Effective Meetings - No Laptops

Questions This Guidance Answers: 
  • Can I ban laptops from my meetings?
  • Why should I ban laptops from my meeting?
  • How do I stop people if they are using laptops in my meetings?

This cast describes why and how to run your meetings without laptops.

For our original cast on the Effective Meetings Protocol, check out Effective Meetings - Get Out of Jail!

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Great Content!

Mike and Mark:


THANKS for this great content!

Laptop usage in meetings in my organization is not endemic, although it seems to be creeping up a bit.  Specifically, in the meetings that are "MY" meetings, maybe 1 or 2 of roughly 15 people.


You've provided me with the RATIONALE for addressing the issue (that the meeting is about us, not any individual - and our collective effectiveness is most important).

You've provided me with the SCRIPT for individual conversations (feedback examples).

And you've provided me with the SYSTEM for reinforcing the changed behavior (next time I revisit ground rules, I'm adding "No laptops").


Although my approach will differ slightly than your example (I'm just going to start with individual conversations with those who bring their laptops, rather than making it a goup thing), I really appreciate the thought you've given this issue.

Sure, it's not a "life or death" issue - but it's been hanging aroung like a low grade fever in the back of my head.


Best wishes,


What to do with the email crazy boss?

Not using the laptop during meetings is one of my ground rules. We also use the effective meetings protocol. My directs use it with their teams. It works great. We all think we are much more effective after we quit using the laptops during meetings. Even more so after the late adaptors realized that they also needed to stop using their cell phone email clients... We all suffer from one HUGE problem. In our rather small company (250 people, 50 MEUR), the CEO, who also is the majority owner and a fantastic (or fanatic) entrepreneur, strongly questions why the heck we can’t use laptops during meetings. He might require something urgently and need a quick reply (!!!). “I sure can do at least two things at a time”. To him, The Urgent E-mail does exist... Any thoughts on this?

This must be one of the

This must be one of the things I'm lucky with.  The only people who bring laptops to our meetings tend to be the ones who are using them to present.  For meetings I'm facilitating I tend to ask presenters to supply me the presentation by email before hand and I'll put it on my laptop for them to use.  It saves plugging and unplugging the projector.  The only exception that comes to mind is one guy who has sight problems that cause difficulty reading the screen.  He brings along his laptop (which is set up for his particular difficulties) with the presentations preloaded on and follows along with the speakers.

I attended a presentation skills course last year.  The tutor recommended a tactic for anyone who is using a laptop, praying to their Blackberry or similar during a meeting you're facilitating.  Whilst someone else is speaking, go and stand behind the person using their laptop or whatever.  Don't say anything to them, don't lean over them or do anything untoward.  If they haven't stopped whatever it they're doing by the time the other person has stopped speaking just carry on as normal, but still behind them.  He said it was very effective for getting people to stop what they're doing and pay attention to the meeting.


That tactic struck me at the time as rather passive-aggressive, it still does.  Thinking about it, with what I've learned of DiSC I can see it being very effective on High-Cs and possibly Is.  I'd expect a High-D to just ignore it and figure that the facilitator was just being weird.  A High-S would probably also be put off by it but I have problems imagining a High-S spending time on their laptop or Blackberry to the detriment of the rest of the team in the meeting. 

What do others think?  Effective or not? 



Stephen - I agree with your observation about the limit to the effectiveness of any single technique (this includes the examples on the cast asking someone for comment).


The only "blanket rule" I can think of: there are no blanket rules!  Everybody won't respond to a single approach, so be prepared to go at it a few different ways.



The Counter-Argument is that it increases effectiveness

This cast was extremely timely. At a recent staff meeting, the manager - who always has their laptop with them - chose to present the minutes of the previous meeting on a projector. Fair enough, you might say. We then proceeded to update those minutes, essentially writing the minutes of this meeting there and then whilst on the projector.

It struck me that this was incredibly ineffective in that we were managing to the exception (as Marty Clarke would say). Rather than only 1 person spending time after the meeting writing the minutes, we all sat around waiting for the lowest common denominator, that of that person's typing speed.

How might I provide feedback to that manager, given that they are my boss and we don't manage upwards?

No Laptops And the Virtual Meetings

Mike and Mark,

Easily half of the meetings I'm attending these days are virtual.  Everyone is dialed in.  And, in most of them, everyone is logged in as well, to WebEx, Live Meeting or related... on their laptops.

The 'absent-presence' you speak about is even more rampant, since attendees can't see each other.

So, in most cases, making the meeting a "No Laptop" meeting is not an option.  We would have to explicit ask for the end-goal you're describing:  focus.  Be Here Now (in this meeting, as opposed to email, surfing, etc.)

Any thoughts or suggestions for the virtual world? 



[Please advocate video conferencing ;-) ]

Video Conferencing


We have started using video conferencing more as travel budgets were the first thing cut.  It is not as good as face-to-face meetings where you can chat with someone during the break but it was better then a standard web-ex/conference call.  It did put everyone on notice that others could see what they were doing.

We were using OCS and RoundTable from Microsoft.  For being at the low-end of the market they did not take away from the meeting.  Of course we could have looked for sites with higher end facilities but we were looking at keeping costs to a minimum.


Right on the point

as usual.

I work in a company in which 70% of the associates have a laptop. My ex boss told me that it was common to receive laptop rquisitions stating that a ¨"laptop was required to attend meetings"....crazy!!

I am old enough to remember when we only worked with fax and telephones, I miss those days were we used to have more face to face communication. Nowadays everybody hides behind a laptop.

Working on your laptop during a meeting it shows your poor judgement and bad taste.


Laptops aren't evil people are ...

I love you guys but I have to disagree with you on a blanket prohibition on laptops in meetings. When I conduct Joint Application Development (JAD) Sessions I find laptops to be an invaluable tool. Coupled with a LCD projector a laptop makes the entire team and the meetings so much more productive. Laptops like guns in the wrong hands are dangerous the behavior is the issue not the tool.



Washington, DC



Joe- Videoconferencing,


Videoconferencing, yes.


effective meetings - no laptops

I love these podcasts and make my managers listen and discuss the various topics.  It is a great help to have a rational third party broach these topics.


As for the no laptops podcast, I mostly disagree with this view.  Basically, it is an issue of paying attention and providing the respect for others in a meeting.  It is also a balance between contributing in a meeting and helping the business move forward while the meeting is taking place, for people who spend a majority of their day each day in meetings.


I have been using a laptop or mobile device in meetings for almost 12 years.  I allow laptops (I include mobile devices in this category) in meetings.  I do say part of the ground rules are they are a privilege and will not be allowed if they significantly reduce your attention to the parts of meeting where you are needed or can help.  Basically, if I see someone is not paying attention, I call them on it by asking them a question or directly asking them is they are paying attention.  That usually covers it.


Very few meetings require the full attention for the entire meeting by everyone involved.  This is a tough point to win with most people.  The standard argument is if you aren't needed you shouldn't be invited.  I see that most meetings require a percentage of each person's time.  the rest is idle time where there is room for improved productivity.  Of course, it is a fine line and quite subjective to say which parts should a person contribute and which parts can they tune into another avenue.  This is up to the meeting organizer, their manager, and the person to develop and improve on.


I see laptops as another avenue which can distract people from a meeting or conversation.  They are a powerful vortex but when managed effectively they add to a meeting for several reasons:


1) They allow me to improve the speed in which decisions are made.  When I am in meetings most of the day each day and am the decision-maker or key influencer asking people to wait until the endof the day to get my input or approval is putting a drag on the business and productivity of the people affected.

2) In ameeting people can ask for input from people not in attendance, which can speed up the decision process

3) People can look up information needed or request such information to also speed up the decision process


Granted, at first and if not managed properly, laptops are a real distraction and quite disrespctful to the others in the room.  There are also times when it is mor eimportant to focus entirely on the meeting at hand for the entire time.  These decisions should be made by the meeting organizer.  It is a balance between the meeting and the work happening outside the meeting.


Well, now at least I feel better.  back to the laptop :)

Richroth- Isn't diversity


Isn't diversity grand?  We really disagree.  Attention management is something most folks aren't good at anyway. Allowing attenuation to increase effectiveness is penny wise and pound foolish.

Meetings are far too expensive to allow more attenuation.  Sounds like all lots of those meetings are inefficient, and so much so that we have to let people get real work done by not really attending.

I submit you could have less meetings, or get people not coming, and reduce the very problem which leads to the solution which only contributes to the problem.

I should know what this is called by Senge in the Fifth Discipline, but it escapes me.

All the best meetings in the world - attended by serious people with enormous responsibilities and far more meetings than us - are distraction free.

If you're in too many meetings, delegate. 

Cheers all,


Managers & lightbulbs

Put one or more manager into a meeting room with a lightbulb, instructions on how to change a lightbulb and a lamp without a lightbulb.

Result: A call to the helpdesk. Out of pure helplessness.

Conclusion: Giving a laptop to a manager is dangerous. The mouse is not to be killed. It's already dead.


For people who want to take notes

I agree that laptops are pernicious except in the hands of the facilitator as an adjunct to the meeting.  I've found a work-around for taking notes.  There are now smart pens out there that allow written notes to be uploaded to the computer and (for those with semi-decent handwriting) OCR'ed.  I've been using the lightscribe with some success, but I understand there are others.  It has the added advantage of allowing me to search my notes.  I think it might make a great kind of tool to add to peoples tool box.  It's $150 - $250 US depending on memory and accessories.

I plan on attending your Dallas 1 day seminar and I can bring it with me if you want to see it.

Gary Williams

no laptops in meetings

So, I have been trying to reduce the amount of laptop usage in meetings for awhile now.  I have also taken to heart your podcast on managing distractions.  I think both are helping.  I seem to have less email but it is really I don't worry so much about what the latest email says.  My stress level has decreased and I think I am becoming more effective.


I have not banned laptops but I did have the discussion about reducing distractions with my staff and entire group.  the distraction level has gone down.


Thanks for the great advice.  I wish everyone had mentors like you guys.



 Thanks so much for this

 Thanks so much for this content, I ran a meeting yesterday and this really helped me. 

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