Watch the Pontificator!

Lonnie Pacelli

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At the offices of one of my clients there was a fellow who I’ll call “Moe. ” Moe was your typical pontificator. At any time we saw Moe he was standing outside of someone’s cubicle or sitting on someone’s office, coffee cup in hand, waxing poetic about the latest dumb decision management made, the idiots that run his division, or last night’s baseball game. Moe had an opinion on everything and was very free about letting you know every detail of his opinion. There was no such thing as a five-minute conversation with Moe. Unless you excused yourself for whatever reason you were there for at least fifteen minutes listening to his philosophy. The problem was that Moe was friends with the person managing our contract so we had to put up with him.

Moe was particularly problematic during meetings. He diverted agendas, disrupted meeting topics, and wasted tremendous amounts of time. Despite all this, Moe was a long-time company employee and understood his job well. But he was still a big pain in the hindquarters.

It’s likely that that you’ve worked with a person like Moe. You can do your best to avoid him, but there he is, ready to give you an earful about something. So how do you handle the Moes of the world during meetings? How do you keep things on track? How do you avoid frustrating everyone else in the meeting when the pontificator revs up his engine?

The first thing you can do about the pontificator at your meeting is to take a good hard look at whether the pontificator absolutely needs to be at the meeting. Will the pontificator contribute valuable content and perspective that will add value to the meeting? If not avoid having the pontificator at the meeting in the first place.

If the pontificator needs to be there, try to talk with him beforehand and solicit his help in keeping the meeting moving forward. Spend a few minutes reviewing the agenda and get him oriented to the meeting topic. If he has opinions or viewpoints that he wants to air, get him to do it with you beforehand and try to incorporate some of his viewpoint into the topic. If he sees that he has been heard and if some of his thinking is baked into your agenda, the pontificator is more likely to be a good soldier and not hijack your meeting.

If you’ve taken this step and the pontificator still feels the need to take control of your meeting, your next mission is to preserve the purpose of the meeting, keep things focused on the agenda, and avoid wasting any of the other attendee’s time. It is vitally important that you monitor what your pontificator is saying and keep them focused on the agenda item. If he continues to drift off topic onto his own agenda item ask to have the item taken offline. If it continues then it is completely within bounds to cut the person off and bring things back to your agenda. Whatever you do, don’t lose control of the agenda. Your credibility is at stake with other meeting attendees; losing control of the agenda means a loss of credibility, which you’ll now need to work to regain.

Pontificators don’t have to spell doom and gloom to your meetings. If you can ensure that they truly need to be involved in the meeting, get them on your side, and control them when they veer off path, you can still get things done when they are involved.

Excerpted from The Truth about Getting Your Point Across…and Nothing But the Truth

Lonnie Pacelli has over 20 years’ experience with Accenture and Microsoft and is currently president of Leading on the Edge™ International. Lonnie's books include “The Project Management Advisor: 18 Major Project Screw-Ups and How to Cut Them Off at the Pass" and “The Truth About Getting Your Point Across". Get the books, leadership products, other articles, MP3 seminars and a free email mini seminar at .


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