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Are “Topless” Meetings For You?

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My Quandary

Recently I was at a multi-day event where the facilitator announced that the meeting was a “Topless Meeting”, in that no lap’tops’ were permitted.  She also excluded Blackberries, PDA, Treos etc..  It was curious for a variety of reasons, especially because some of those in attendance, were chosen as a result of their online leadership qualities.  When I first heard the facilitator announce that she had banning technology, my first thought was that the participants were adults and should be permitted to decide on their own.  My second was the question of the speaker’s ability to be more interesting than the attendee’s e-mail.


 As an instructor and meeting leader, I’ve never really thought about it, I’ve just encouraged participants to bring their laptops in to the class or meeting.  Recenly I’ve asked a group of Realtors, numbering about 20, what they though of the trend toward laptops in the meeting or training session.  The entire group (various ages) felt that it was rude to use any of these devices in a classroom.  

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I’ve felt that we had to make meetings and education as non-intrusive as we could, in order to get agents to participate.  However, I’ve neglected the fact that many other participants are easily distracted and offended by the introduction of technology by participants.

What Say You?

I know that asking a question about technology on AgentGenius is already a bit like asking Congress if they like spending non-existant money; but I’ll do so anyway.  Do you think that meetings should be “topless”?  How can we establish good etiqutte?

Written By

Matthew Rathbun is a Virginia Licensed Broker and Director of Professional Development for Coldwell Banker Elite, in Fredericksburg Virginia. He has opened and managed real estate firms, as well as coached and mentored agents and Brokers. As a Residential REALTOR®, Matthew was a high volume agent and past REALTOR® Rookie of the Year & Virginia Association Instructor of the Year. You can follow him on Twitter as "MattRathbun" and on Facebook. Matthew's blog is



  1. Chuck G

    January 23, 2009 at 7:14 am


    Absolutely topless. Just like people can’t talk on the cell phone and drive properly, they can’t listen to someone giving a presentation while they’re reading their email. You’re either IN the meeting or you’re not. The idea of “multi-tasking” is really a farce, and it’s rude to the presenter to tune them out like that.

    Now…that picture. Good grief, I think I’m going to need therapy after seeing that first thing this morning.


  2. Sarah Stelmok

    January 23, 2009 at 7:44 am

    I don’t agree with topless meetings. I guesss sometimes they would be appropriate, but in general, I see nothing wrong with my students having technology with them in the classroom. I’ve actually asked students with laptops to research a topic quickly for the class or google something for us to prove a point. Many students also use a laptop to take notes. Now, there are some rude people out there. But for the most part my students that use technology while I teach and very conscious of what they are doing and try their best not to disrupt those around them.

  3. Paula Henry

    January 23, 2009 at 7:46 am

    As much as I like having access to my laptop and Crackberry – anytime, I have to agree with Chuck. Admittedy, I have tried it, and always miss something. Could have been the golden nugget of the meeting!

    I have even been trying to shut the lid on my laptop when conversing with others. It’s too distracting.

    Chuck – I must disagree that “muti-tasking” is a farce, though – as any mom knows. If we didn’t multi-task, we would all only have one child:)

  4. teresa boardman

    January 23, 2009 at 8:11 am

    To go one step further, I have been at a few conference sessions where presenters were seated on a stage with open laptops in front of them. That is a great way to disconnect the audience from the presenter. It is cold and maybe even a little rude.

  5. Darren Kittleson

    January 23, 2009 at 8:55 am

    I think there are appropriate times for laptops and inappropriate times. My pet peeve is the attendee who pounds the keyboard like they’re playing something ragtime on a piano.

    When is it appropriate? When the instructor is doing a “hands on” technology training. I’ve found it much easier for the attendees to grasp the concepts when they can actually go through the steps of technology being presented.

    When is it not appropriate? Any other time. I love the term “Topless Meeting”. Thanks for adding it to my vernacular.

  6. Chuck G

    January 23, 2009 at 9:12 am

    Certainly there are times when it makes sense to have a laptop open in a meeting. With the advent of web conferencing and shared presentations, this adds a positive dimension to the education process.

    But if you’re reading your email, Facebook, or working on your blog, you’re simply NOT paying attention to the instructor. Your brain can’t give 100% attention to both. For the same reason, I refuse to answer my cell phone if I’m in a face to face meeting with anyone.

    @Paula — I guess it’s all how one defines multi-tasking. I look at it as doing two things at the same moment. I hope that doesn’t mean checking the blackberry at the same time as pro-creation 🙂

  7. Paula Henry

    January 23, 2009 at 9:23 am

    Chuck – Now that would be interesting 😉 I was thinking more along the lines of cooking dinner, while holding one chld and feeding the other a bottle. Man – I don’t know how I ever did it.

  8. Bob

    January 23, 2009 at 9:42 am

    If it is educational/instructional in nature, the laptop for many is no different than paper and pen.

    In other types of meetings or seminars, I’ve used my laptop to verification or cross reference aspects of the talk or presentation.

    I think “topless” demonstrates a bit of arrogance from the instructor/facilitator, in which case I prefer “meetless”.

  9. Ira Serkes

    January 23, 2009 at 10:05 am

    Sounds like the wrong speaker for the job. My Mac Book Pro has a practically silent keyboard and take extraordinary notes, which I then proof, check the URL links, create into a PDF and email to the people attending the meeting.

    If I had to rely on my memory… going to the meeting would, IMHO, probably turn out to be a complete waste of time.

    I’d be very interested WHY this speaker feels that this is an appropriate decision. Perhaps it’s as simple as people with noisy keyboards.

    And me? I almost always sit in the back of the room anyway – that’s less likely to disturb the luddites, more accessible to the power plugs, and closer to the rest rooms!

    Ira Serkes
    Berkeley, CA USA

  10. Jordan Nilsen

    January 23, 2009 at 12:43 pm

    I couldn’t agree more with Bob’s comments above. Laptops/smart-phones are the tools of tech-savvy business people. For those behind the curve, new technologies are intimidating; it is always easier to apply a negative moniker instead of recognizing the benefits of any new system.

  11. Ted Mackel

    January 23, 2009 at 2:13 pm

    Oh Poppycock!

    Laptop can be a great way to take notes. Also to see running commentary for other attendees on Twitter.

    It can be a distraction if you cannot disconnect from email and other activity. But note taking is nice on a laptop.

  12. Monika

    January 23, 2009 at 3:37 pm

    Good question! I am torn as an instructor. I feel it’s okay in tech type classes but not in regular classes. But I know that many people take notes using a laptop… so I usually do allow it.
    I don’t mind the PDA’s at all and found it hard when in a meeting recently where the committee chair said no Blackberry/treos. Yuck!

  13. Candy Lynn

    January 23, 2009 at 5:06 pm

    NO to “topless” meetings!

    I take lots of notes – its a trick I’ve learned to keep my mind from wandering during class.

    Notes on laptop are a must for me. My notes are more concise, coherent & legible when on laptop. I often refer back to them – my old handwritten notes are NEVER looked at once I leave the class.

    IMHO “topless” meetings & classes are discriminating against those of us that take notes on our laptops.

  14. Candy Lynn

    January 23, 2009 at 5:08 pm

    PS Matthew –
    Thanks for posting about this! As I sat beside you for a few minutes during that meeting – I was dismayed to discover the attendees were not allowed to use the learning tools they depend on.

  15. Missy Caulk

    January 24, 2009 at 9:13 pm

    I just finished a short sale class for two days, I took notes on my computer. I was the only one the first day.

    The second day on other person brought theirs.

    I like to take notes on my computer. I was the first one finished everyday with the test.

    I learn more that way.

  16. Chuck G

    January 24, 2009 at 9:48 pm

    Don’t get me wrong. I certainly see the value of taking notes on a laptop. I for one can type faster (and WAY more legibly) than I can write. (Isn’t that sad???)

    But I think people who use the laptop for staying engaged to the meeting, via note-taking or cross-referencing, are a small minority.

    I gave a presentation recently where a person was banging on his laptop continuously throughout the presentation. No way he could have been taking notes unless he was transcribing every word of my talk, which could not have been a good use of his time.

    If more people used the tools the way you all do, I think more speakers would be supportive of “top-up” meetings.


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