The Mother of All Meetings

Unfortunately my chosen line of work means that I very rarely get to talk about what I do or what may have happened on a particular day. I am sometimes struck with a tinge of sadness when I think about the people in my office who have tirelessly dedicated thirty or forty years of their lives to the job they do but will never get any public recognition for it or, indeed, ever be able to tell their friends or family about what they have accomplished. Every so often though, an event of such magnitude happens that it seeps out between the clouds of secrecy and gets a brief moment in the sun. Such an event happened today and I feel it is my duty, no, my honour, to tell you all about it.

Today I organised the mother of all meetings. It was magnificent, glorious, epic…and managed to accomplish precisely nothing. Let me give you an idea of the scale:

This meeting involved eighteen people, yes eighteen, crammed into a relatively small room.

‘So what?’ you think. ‘I have much larger meetings every morning on my commute to work’.

The killer is that this cramped meeting room was then linked to ten other relatively-small meeting rooms (filled with slightly-too-many people) by VTC (video conference).

It was a work of art. I have no idea how many people in total there were actually in the meeting but, with it being a one-hour meeting, I’m pretty certain if everyone had spoken in-turn we each would have been limited to just over a minute each (without deviation, repetition or hesitation).

VTCs are, by their nature, a difficult beast to work with. As those of you who have them regularly will know, they have their quirks and generally follow a similar pattern: The first ten minutes of any VTC will be taken up by everyone waiting for everyone else to connect and then trying to figure out who is actually online. It usually goes something like this:

“This is Derby here. Bristol are you on yet?”
“Hello?”
“Bristol?”
“No this is London”
“Ah”
“Hello?”
“Who’s that?”
“London”
“No! Not you! The oth-“
“Hello?”
“Hello?”
“Is that Kevin?”
“What?”
“Kevin?”
“No this is Matt in Derby. Are you Bristol?”
“Did they accept?”
“Yes”
“Who are you?”
“DERBY”

“Hello?”

And so on. The next five minutes is taken up by a weird ritual where everyone has to introduce themselves to everyone else by ‘going round the rooms’. You often have to complete this exercise twice because, at some point, two sites will try to introduce themselves at the same time. Once you’ve got that out of the way it’s on with the meeting, which is usually filled with awkward pauses as different sites try to interject at the same time and then engage in the verbal equivalent of the dance you do when two British people approach a narrow door at the same time.

The final ten minutes of the VTC are generally taken up by people reminding everyone that there are only ten minutes left and ‘we should really be drawing this all to a close before we get cut off’.

So what was so special about today? I honestly don’t know. It wasn’t a particularly important meeting but seemed to develop a life of its own and stated to grow organically. Three rooms became four. Four became five. Five became six. It was like a self-fulfilling prophecy. People started to catch word of this massive meeting that was going off and wanted to be involved. They wanted to be part of history.

You see, once the number of participating sites in a VTC goes above eight it stops being a meeting and starts becoming an event. People turn up early to make sure they’ll get a seat. Someone will bring a packet of biscuits. One of the engineers that you’ve never seen in anything other than jeans and a t-shirt before will turn up in their wedding suit. Pre-meetings will start to occur.

Ah the pre-meeting. You know you’ve made it when your meeting starts spawning pre-meetings. Occasionally the pre-meetings themselves will start spawning smaller pre-meetings and, if you’re lucky, their own ‘wash up’ sessions. You can spend a whole week of your life in pre-meetings, pre-pre-meetings and wash up sessions if the main meeting is sufficiently large. They are essentially the support to your headline act and some even come with their own collection of groupies and roadies.

So the meeting today had eleven sites in total on the call. The pre-event buzz was amazing. I thought we were going to have to put a seating plan up on Ticketmaster. There were pre-meetings everywhere; people were queing outside of the main room. We had three packets of biscuits. Someone actually brought a teapot.

The demand was such I had to link another room on our own site in via VTC to cope with the demand. We ultimately had to turn people away due to fire regulations.

And the result of all this? Well I’m not really sure and can’t really say. But people will remember this meeting. They won’t remember what was discussed, or what the conclusions were. But they will remember the meeting. The event. The biscuits. They will tell new graduates about it in many years time whose eyes will grow wide with admiration:

“You were actually in the MOAM (Mother of all Meetings)?”
“Well no. But I listened in from outside”
“Wooooow”

And so it will pass into legend. The details will be altered and exaggerated with time but the central message will remain: It is possible to have an hour VTC meeting between eleven different sites and have almost forty-three seconds of meaningful discussion.

What an age to be alive.

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