The sad fact is that most people think that meetings are a waste of their time – and because of how most meetings are run, they’re probably right.
The majority of people report that their meetings tend to be boring and unproductive. One study found that nearly 70% of employees say that meetings don’t help them get any work done. That’s not a good thing, especially when you consider the fact that the average person attends around 62 meetings a month.
If you’re responsible for leading meetings, these can be discouraging ideas to consider. Take heart, though; meetings don’t have to be boring. With the right tactics, meetings can be helpful, productive, and, well, meaningful.
Meetings Follow the Leader
For good or for bad, the success of any meeting nearly always hinges upon the person who is leading it. If, as a leader, you act as if the meeting is routine and unnecessary, then your participants will surely feel that way as well. On the other hand, if you are excited, energetic, and have a positive attitude, chances are that the rest of the group will as well.
The first step in running a great meeting is to determine whether or not a meeting is even necessary. Consider this: the primary reason to hold a meeting is to collect group input that drives a project forward. If this is not the purpose of your meeting, you will want to seriously consider whether it is necessary to meet at all. Could you solve this issue over email or some other channel?
The only other reasonable cause to hold a meeting would be to share critical new information with a group. Keep in mind, however, that most information can be distributed just as easily through other channels.
Once you’re sure that you’re meeting for the right reasons, you can begin working on making your actual meeting time as productive as possible.
Get the Meeting Rolling with a Good Introduction
Getting a meeting off to the right start is essential in getting participants engaged and setting a tone for the time you have together.
One good rule of thumb is to spend two or three minutes reiterating the purpose of the meeting, and, if relevant, the project in general. Why are people there? What is the vision you’re trying to accomplish together? Remember, you’re not just laying bricks – you’re building a house. Give meaning to the activities you’ll be discussing.
Additionally, consider opening with encouraging “call-outs” of individuals or teams who have demonstrated success. Call-outs get people personally engaged and create a positive environment at the start of your meeting.
Finally, set the tone and expectations for the meeting. Acknowledge how busy people are, and thank them for taking the time to dedicate their focus to the meeting. Let them know that you’re respectful of their time by assuring them that the meeting will not run late. This also gives you an opportunity to establish the importance of sticking to the agenda, and this entire presentation will establish your authority as the leader of the meeting, not a passive facilitator.
The Heart of the Meeting: Getting Participants Involved
Group participation is at the heart of every meeting. Here are a few tactics you can use to keep it beating.
1. Create an atmosphere that encourages participation.
Don’t ever hold a meeting with PowerPoint slides up and the lights off. You’re basically asking people to fall asleep.
Instead, know your material, keep the lights on, and bring food. People will appreciate being fed, and they’ll be less encouraged to doze off.
2. Answer the four communication questions.
Who is my audience? What is my goal? What does it take to get there? How much time do I have? The answers to these will greatly influence how you design and run the meeting.
3. Ask good questions
Since your goal should be to get group input, you’ll want to generate discussion around agenda points as you work through them. We’ve all been in meeting rooms where the moderator or leader asks a question only to be met with complete and utter silence. Finally, after a few awkward moments of waiting, they often end up answering their own question or just moving on.
It’s common to completely chalk up audience participation to the audience, but the truth is that the responsibility to generate engagement rests heavily upon the moderator, as well. A lot of this comes down to asking good questions.
Be specific. For example, instead of just throwing out the question, “how did the project go this week?” and leaving it in the middle of the room to die, ask something more direct to a particular person, such as “what was the most challenging part of the project this week, Tom?” or, “what would you do differently, Sally?”
4. Don’t let people off the hook.
One easy tip to get people talking is to call out individuals to answer relevant questions. The truth is that, sometimes, people need to be put on the spot to stay engaged.
5. Keep discussion focused.
Sometimes, a few people become too engaged. They begin talking passionately about irrelevant topics, and your meeting starts to veer off course down unproductive rabbit holes.
You can help to keep this from happening by being assertive as a meeting leader in curtailing unproductive conversation. One respectful way to do this is to keep a whiteboard list of items that you won’t be able to address in the given time, sometimes called a “parking lot”.
We recommend our clients use the line, “This deserves more time than we can give it in this meeting.” After all, while tangents can be a problem, you also don’t want to discount important thoughts. Having a great way to handle and capture ideas will allow you to keep the momentum for your meeting in your original direction.
Concluding a Meeting
All too often, people walk out of meetings without any sense of what the meeting has accomplished. It’s important to bring closure to the meeting. Wrap things up by reviewing action items and thanking everyone again for a job well done. People tend to remember the last thing they’ve heard, so make sure that they leave with the most important takeaways in mind.
If you’re still feeling a bit uneasy about leading productive meetings, don’t worry – many others are in the same boat. The good news is that the skills you’ll need to lead meetings are learnable. If you invest in improving, you can become a better communicator and meeting leader. You may even want to consider rehearsing your meetings for practice.
The truth is that leading a meeting is equivalent to giving a performance. The more you work at it, the better you’ll perform.
If you want to learn how to lead better meetings, consider signing up for our presentations training. We can help you develop the skills you’ll need to make your meetings meaningful. Get in touch with us to find out more.