upstart thoughts on talent and leadership

16 Ways to Make Meetings Tolerable

In ! Jen, General Work on Wednesday, October 28, 2009 at 1:11 am

Generally speaking, I don’t mind attending meetings. I always bring a notebook and pen, so even if the meeting is wickedly dreadful, I daydream ways to build a better mousetrap, make anagrams of attendees’ names, and the like. But if you’re on the facilitating end, here are some tips to encourage people to refrain from such amusements.

1. Cardinal rule of meetings: if you tell them you will bring food and bring food, they will come.

2. Meet in the smallest meeting room that will comfortably accommodate your participants + 10%. Obviously, this will require some significant forethought, because it’s much easier to get the biggest room possible to accommodate everybody. My experience has been that the better-fitting the room, the more people participate and stay engaged. Too tight and it’s claustrophobic. Too big and it’s anonymizing. Way too cavernous and you’re encouraging sideline conversations. You want to be ready for Goldilocks.

3. Send out the agenda ahead of time. My company has a tidy standardized meeting agenda form, but even a short bulleted list does the job. Start your meeting with a reminder of your goal(s) for the meeting and key items on the agenda.

4. Ensure that the people you’re inviting really do need to be there. If it’s more informational for them, be clear on the group invite/agenda that this meeting is informational for them. They will appreciate this. If they can simply glean or learn what they need from the meeting notes, so be it. Treat people like intelligent adults.

5. Bring in the light. There’s a lot to be said for natural lighting. Bright trumps dark for holding attention.

6. If you’re the assigned facilitator don’t also be the one taking notes. You should be focused on facilitating. Ask someone else to take notes.

7. Assign action steps to participant(s) at the meeting. Stay away from having to follow up offline with action items. There’s a better chance it won’t get done, if it doesn’t get explicit accountability assigned at the meeting.

8. Don’t prolong an item into the next meeting if you can help it. If you’re running out of time, better to hold over an entire subject for the next meeting than have to do it halfway. Because at the next meeting, you will spend time discussing what was partially discussed in the last meeting, and then have to pick up to move forward. This can take more time than just starting anew.

9. The sooner other voices are heard, the better the engagement levels will be. Push discussion items up early, if possible. There is better energy in a room when people hear their own voice and can feel they are participating in the discussion.

10. Nix your own blackberry and other distractors. If you even peek at your own phone, that gives implied permission for everyone else to sneak a peek, too.

11. Call out non-agenda items and put them in a parking lot. This involves little more than making a list on a separate sheet, for future discussion.

12. To reinforce points, add a participatory element if possible. I was recently at a meeting where a colleague shared changes to a policy. Excruciatingly boring subject, really. Then came the creative twist. After briefly covering the basics, her slides morphed into a game show format, quizzing our knowledge of the policy usage. Brilliant. And she brought candy prizes for first respondents, to boot.

13. Thank people for coming.

14. End on time, or aim to end 5 minutes earlier than scheduled.

15. Send out minutes or notes within 24 hours. Obviously, this is idealistic vs realistic. But the sooner, the better.

16. This suggestion probably should have been first, but consider if there are better ways of addressing the issues than having the meeting in the first place. Is a meeting truly the best format for what you’re trying to accomplish? I’m convinced if we had to sum the $ cost of every participant’s hour of time, nonessential meetings would not occur.

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