetings from minutes to seconds, and allow a more collaborative experience with multi-source content sharing – I’m excited to look at ways to help organizations manage the emotional arc of the meetings itself. Imagine attending a stress-free, collaborative meeting that is a joy to attend.

I’m working with some of our partners to define how our software can help make this happen in order to let company culture to shine through the decades of fog that single source, video cables, and hour long PowerPoint sessions have created. If you’ve used Solstice, you might have seen hints of “joy” in the user-interface – but there is more to come – so stay tuned.