Posted on 22nd Jan 2019

We’ve all dealt with meeting management and read lists such as “The 5 Steps to More Productive Meetings” or “7 Ways to Keep Meetings on Track”. That’s all useful information, but in my experience the biggest meeting killer is examplitis.

People like to share stories and emphasize their points with funny or illuminating examples. I see no problem with that – and you couldn’t eliminate stories if you tried. Plus, meetings would be awfully dry without some story-telling to add color and interest.

However, once a point is made and illustrated with an example or two, that’s enough. Examplitis creeps in when a person gives more than one example, or when everyone feels the need to share an example. Of course there are times when group cohesion relies on everyone offering their view, but generally that’s not necessary.

Keep in mind that examplitis is contagious. It can spread quickly among meeting participants, creating a distorted sense of time and an impulse to speak. Paradoxically, other participants may experience feelings of boredom and withdrawal.

There are several effective cures for examplitis. The first is an application of meeting management, i.e., allowing one or two examples per issue. This generally works well provided the group leader is not infected first. A second cure is a sustained dose of solution focus. This involves a concerted effort to discuss solutions instead of dwelling on examples of problems. A third cure is injection of a clear agenda with time limits for each agenda item.

The most recent research on examplitis suggests that leadership is the key factor in stopping the spread of infection. Leadership does not necessarily have to be provided by the designated group leader; any member of the group can be effective if he or she is properly inoculated and willing to speak up. The most powerful deterrent to examplitis, however, remains the designated leader.

Experts further recommend that individuals learn and practice the principles of “safe specs”. These are specific guidelines to eliminate examplitis from your own behavior. Chief among the specs is careful observation of how others respond to the stories you share. Examples of adverse reactions include people checking their cell phones, doodling on agenda sheets, or staring blankly with eyes half shut. Other examples include people leaning forward in their seats to make a point that you persistently prevent them from making. Other examples include . . . Well, I guess I’ll just stop here. I’m feeling a little feverish.

Gregory Powell, Ph.D., 2019