The Room Where It Happens

A Four Minute Read

Much has been written on how to run effective meetings, but simple math dictates that we attend more meetings meetingsthan we lead. The upshot is most of us are victims of poor meeting management, not perpetrators. Time is a zero-sum game; hours spent in someone else’s conference room is, by nature, hours spent away from our work (multitasking to be discussed another time). If we presume that meetings will be poorly run, ineffective, and wasteful, what can we do about that – how can we reclaim our own time?

Few of us have effective strategies for dealing with worthless meetings. Before blindly accepting all invitations – or summarily rejecting them, think through the purpose of the meeting and your role in it. Are you attending for the right reasons, or for selfish ones? Are you skipping the meetings that need you the most?

This post will identify the wrong reasons to attend a meeting; in this post, we discuss how to identify where you belong.

How Will Being In The Room Help You?

aaron-burr-musicalThe showstopper in Broadway’s Hamilton comes in Act Two: “The Room Where It Happens” features Aaron Burr expressing resentment and frustration at his own political impotence:

No one really knows how the parties got to yes,
The pieces that are sacrificed in every game of chess
We just assume that it happens
But no one else is in the room where it happens…

We want our leaders to save the day
But we don’t get a say in what they trade away
I’ve got to be in the room where it happens

What meetings do you attend because you feel you have got to be in The Room Where “It” Happens?

Sometimes we are actually invited by the organizer, sometimes by other attendees – and sometimes we just crash – because we do not want to be left out. We want to know what pieces are being sacrificed – and if any of those pieces are ours. So, ask yourself:

Are you trying to be in the room, just to reassure yourself that nothing bad is going to happen? Or, that if it is, you know before anyone else?

If kate-left-outyou find yourself in the irrational pull of attending simply to scratch that “what if” itch, there are a few questions you should ask first:

  • What will you do differently, once you have the information?
  • How will learning now help you with your daily activities or projects?
  • Your time is an investment – is the return of attending this meeting worth it?

If you do not have solid answers to these questions, you would be better off tending to your own work and dealing with the meeting’s outcome when it actually affects you.

Is It A Society Event?

Alternately, many believe that political capital can be earned simply by being in The Room Where It Happens, perception being that attendance denotes status. Those that attend certain meetings have greater agency in decisions, the fantasy goes; we complain about meetings, but we want to be wanted. Sometimes we just want to rub elbows with decision makers – or just to be seen in the room.

If you find you treat events on your calendar as a souvenir t-shirt from some exclusive happening, screaming “Look how cool I am” – skip the meeting. Use that time to advance your own career.

Sometimes we just do not know what is going to happen in the room… Usually because we did not receive an agimperial-conference-roomenda in advance. So we attend because our curiosity simply gets the better of us. Stop that! See this post for tips on how to deal with that. If you think you will have a say in what is traded away, or you can get a say, you should know in advance.

Will Anything Even Happen?

Lastly, how sure are you that anything will actually happen in The Room Where It Happens? How often do key decisions actually get made – particularly in a meeting – in your organization? Think about – what is the ratio of “meetings” to “significant decisions made”? Then, reduce that by a factor of “significant decisions made” to “those specific decisions actually getting implemented”? If those are pretty low ratios, you can be confident that not much is happening in The Room Where It Happens. As such, if you politely decline the meeting, you will likely thank yourself later.


If your calendar is overflowing with meetings, at the sake of your being productive, you need to take a hard look at the meetings you attend. If you are attending for self-preservation or to minimize your own paranoia, you would be better off focusing on your own work and getting summaries later.

Alexander Hamilton was not in The Room Where It Happens because he fought a revolution to attend more meetings; he was an accomplished man of action, and It happened because he was in The Room. No one ever got promoted, received a raise, or found life satisfaction because they attended more meetings than anyone else. Focus on being the one who makes things happen, and worry less about who you are in the room with.










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