How To Gracefully Recover When Your Technology Fails During Meetings

Jo Ilfeld |Executive Leadership Coach |How To Gracefully Recover When Your Technology Fails During Meetings

Article originally appeared in Forbes

Last week, I was on a working vacation with my daughter and had a planned meeting with a new connection. Let’s call him John. When I jumped off my previous client call, I was already running two minutes late, which, of course, never feels good. I checked my digital calendar and I had the invite from John but with no tech instructions on where to meet. I quickly did a search on my email but the invite had come from John’s assistant and I couldn’t remember her name. I hastily emailed John to let him know I couldn’t find the Zoom room and continued my email sleuthing for the original invite.

A couple of minutes later, an email from John popped up in my inbox giving me the Google Meet link to the room where he was waiting. Oh, Google Meet — that’s why my Zoom search had yielded zilch! I quickly navigated to Google Meet, yet when I tried to turn on the video and microphone settings, my computer froze. At this point, I was already six minutes late and feeling slightly frantic. In an attempt to free up some memory on my laptop, I tried to force quit my Zoom and Microsoft Word. Of course, each attempt to switch to a new app just made my computer more confused.

Finally, eight minutes late and counting, I entered the Google Meet room. I greeted John and began to apologize. When John spoke he only said, “I can’t hear anything you’re saying.” I could hear John perfectly but, for some reason, despite my mic being on, he couldn’t hear me. He said he could call me, so I mimed a phone, holding my fingers up to my ears and mouth to signal he should call my cell.

My cell phone rang and I grabbed it. I usually use a Bluetooth headset with my cell so I don’t have to hold it up to my ear, but given how late I was at this point, I just held the phone up to my ear and began talking. About two minutes later I heard a ringing phone — what you hear when you are calling someone. I pulled my phone away to look at it and I had chin-dialed John while we were still talking. Ugh! How did that even happen?

As we continued our conversation, I walked outside to our rental house’s gorgeous backyard to enjoy the sun. After about 10 minutes I couldn’t hear John anymore. I looked at my phone and although I was outside, suddenly the Bluetooth inside had picked up the conversation and John’s voice was talking to an empty Bluetooth headset within the house. Would my tech woes never end?

Switching John back to the cell phone, we finished our call. John was lovely and forgiving about all my tech issues, but I was rattled. I usually consider myself very tech-savvy and I couldn’t even do this one meeting without seemingly continuous snafus.

In our increasing dependence on technology to communicate our ideas, collaborate with others and drive important business outcomes, my frustration with a less than optimal experience is becoming quite commonplace. Here are three tips for how to gracefully recover after a tech failure:

1. Apologize, but not too much.

It’s wise to apologize for the inconvenience but this isn’t the time to go on a self-shaming mission. It happens to everyone. Truly! And the more airtime you take up focusing on what isn’t working, the less time there is for productive collaboration. Plus, you’ve been there when someone has over-apologized to you. Instead of moving on, you feel required to reassure them that it’s OK and not to worry. The tech hiccup goes from being a fact of 2021 life to the focus of the meeting — and no one benefits from that.

2. Focus on the most important outcome of that meeting.

Small talk is important — it creates connection and helps you build relationships. When you’ve lost precious time dealing with tech, it’s great to take a moment and remember what needs to happen for this meeting to be a success. Sometimes the meeting is all about connection, so there’s no need to pivot. Other times, you had a full agenda but now won’t have time to get to it all. See if you can quickly identify your most important item (or two) and align with your fellow attendees on skipping to those items so you have enough time. It’s an important skill to be agile in meetings to make sure you’re agreeing with others on the best use of your time together because priorities often shift between setting and actually having the meeting.

3. Take a moment to re-center.

Work can be stressful. Some days more than others. You need to know what works for you to reset your emotional state in the moment. I call this a conscious pause. For some people, this can be three deep breaths. For others, it can be feeling into your hands and your feet. One other strategy is to internally name the emotions you’re feeling in that moment: shame, embarrassment, frustration. Giving a name to your emotions uses the language center of your brain to override the power they have over your internal state, initially provided by your limbic system. Find what techniques work for you. Then, practice them in less tense situations so they’ll be easier to rely on in those more fraught moments.

I did these things with John. I named my emotions in the moment, then went outside once we were on the phone to ground myself in nature. Afterward, I told my story to a colleague, allowing myself to release its power over my emotional state for the rest of the day.

What do you want to try next time your tech fails you?

Jo Ilfeld, PhD

An executive leadership coach, Jo helps C-suite leaders, executives, and high-potential managers develop the flexibility, skill, and frame of mind to meet the challenges of the next five, ten, twenty years…. and beyond. She works with individuals, teams and organizations on four core areas of leadership development. Check out Jo's bio page for more information.

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