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The Hamster Revolution for Meetings

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Are meetings taking over your life? You’re not alone. Meet Iris, a sales director so overwhelmed by meetings that she feels like a hamster on a wheel—in fact, she’s turned into one. Just in time, she meets a coach—a leading meeting efficiency expert—with a simple system that helps her regain her sanity and humanity.

The coach’s secret is a laser-like focus on the five biggest meeting pain points:

1. Meeting overload: Professionals waste twenty-four days a year in useless meetings.

2. Missing success ingredients: ninety percent of all professionals attend meetings that lack a clearly stated objective and agenda.

3. Virtual-meeting chaos: Disinterested participants + endless technical glitches huge amounts of wasted time.

4. Agenda adrift: Goals are missed when meetings veer off course.

5. Action distraction: Incomplete action items result in delayed projects and missed deadlines.

The coach demonstrates that these five challenges are damaging Iris’s career and costing the world over a trillion dollars each year. He provides practical new solutions that rapidly transform Iris from victim to victor. These solutions are tailored to the technology-driven world in which Iris lives—she discovers how to use e-calendars, PDAs, and virtual meetings to make her life easier, not more complicated. She applies the solutions, gets immediate results, and reclaims her life. The Hamster Revolution for Meetings focuses on a small number of high-impact best practices that really work. Included is a landmark case study that shows how 3,000 Capital One associates reclaimed ten days per year while improving meeting effectiveness by over 35 percent.

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We were stuck.

Kim, our flight attendant, had just informed us that a violent thunderstorm was rapidly rolling in.

“If we get seated quickly, we’ll be able to take off a few minutes early and miss the bad weather,” she said.

Unfortunately, one final passenger was arriving at the last possible minute, spoiling the plan. Everyone was grumbling and straining to see who it was.

“Uh, welcome aboard!” said Kim, sounding confused. She was talking to someone, but from our vantage point, no one appeared to be there.

What was going on?

Kim turned to watch the invisible passenger trudge down the aisle. At the front of the plane, heads turned and people gasped.

“Did you see that?”

“Oh my!”

Straining to see, I leaned into the aisle to get a better look. Suddenly I was face-to-face with an attractive yet extremely frazzled female hamster. She was no more than two feet tall and wore a dark blue business suit.

My fellow passengers were stunned. The plane fell silent.

“Hi, I’m Iris,” she gasped. “I just ran all the way through the airport.”




Iris turned to me. “I hope I didn’t offend you…by saying that I didn’t need help with meetings.”

“Oh no,” I replied. “I understand completely.”

She fidgeted in her seat for a moment.

“I’ve noticed lately—there’s a lot more leg room on these flights.”

“There sure is,” I agreed, smiling gently. Iris was quiet for a moment.

Suddenly she asked, “How exactly do you help people with meetings?”

I smiled again. “At first, you may think my approach is a bit odd.”

“No I won’t,” said Iris emphatically. “I promise.”

“Okay,” I said. “If you feel like a hamster on a wheel—running harder and faster but getting nowhere—that’s a serious problem. You need more than just a few tips and tricks to reclaim your life.”

“Sounds reasonable,” encouraged Iris.

“We need a whole new way to meet, something revolutionary. And the good news is that this revolution has already begun. It’s taking off around the world and anyone can join.”

“Does this movement have a name?” she asked, raising her eyebrows.

“The Hamster Revolution for Meetings.”




After the jet reached cruising altitude, Iris pulled a small bag of celery sticks from her computer case.

“Been craving veggies lately,” she said between munches. “So what are the five big meeting pain points you’ve been yammering about?”

“Why don’t you tell me?” I replied. “What bothers you most about meetings at Spex?”

Iris thought for a moment and said, “Sheer volume. We meet too much.”

“What else?”

“Our meetings always start and end late—we jokingly call that ‘Spex Time.’ We never stay on track, agendas are rare, and presentations run way too long.”

Her whiskers twitched as she paused to think. “Oh yes, and action items vaporize the moment people leave.”

“Does this happen in both live and virtual meetings?” I asked.

Iris rolled her eyes. “Don’t get me started on virtual meetings! Most of them are boring as mud. I swear that half of my team is doing email during our weekly sales managers’ teleconference—especially Alex.”

“Alex?” I asked.

“He’s one of our best regional sales managers. But he never says a word in meetings, and if I call on him, he always sounds startled. He’s probably surfing the web or downloading music.”




I handed Iris a calculator and asked, “How much time do you spend in meetings each year?”

Iris shrugged. “I have no idea.”

“Well, let’s find out!” I said. “Look at your e-calendar for the past four weeks and figure out the average number of meetings you attended each day.”

Iris pulled out her laptop and took a moment to add up her meetings.

“I’m averaging 3.3 meetings a day,” she said.

“Now multiply 3.3 by the average duration of your meetings. This will tell us how much time you spend in meetings each day.”

“I would say our average meeting lasts 60 minutes.” Iris typed in the numbers. “And that means I spend roughly 200 minutes per day in meetings.”

“Okay, now multiply 200 minutes times 240 business days per year.”

Iris did the calculation and mused, “Wow. That’s 48,000 minutes per year!”

I nodded. “Now divide by 60 to convert those meeting minutes into hours.”

Iris tapped in the numbers and looked surprised. She held up the calculator. “I spend 800 hours in meetings each year?”

“Now divide 800 by 8 hours to get the total number of continuous eight-hour days you spend in meetings each year.”




“Hey, Iris,” I asked. “Do you find it hard to turn down a meeting invitation?”

“Kind of,” she said.

“What’s the first thing you do when someone sends you an invitation?”

“I check my calendar.”

“Here’s something I’d like you to check before you look at your calendar,” I said, pointing to The Hamster Revolution for Meetings Power Tools card.

“The POSE Meeting Reduction Tool?” asked Iris.

“If you want to meet less, you have to POSE the right questions before agreeing to a meeting. POSE is an acronym that will remind you to ask some important questions:

Iris frowned. “You’re going to have to explain each one.”

“Okay,” I said. “From now on, the first question to POSE when invited to a meeting is Is this meeting a priority?”

“But I do that,” protested Iris.

“Really?” I asked. “What are your top 10 priority goals for this year?”

Iris looked flustered. “Well, uh, I have an overall sales goal and we’re trying to hire three salespeople and, oh yes, Operation Elevation is certainly at the top of the list.”

“List?” I asked. “So you have a document that summarizes your goals? Something you could open in a couple seconds?”




“Okay, Iris, we’ve discussed a list of basic meeting elements that are missing at Spex meetings.”

“A very long list,” agreed Iris.

“Did you ever wonder why these ingredients are missing?”

“Well, things are so rushed these days. Who has the time to draft an Objenda or ground rules?” Iris reflected for a moment. “There are so many elements that contribute to a great meeting—how can anyone keep track of them all?”

I nodded. “What you need is a tool that locks in the right ingredients.”

“And might you have such a tool for me?” asked Iris with a sly smile.

“As luck would have it, I do,” I said as I pointed to the next tool on the Hamster Revolution job aid. “It’s called a Meeting Power Draft, and we’re going to build one right now.”

I pointed to Iris’ computer. “Please create a new email.”

“Hold on,” said Iris, raising her paw. “What does email have to do with…”

“Don’t worry,” I said with a smile. “It’ll make sense in a minute.”

Iris frowned as she created the email. “What now?”

“Let’s make the subject of this email ‘0. Meeting Power Draft.’”







Over the next few days I attended two of Iris’ virtual meetings, and just as she’d said, they were awful. In our follow-up phone call I reviewed my notes with her:

Meeting 1:  Regional Sales Managers’ Weekly Teleconference

Notes: Iris led a somewhat dry teleconference that was designed to summarize key initiatives for the week. She was the primary speaker for 90 percent of the meeting, and when she asked questions, there was usually a long silence before anyone responded. Most of the conversation from other participants came from 3 of her 12 regional managers. Other team members seemed bored and distant, as if they were doing email.

Meeting 2:  Brainstorming Teleconference with Marketing

Notes: Iris attended a brainstorming session led by Tasha Williams from marketing. Iris gave her input on a variety of ideas, and the meeting was lively but unproductive. Unfortunately, the group was unable to come to a conclusion on a specific theme for an important new campaign. They agreed to hold another teleconference in a few weeks.




On Friday, I logged in to the Spex client sales webinar 15 minutes early hoping to see the sales team working like a well-oiled machine. What I witnessed was a slow-motion train wreck that probably hurt sales more than it helped.

I was the first arrival on both the teleconference and web meeting. Moments before start time, Carl opened the phone line and started the webinar. Immediately, I knew something was wrong. His voice sounded fuzzy and I detected an odd echo every time he spoke. The echo was so distracting that Carl must have known he couldn’t proceed with the meeting. He muttered something about technical difficulties and then muted his phone.

One minute before start time, Iris and roughly 25 clients began to call in to the teleconference and log in to the web meeting. Most clients were a few minutes late. Very few were early.

“Hello—Hello—Hello?” they echoed to each other. Some laughed but others seemed perturbed.

“Am I in the right place?” asked a client.

“I don’t have time for this,” opined another.




It was Iris and Carl and they wanted answers.

“Okay, Coach,” said Iris tensely, “how can we make sure this never, ever happens again?”

“Yeah,” said Carl, who still sounded a bit shell-shocked. “Talk about Murphy’s Law. Anything that could go wrong did go wrong!”

“Iris and Carl,” I said calmly, “I have a new law for you. The Hamster Virtual Meeting Law: Everything will fail.”

“That’s real snappy,” said Iris, sounding more than a bit irritated.

“And upbeat,” noted Carl sarcastically. “You must be a hoot at parties. Seriously though, there was nothing I could’ve done to prevent all those technical problems.”

“Oh, no?” I asked. “If you had expected things to go wrong you probably would have taken corrective steps. The law is rooted in the idea that virtual meetings have a ton of variables: your computer, your participant’s computer, the phone line, the web line, and on and on.”

I heard Carl exhale loudly and then there was a brief silence.

“We need an explanation,” said Iris. “How can you stop a computer screen from freezing or a web conference line from echoing?”




As I walked into the spacious, sun-soaked lobby of Spex Media, I felt excited to meet Iris’ team. I knew from her emails that she was already seeing big productivity gains from our virtual meeting sessions. It didn’t hurt that the caffeine from my mochacinno was just beginning to hit my bloodstream.

Iris’young assistant, David, greeted me in the lobby and escorted me to the conference room.

“We’ve seen a remarkable change in the past three weeks,” said David as the regional managers and support team filed in well ahead of the 2:00 p.m. start time. David held up his PDA and smiled. “I’ve got the Objenda right here.”

“Me too,” said a new arrival dressed in a grey sports jacket. “I’m Vijay Patel, one of Iris’ regional managers.”

“And chief computer geek,” said David with a grin. “Seriously though, Vijay’s a genius at analyzing data, creating charts—all that tech stuff.”

After quickly introducing me to a few more members of Iris’ team, David pulled me aside. A look of concern flashed across his face. “Lately I’ve been worried about the change in Iris and now Pen—”




“Raise your hand if you’ve recently attended a meeting where the action items didn’t get completed on time.”

A bunch of hands shot up.

“Why does that happen?”

“I think people get busy and they forget,” said David.

“I always get this sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach,” said Iris, “when I see people writing down their action items. I always wonder, How can I make sure these things get done?”

“Sometimes,” said Vijay “we don’t even write them down.”

“Do meeting notes always get sent?” I asked.

“Not always,” replied Vijay with a sigh.

Penny protested, “The meetings that I facilitate always have complete meeting notes that get sent to every participant.”

“And do you feel that your colleagues open the notes and act on the action items in them?” I asked gently.

There was a long pause and then Penny tore a blank piece of paper from her notepad, crumpled it up, and said, “I think half the time they do this with it—” She tossed the wadded paper through the air in a perfect arc and it dropped straight into a trash can on the far side of the room. Everyone burst out laughing.




As everyone filed out of the meeting, Penny pulled Iris and me aside.

“I need to talk to you in private,” she said.

As we walked briskly to her office, Penny was quiet. Iris shot me a worried look as we took our seats.

Penny hopped up in her chair and positioned herself carefully on top of three phone books. Iris, who had no phone books on her chair, had trouble seeing over Penny’s large, oak desk.

Penny frowned, crossed her arms, and looked down at her notes.

“Well,” she said cautiously, “I came in hating this rodent revolt. All these wacky terms and life-changing blah, blah, blah made this seem like a gimmick to me.”

Iris gulped and winced at the same time. I tightened my grip on the arms of my chair. This was getting ugly.

Penny continued, “As you know, I’ve been trying to change meetings at Spex for 10 years without success. When Iris started talking about this hamster thing, I began asking lots of questions.”

Penny gave me a stern look. “I checked your references and pumped Iris and her team for more info. And what I found.




“I believe that’s my seat next to you.”

I looked up to see a tall, sharp-looking businesswoman dressed in a dark blue pants suit. She smiled intensely at me as if we shared some amazing secret.

“I’m sorry,” I said, feeling confused. “Let me jump up so that you can—”

“Coach! Don’t you recognize me? Don’t you remember?”

“Uhhh,” I bumbled, trying to place the face. Who was this?

“Spex Media?” she said raising her eyebrows. It was a clue.

“Iris?” I said slowly. “Is that you?”

“No! Definitely not!” she said, rolling her eyes and feigning sarcasm.

“Guess again!”

After a long, awkward pause it hit me.

“Penny? Penny Price?”

“Of course!” she said, mimicking a basketball player shooting a perfect jump shot.

“Great to see you, Penny. Of course I remember you.”

As our flight prepared for takeoff, Penny brought me up to speed with Spex. The Hamster Revolution for Meetings had been a huge success.

“Thanks for providing those workshops and keynote talks to get things rolling,” said Penny. “Having our executives attend the training was a brilliant idea. Suddenly they started arriving fashionably early for a change. And guess what?”




Over the next few months, Iris called several times to ask questions. What follows is a summary of those brief conversations.

IRIS: After a break, I sometimes have trouble getting people back on time. It’s like herding hamsters! Is there a better way?

INFO COACH: Rather than saying, Come back in ten minutes, I recommend saying, Everyone look at your cell phones. It’s 10:41 right now. I need you back here in 10 minutes, which will be exactly 10:51 on your cell phone. Okay? This way everyone is synchronized and the return time is concrete.

IRIS: Where can I go to find the desktop job aid, free tools, and information on Hamster Revolution training?

INFO COACH: Visit the Info-Center at

IRIS: Some members of my team try to dominate the entire meeting. Others never say a word. How can I deal with all these difficult teammates?

INFO COACH: YOU need to tailor your approach to engage each team member. Here’s a handy guide:

Resource: Table 1

IRIS: TWO of my teammates love to argue in our meetings. I’m tired of refereeing their disagreements. What should I do?




This case study underscores the value of implementing Hamster Revolution meeting insights across an organization. This case study and others like it can be found at

Challenge: Capitol One is an enterprise that constantly strives to maximize productivity. When internal surveys revealed that meeting overload was a growing productivity challenge for associates, Capital One’s Productivity team took action. Solution: The Capital One Productivity team partnered with Cohesive Knowledge Solutions, Inc., (CKS) to develop a ground-breaking meeting efficiency workshop. The program was based on CKS’s Info-Excellence® Get Control of Meetings seminar. The training session delivered insights that reduced meeting time dramatically, saving over nine days a year per associate. Over 8,000 associates have since taken the training.128

Capital One Financial (COF) has earned a sterling reputation for innovation, customer service, and leadership in the diversified financial services sector. Capital One manages over 1100 billion in assets for 50 million customers worldwide.



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