Five TED Talks to Get You Through a Rough Day of Meetings

Everyone has been there. You come into work, check your calendar, and see that your day is packed full of meetings. So what do you do? I found a coping method that might seem unusual – TED Talks. I’ll explain:

SHIFTers are fortunate to receive the week between Christmas and New Year’s off to relax with our families and recharge for the coming year. While spending some downtime between family events, I started binge-watching TED Talks. As you may know, TED (technology, entertainment, and design) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to spreading ideas, typically in short, compelling talks, no longer than 18 minutes. The TED conference covers almost any topic you can imagine, and I viewed a wide array of topics, from “career advice you probably didn’t get” to “the first secret of design.”

As we settle into January and the pace of 2016 picks up, I thought I’d share five talks that resonated the strongest with me – and each had a key takeaway to help you get through that rough day of meetings.

David Grady: How to Save the World (Or At Least Yourself) From Bad Meetings

We wouldn’t let a coworker get away with stealing our office chair, so why do we let them steal our most valuable possession, time? David Grady, who works in information security, presents a short and humorous look at what he terms “mindless acceptance syndrome” – that feeling when one automatically accepts invites to all meetings, regardless of whether they actually need to attend, or will provide any value.

The Takeaway: We can all be more thoughtful in how we plan for meetings. As an organizer, make sure you’re not inviting unnecessary attendees “just to be nice,” and provide all agenda and background info well in advance of the meeting. Also, consider whether a meeting is the best forum to communicate your agenda – a well-crafted email update might suffice (and save on budget). As an attendee, touch base with the organizer if you don’t clearly see why you should attend. Your best offense is a good defense.

Amy Cuddy: Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are

You might be familiar with this one about The Power Pose. Amy Cuddy, a social psychologist who specializes in nonverbal behavior, posits that our body language influences not only what others think about us, but also how we feel about ourselves and act toward others. For those who haven’t seen it, humans (all animals, actually) are hardwired to use expansive body language if they are in positions of power or pride. Conversely, animals with an inferior status (or humans who lack confidence) tend to curl up into themselves. This nonverbal behavior goes as far as to impact our chemistry – raising testosterone (a power hormone) and lowering cortisol (the stress hormone) in those whose body language is expansive and raising cortisol and lowering testosterone (and confidence) in those with hunkered down gestures. Interestingly, putting on powerful nonverbal behavior – i.e., “faking it” – has the same effect on our chemistry as natural or earned status.

The Takeaway: You might be dreading a full day of meetings – but don’t let everyone who looks at you know it. “Fake it ‘til you make it” is real. Boost your confidence in between meetings by striking a Wonder Woman pose, or do a few jumping jacks in the restroom before for a jolt of sureness. Not to be afterschool special-y, but attitudes are contagious – is yours worth catching?

Daniel Levitin: How to Stay Calm When You Know You’ll Be Stressed

In PR, we are constantly measuring after the fact – did we meet our metrics, what could we have done differently? Riffing off the idea of similar post-mortem analyses of activities, Daniel Levitin, a cognitive psychologist and neuroscientist, puts forward the idea of the “pre-mortem,” in which you look ahead and determine what could go wrong and take action to either prevent things from going sideways – or at least mitigate the damage. The science behind this is clear – when things go wrong, stress causes our cortisol levels to rise. This cortisol clouds our ability to think rationally and make good decisions in the moment.

The Takeaway: Sometimes you just know a meeting is going to be rough – a picky client, poor campaign results, etc. Preparedness is your best option, so plan ahead.  At the beginning of a campaign, launch or other activity, actively discuss areas that could go wrong, and take preventive action to avoid it or at least avoid total catastrophe. The same applies for meetings – if you think of the hard questions that could be asked or the bad turns it could take and how to respond to each of them, you’ll be prepared and have a plan in place.

Nigel Marsh: How to Make Work/Life Balance Work

“Work/life balance” means different things to different people; I prefer the term “work/life blend.” Author Nigel Marsh, who spent more than two decades in branding and marketing before burning out, talks about his realization that being more balanced doesn’t necessarily mean dramatic upheaval in our lives – although he did quit his job for a year and found it very easy to have a balanced life without the work side of the equation. Similarly, joining a gym is not going solve the problems of someone working 12 hour days in a job they hate. We need to set the boundaries that we want in our lives and – this hit home with me – realize that while each day might tip one way or the other, it’s how you feel about your life as a whole that matters.

The Takeaway: The work/life blend is one of my favorite elements of the SHIFT culture; we are not only encouraged, but (in many cases) rewarded for treating ourselves right and making the most of our life outside the agency. Though it may not seem like it, a day full of meetings will eventually end. Be present at work knowing it is a relatively short blip in the grand scheme of things.

Laura Trice: Remember to Say ‘Thank You’

Everyone needs praise, admiration and gratitude – as long as it’s genuine. In her talk, Laura Trice, a social worker, discusses some of the hidden reasons people avoid or deflect praise – as well as the impact a simple “thank you” or “I’m proud of you” can have on an individual.

The Takeaway: Everyone wants recognition for doing good work, and for the effort put in. Meetings are not always easy, especially when they last all day. Take time to look for the little things that colleagues, clients and others do to work toward common goals and projects, or just to make the day just a little brighter. Responding “you’re welcome” – not “no worries” or “no problem” – when someone thanks you feels pretty good, too, when you say it genuinely.


TED’s mission is to spread ideas, and they “believe passionately in the power of ideas to change attitudes, lives and, ultimately, the world”. Perhaps surviving a day of meetings isn’t exactly world-saving, but it is a great thing, nonetheless.

What are some of the TED talks that have resonated with you?

Leslie Clavin
Vice President, Account Services


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