Wait, You Don’t Have A DJ For Your Meeting?
Paul Estes is the chief community officer at MURAL, the bestselling author of Gig Mindset and an advocate for the gig and creator economies.
Think back to all the meetings you’ve attended throughout your career. How would you describe the overall experience? Did they make you feel motivated and energized? Or does this scenario sound all too familiar?
You sit through a PowerPoint presentation in a meeting room or on a conference call, and an executive goes on at length. You wait an hour for your two seconds to chime in. The most vocal people get their opinions heard, and everyone else tries not to zone out.
Rinse. Repeat. This was my experience in meetings for nearly 20 years working in tech, and it’s still the norm, even as companies are now shifting to a hybrid environment and trying to “find a different way to work.”
Let’s move away from this old model and get inventive about changing how we work. One simple, scientifically proven way to keep people more engaged and creative is to harness the power of music. Start DJing your meetings. Treat them like a production, not a presentation.
At our company, we pick a different facilitator (or DJ) for each meeting who is responsible for choosing and playing the music. The DJ creates playlists to complement each phase of a meeting and help us do our best work. For example, they might put on a jazz-funk mix during a brainstorm session, trance during focused work and lo-fi hip-hop during reflection time. There’s always music when we work together, and it makes the collaborative experience far more dynamic and fun. I spent half my life in windowless meeting rooms with no music, and now I’d never go back to the old way.
Change The Experience, Not Just The Tools
So much of the conversation around the shift to a hybrid workplace, and how remote and in-office employees can seamlessly collaborate, is focused on changing the tools we use. Tools are an important part of the equation. I work with a global, distributed team at MURAL, a digital workspace for visual collaboration, and our mission is to improve the tools teams use to share and develop ideas.
But the tools only take you so far. As you envision the ideal hybrid workplace, lean into changing the experience of remote work, not just the tools. How can you design the remote experience so it’s more collaborative, engaging and fun? How can you get your entire team to actively participate and get the most out of everyone in the room? Not by presenting to them on Zoom calls all day.
The Science Behind The Music
Music is linked to a long list of positive health outcomes, including reducing stress and improving mood, emotional regulation, attention and memory.
According to findings of a 2017 study, listening to “happy” music helped people perform better on tasks requiring divergent thinking — a key element of creativity that involves “producing multiple answers from available information by making unexpected combinations, recognizing links among remote associates, or transforming information into unexpected forms.” In other words, divergent thinking is coming up with new, innovative strategies or ideas. Participants who had listened to happy music came up with more ideas — and more creative ideas — than those who worked in silence.
Tips For DJing Your Meetings
Look for natural ways to incorporate music into your meetings. If it seems intimidating to create a meeting playlist, start small. Pick upbeat intro music to set the right tone for your next meeting, then gradually build up to a full playlist. Here are a few other tips to help you get started:
1. Focus On Structure
Productive meetings always have an agenda; otherwise, they’re just conversations. As you map out the sections of your meeting agenda, note what kind of mood you want to set for each activity and where music would enhance the experience and drive engagement — like when you’re brainstorming as a group or giving people space to contribute. Build a playlist around that structure, and send it to the team in advance, encouraging them to listen to it as a soundtrack while preparing for the meeting.
2. Change DJs
Music is a very personal thing, and sharing it brings people together. Switch up who facilitates each meeting, and let that person create the soundtrack and the structure. This approach promotes inclusivity and variety, and it also lets you get to know the people on your team on a deeper level. I work with people from all over the world, and I love getting to share brass band playlists from my hometown, New Orleans, and getting introduced to my coworkers’ favorite music from places like Buenos Aires or London.
3. Make It Fun
Have fun with music in your meetings — and I mean real fun, not the “let’s do a trust fall” kind of mandatory fun. See where you can integrate moments of silliness or humor into your collaborations, and nudge your teammates to do the same.
One of my team members, Mike, is a designer and an all-around amazing guy, and we’ve started ending every meeting with a “Deep Thought from Mike.” When we have two minutes left in the meeting, we roll his theme music and he shares a micro fun fact that we all look forward to, like: “Did you know that the moon always keeps one face toward Earth? So you’ve only seen one side of the moon your entire life.”
We’re going through a “from/to” moment right now as we think about hybrid workplaces and remote meetings. We come from an era of sitting through hours-long presentations, and that’s just not sustainable anymore. We get to decide what meetings look like in the future — and they’ll be a whole lot more fun and creative if they’re set to a good soundtrack.
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