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  • A research paper suggests that music can improve the quality of meetings.
  • Music can improve attention and act as 'tribal glue'.

Struggling to keep people’s attention in a post-lunch meeting? Burst into song. 

That’s the advice from two academics in a research paper that suggests that music can improve the quality of meetings. We know that music can lift your mood, boost your health and even make you burn more calories when you work out. But what about meetings?

“Why is that people plan meetings in such detail, the food, the lighting, but they don’t pay attention to the music, and yet music can have such an important role to play,” says research paper co-author Caroline van Niekerk, a retired University of Pretoria music professor. 

Here are three reasons why you should include music in your meetings, and how you can do it:

1. It gets people’s attention

At a post-lunch meeting, most people are not listening to you -- they’re trying to stay awake or daydreaming. Music can wake people up, says Van Niekerk. “It’s easy these days with cellphones; you don’t need to have a good singing voice.” She gives the example of Haydn’s Surprise Symphony, which was composed specifically to wake up dozy audience members. Co-author Roy Page-Shipp, formerly a senior manager at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research and a lecturer at the University of Pretoria’s Gordon Institute of Business Science, says he has sung in his lectures and business meetings. “Once you’ve sung something, they pay better attention ‘cause they wonder what this blighter is going to get up to next.”

2. Tribal glue

People arrive at meetings in different moods (and sometimes at different times). Music can get everyone on the same page and give time for people to arrive, the authors write. You can do this by playing music when people arrive, or even making music together as a group by drumming on the tables - organisations like Drum Cafe can facilitate team-building workshops if you’d like to bring in a professional - or by doing “hand jives”, which is hand dancing to music (think the movie Grease). These kinds of musical activities will help if people are flagging, says Van Niekerk -- and they’re definitely more effective than telling people to take a moment to stretch.

3. Cement your take-home message

Page-Shipp, suggests putting your take-home message to a tune or a driving rhythm (made up by you or a professional). “A little accessible tune, even if it has resonance with a popular tune, but with your words in it, would leave an imprint in people’s minds,” he says.

While singing may not be for everyone, the researchers suggest using cellphones and introducing music slowly into your meetings. “At the end of the day, it is going to require a leap of faith, or getting there by increments,” Page-Shipp says.

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