7 Tips for Great Meetings
I’ve been in a lot of meetings… thousands of hours worth. For many of us, they represent 25 - 50% of our work day. Leading great meetings may be the single most effective way to drive your success. Recently I had a conversation that caused me to reflect on what makes a great meeting. Below are my seven tips, plus one for after the meeting ends.
- Be prepared. Create an agenda and share it with participants before the meeting. The agenda should explain what outcome the meeting is going to do and how it will do so. If you are going to discuss difficult or complex issues, have people write their point of view in advance and consider sharing that information with all participants. Writing is a great way to promote deeper thinking.
- Begin and end on time. Keep track of time during the meeting. Use a timer or a person to keep the team aware of how much time is left. Motivate people to be on time — have late arrivers give $5 to the snack fund. Don’t go late even if you’re not done. Have people stand, not sit — you’ll waste less time.
- Make the rules clear. My favorite meeting rules are: One person talks at a time. Honor the agenda. Speak up. Cut to the core — “just the elevator pitch, please.” Actively listen. Conflict with respect is critical. Engage in the meeting — don’t do email, surf the web, or have side conversations. Defend your decisions to those outside the room.
- One thing at a time. Finish the first item before you move on to the next. For each issue, start by getting all the facts out, then allow for interpretation, next make a decision, and finally determine what action is necessary. (Far too often we offer our interpretation without any supporting data and fail to make a real decision or decide what to do next. In other cases we get the steps out-of-order — Fire! Ready. Aim.)
- Manage the conversation, don’t let it manage you. Actively facilitate. If you don’t, you’re unlikely to carry out the meeting goals. Ask specific questions to create momentum towards decision-making and action (think data, interpretation, decision, and then action). Keep conversations on track by giving people time limits to share their point of view. Have people summarize their thoughts in 30 to 60 seconds. Actively listen by quickly restating what was said or write it on a whiteboard so that they know they were heard. Involve many people in the conversation, don’t allow a few people to dominate.
- Use a “parking lot”. When people go off track (and they will), firmly, but kindly stop them and identify that you believe they are off track. Ask if they would like the issue put in the list to be discussed at the end of the meeting or in a separate conversation and then re-engage them in the current topic by asking for their contribution to the agenda item at hand.
- Keep a record. It should summarize what was discussed, what decisions were made, what action will be taken, who owns the issue, when things will be accomplished. Assign someone to keep notes. End the meeting with a review of what needs to be done next, how people will be held accountable, and what resources they need.
And one idea for success after the meeting ends…
- Keep your commitments! Do what you say you will do. Renegotiate if things change, but never hope that someone forgets what you said you would do. Be accountable. We are only as good as our word.