“Fala pouco e bem, ter-te-āo por alguém
(speak little and well, and they will take you for someone)”
~ A Portuguese proverb
Having attended many meetings that should not have taken place, or were desperately needed but were unproductive, I started to collect tricks for holding effective meetings. Before the meeting
- If you are calling the meeting, make sure you know what outcome you want. Ask yourself what is the purpose of the meeting? It’s important to be able to visualize how you would want to be feeling and why at the end of the meeting.
- Craft the agenda with the purpose of the meeting in mind. Take care to distinguish whether it’s a decision-making item vs. a discussion. Label each agenda item based on categories such as decision, discussion, brainstorming, “work” (actually work on generating a particular output, like a layout for the brochure). Assign a time limit to each agenda item. Circulate the agenda well before the meeting (if you couldn’t get around to crafting an agenda, cancel the meeting).
- Reflect on who should attend and participate in the meeting. Know why each person should attend and what they will contribute. Keep this number to a minimum.
- Will there be anything controversial at the meeting or are you expecting any big push back from someone? If so, do not wait until the meeting. Speak with them individually and hear them out so you know where they are coming from.
At the meeting
- Make sure to start on time. Do not repeat items already discussed for the latecomers, as that penalizes the people who did show up on time, and sends the message that it’s OK to be late.
- If it is a retreat or a meeting with a large number of participants, a set of ground rules might be necessary. In terms of behaviors, the “THINK” before you speak can be a starting point:
- T is it True?
- H is it Helpful?
- I is it Inspiring? or Informative?
- N is it Necessary?
- K is it/the tone Kind?
- If starting the meeting on time is a problem, make sure the key items that require participation of the chronic late comers are scheduled up front. If they are late, they get skipped and have to wait for the next meeting. For staff meetings and other large meetings that tend not to be as interactive, people tend to stroll in past the start time. I solved this problem with giving a staff quiz right at the beginning of the meeting. The quizzes cover things I expect them to know (say, items decided from previous meetings), but I also include things they might not know but will be discussed at the meeting. This trick naturally gets them curious about the things they don’t know, and will pay more attention during the presentation and remember the results. Including project updates into the quizzes allow you to get the project leaders to explain the correct answer when you are scoring the quiz (and the top person got a token prize).
- Have a rotating note taker. You can be assured at least one person will be paying attention! They should focus on key decisions that others who are absent would need to know or for the group to refer to in the future.
- Avoid going around the room to give updates. The updating should be done in writing ahead of time. The meeting time should be spent for discussions of these items, rather than news delivering.
- Make sure the decisions made in the meeting are clearly acknowledged by everyone as decisions. If there are items to be followed up, mark them as action items. Every action item should have a champion assigned to it, as well as a deadline.
(See below for more hints on managing the dynamics of the meeting)
After the meeting
- Distribute the notes with action items and decisions clearly outlined.
- Assign someone (usually the executive secretary) to follow up on the action items to make sure their deadlines are met.
A good checklist of how you approach a meeting is included as a “game” called 7Ps Framework in the book, Gamestorming: A Toolkit for innovators, rule-breakers, and change makers. You can find the full explanation of the game here. In short, the 7Ps are:
- Purpose (include why the meeting is important and urgent)
- Product (are there any expected artifacts at the end of the meeting?)
- People (who should be invited, to answer what questions?)
- Process (what is the agenda?)
- Pitfalls (what risks exist? do you need to set ground rules?)
- Preparation (handouts?)
- Practical concerns (meeting location, time, food?)
Remember to keep the number of meetings to a minimum to respect other people’s time (and yours), by using management tools like Five-Fifteen report, or technologies like LiveSift. What are your tricks for minimizing the need for meetings and/or increasing the effectiveness of your meetings?
More on dynamics of the meeting
- It is good for everyone to take note of where they are at, emotionally. You can have them go around the room and say one thing they appreciate or their emotional status: e.g., “had a set back on project x, so feeling down” or “happy that my son got into college”
- If you are calling on people to provide feedback, ask the question to the group first, and then name the particular person you want to hear from (e.g., “What do you/does the group think of this? <pause> …Jane?” vs. “Jane, what do you think of this?”) so everyone has to think about it for a bit.
- Do call on the quiet staff. If you suspect they have some issues speaking up, you can ask them the question ahead of time, and say “It’s a good point,” and then ask the same question again in front of everyone at the meeting. They know they have something to offer (because you acknowledged it as good) and don’t have to think on their feet.
- If this meeting is meant to be short, or it involves everyone to provide input, ask everyone to remain standing. The body language will signal to the group that everyone should be succinct, and would pressure the people who tend to be longwinded.
- I enjoyed this list to appear smart at meetings, such as “can we take a step back here?” I think it’s more than appearing smart. I’ve seen smart people say these things, and it does make the meeting more productive…all except for “leave the meeting to take a call”. That one just makes you look disrespectful and arrogant, IMHO. Also, if you called the meeting but you want to focus on listening to what others have to say, then use the “count the number of words you are speaking” trick previously blogged.