I know you have said it, or at least felt it. Another useless, unproductive meeting that most leaving the meeting would say, “What a waste of time”, “What was that all about?” or “I’ve got better things to do than sit in there for an hour”.
It’s common place. It happens a LOT when people get together for a “meeting”, be it committee, planning, general staff meeting, or whatever.
One of the least developed skills of those in management positions is how to run a GREAT meeting. Notice I did not say “leaders”, as most good leaders know how to get the best out of a meeting and those attending.
Given our experience with them, I am sure that we all know how to conduct an inefficient and unproductive “endurance test”, better known as a “WOTM” (Waste of Time Meeting). But, let’s see how proficient you really are by checking the WOTM attributes.
In no particular order, the keys to killing a meeting:
- Call it a “meeting” (people dread it once hearing the word)
- Don’t have an objective for the meeting
- Don’t announce what the meeting in about in advance
- Determine the length of the meeting in advance, without telling anyone
- Live by the clock during the meeting, rushing through just to finish in one hour
- Overlook those who want to contribute, contradict, question or want to discuss something further (usually known as time wasters)
- Appear that you would rather be anywhere else doing anything else than holding this meeting
- (If using slides, A-Vs, charts, etc.) Be a reader rather than a presenter
- Be inarticulate, unconvincing and unenthused in your verbiage
OK, so now we know how to make a “meeting” truly ineffective. So, how does one make these dreaded events memorable, if not effective and meaningful? Well, basically do just the opposite. For example.
- Meet only when you need it. Meetings just for the heck of it or meeting at a certain time each week or month just because “that’s what we do” are poor reasons to intrude on people’s day.
- Know what you want to cover, announce, discuss, etc. Send an e-mail to participants in advance so they will know what to expect and come prepared with their contribution.
- Want responsiveness and involvement from the participants? Ask questions. However, there is an art to the asking of questions:
- Always direct a question to a specific individual, not generally to the group.
- Call the person’s name first (to wake them up or hopefully alert them to pay attention)
- Ask only an open-ended question of the person (avoiding a simple “yes/no” response, because that is all you will get otherwise)
- Compliment whatever the response may be – even if it is a poorly thought out or awkward response (“Hmmm, interesting response”, or “I had not thought of that”). People like to be asked their opinion and thanked for it in front of others. Doing this also encourages others to contribute.
- Invite dissent, contradiction and differing opinions. This may take a while, particularly if the “meeting culture” heretofore has been one of compliance and acceptance without clarification or question.
- Always maintain eye contact with those in your group, particularly when someone verbally contributes. Distraction implies disinterest. Non-verbal gestures of eye-rolling, sighing, looking at your watch, pacing, etc. implies to the contributor that you really were just kidding when you asked for input.
- If you use charts, graphs, PowerPoint or any other graphic, present the thoughts expressed there, don’t read them to the group. Their vision and reading skills are probably just fine.
- Move around once in a while. Stagnation in one spot is a “nap inducer”
- At the end of the “meeting”, summarize what was discussed, what was decided and who is responsible. Thank the group for attendance and participation.
- Send a brief summary of key points of the meeting if there is time. This is a good reminder so the same issues have to be addressed or remembered in your next meeting. Also, for those unable to attend, this is a courtesy to them.
If you really want to spice up your meeting and attendee participation:
- Send out content of what is to be known before the meeting, leaving the meeting time for reaction, discussion and socialization among colleagues.
- Use small groupings of attendees to discuss topics or generate ideas.
- Rotate leadership of the group. Take the heat off yourself.
Finally, a true story about whether or not meetings are needed:
Early in my career as a Leadership Consultant, I met with a healthcare CEO to convince him to use me to conduct a “meetings audit” in his facility to reduce redundancy, save time of managers, teach effective meeting skills to offenders, and help the organization be more efficient (word of the day at the time) overall.
It all sounded like a great idea to me, probably since it was my own. But, boy, was I surprised when this CEO told me he had no interest in cutting down the number of or time spent in meetings for his managers. “Why not?” I asked.
“Most of the really productive time around scheduled meetings is the ‘hallway’ talk time spent by colleagues as they walked to and from the meeting. Meetings, done well, help build collegiality and team relations.”
Actually, I agree. Never tried to sell a “meetings audit” again; however, teaching the messages above, I do that a lot.
Face-to-face meetings, done well, have numerous benefits, even in this age of e-mail communications. Sociability, common knowledge received and perceived the same way, participation and appreciation for it – all can be positive outcomes.
By Anthony K. (Tony) Jackson, MBA, Entrepreneur, Founder of GFB Connect, Inc.