Running effective meetings

Hit Leader Hass Leadership, Management Leave a Comment

As a leader or manager, you will be leading regular meetings with clients, your team and organisation. Meetings are a part of everyday life for most people and can take up a lot of your time. If that is the case, you need to make sure you are running meetings as effective as possible. Meetings are about a coming together of the right people to create the right value through discussion or presentation.

Sometimes your diary is back to back meetings and you can’t actually get any work done. Sometimes you are participating in a meeting and you don’t even say a word or you have people in the meeting who don’t contribute. Sometimes a meeting is scheduled for an hour with only 5 minutes of useful content. Sometimes people get super bored or even fall asleep in your meetings. Sometimes you have presented something and there is no engagement – have they taken on board what you have said? Sound familiar? None of these points are conducive to an effective meeting.

Why should you care? Check out some facts from The Harvard Business Review:

We surveyed 182 senior managers in a range of industries: 65% said meetings keep them from completing their own work. 71% said meetings are unproductive and inefficient. 64% said meetings come at the expense of deep thinking. 62% said meetings miss opportunities to bring the team closer together.

Many organizations we have worked with endure the triple whammy of meetings that are (1) too frequent, (2) poorly timed, and (3) badly run, leading to losses in productivity, collaboration, and well-being for both groups and individuals. This is the worst-case scenario—and, unfortunately, the most prevalent. The majority of our survey respondents—54%—put their meetings in this category.

Begin with the audience

Who you invite to the meeting should dictate how you run the meeting. If you know the people well it is easier to tailor a meeting to them – however in some cases where you don’t really know the attendees it can be a bit more difficult, but in those circumstances, you want to cast a wider net to catch everyone interest and attention.

Tailoring

Tailoring meetings involve understanding how the people involved in the meeting would like things to be done. Do they prefer calls? In person chats? Do they prefer death by PowerPoint? Do they prefer interactive sessions? Do they need an agenda to prepare beforehand? Do they need to see the slides before the meeting?

When I attend a meeting I would rather have an agenda and the slides sent to me beforehand so I can have a read through and get my brain thinking through the discussion or presentation points. I am a slow thinker – I suck if I am put on the spot in a meeting to provide insight when I have not been able to prepare. I am sure you will come across others like me, who need to prepare for a meeting. Anything that you can provide for them before-hand will help them feel more comfortable and prepared for the meeting. Meeting their needs and showing awareness will help you establish rapport with them before the meeting even starts.

Some people prefer headlines, some people prefer details. The headliners want summaries of the main points but the detailers want you to drill down – they want the facts and figures. In the case where you are unsure who you have in the room or you have a mix try to do both. Summarise each section and give the main takeaway points and through in some detail, some figures, some graphs.

Don’t commit murder by PowerPoint. I could spend all day telling you how to make an effective PowerPoint – the do’s and don’ts but I am sure there are more comprehensive resources out there. I will simply say this, don’t overdo it. Keep text to a minimum on slides – keep the main points on there and talk through the rest. If you don’t actually need a PowerPoint – don’t use it. Sometimes you will have like 3 slides in your PowerPoint that actually add any value – you could probably talk that through on the phone or in person. Your aim needs to be engaging the audience and PowerPoint isn’t always the right way to do it. In some meetings, I have used post-it notes, whiteboards / smart boards, iPads (fancy!) and posters. Whatever you choose you need to make sure it engages with your audience and it suits the purpose of the meeting.

Do you have the meeting in person, over the phone or virtually (Skype/Zoom etc)? Will it be useful to share your screen in the call or see the other persons screen? Does your audience prefer to meet in person? Does your audience have access to Skype or know how to use it and if not have you given them instructions? What method of communication would provide better value for your audience and allow them to engage and participate in a more effective way? Those are the kind of questions you need to ask yourself when setting up a meeting.

The main takeaway here is to try an understand the audience as best as you can and tailor the meeting in a way that engages with them and allows them to gain and or provide maximum value from the meeting.

The who

One thing I really dislike is when someone forwards my meeting invite to several people without letting me know. I end up having a meeting with 15 people instead of 5, 7 of the extra 10 I don’t know and maybe only 1 or 2 of them actually speak. You need to put some real thought into who you invite to a meeting. The goal is the maximum value for minimal time and wastage. I don’t want to take away an hour from someone’s life when they have other things to be getting on with and when they can’t actually add much to the conversation. You need to identify the people you need – either those who will add value or you need to receive value. In a meeting where the discussion needs to happen if you invite someone and they don’t provide any value, why are they are? Don’t invite them next time, they probably don’t need this extra meeting in their calendar. In a meeting where you are presenting something and you want to impart value to others ask yourself if the value you are looking to impart is actually of use to them. In fact, even better, ask them if they would find it useful to attend the meeting. Let people know that it isn’t vital for them to attend if they won’t be getting any value and that they won’t be punished for it!

Don’t have too many people at the meeting. It might be more appropriate in some circumstances to break up a meeting or exclude non-essential people as to get to a decision quicker or in order to have an environment where you can have a more effective discussion. You know what they say, too many cooks spoil the broth.

Spend time in preparation

The impact that lack of preparation can have on a meeting is incredible. I have seen long-standing clients refuse to work with people because they felt a 10-minute presentation wasn’t well prepared for. Lack of preparation can make people lose trust in you and break rapport with you – and why wouldn’t they? With lack of preparation, you are decreasing the value for time and value for money you are bringing to everyone with the meeting.

My wife is a social media manager and she is one of the most prepared people going to a meeting. She will go as far as anticipating what questions a client might ask or what direction they might take the conversation in. She puts a lot of effort into it and it pays off. Her clients see someone who is well prepared – they trust her and know that she is doing her best to meet their needs – they have a strong rapport.

As you may have read from the feedback I got from my team in this post – I can tend to leave preparation till the last minute. This is definitely something I am working on. In my case, I can be arrogant and think I know all I need to know for the meeting without taking time to really think about it until the last minute. If you are like me I recommend you schedule some meeting prep time in your diary so no one can book you into other meetings. Every Monday I try to block out an hour to prepare for the week’s meetings. However, sometimes you may have barely any time to prepare because of last-minute meetings or your too busy but getting even 5 or 10 minutes can help your meeting run a lot better than no prep.

When you are preparing, you need to think about potential questions, issues or concerns that may get raised in the meeting and how you may address them. If you are presenting something, is there an alternative and why have you chosen this particular path? You need to iron out the objectives of the meeting and the agenda and agree on them with those who will be attending. If you are expecting others to pitch in then you should agree on the objectives, the agenda and their time slots well before the meeting. I find it’s better to have a meeting where people feel there isn’t much time to speak about their section because this forces everyone to be concise and to the point – meaning the meeting will run a bit more efficiently.

If you are pitching or presenting something practice your delivery. When I see someone who spends more time reading their notes, or worse yet just reading the slide I am not overly impressed and tend to think they have not spent enough time preparing.

Preparing your objectives and agenda

When establishing meeting objectives you need to think through what you want to achieve by the end of the meeting. Are you wanting to reach a decision? A consensus? A set of ideas? An understanding of the project status? Or are you looking to put across your idea and have the audience grasp it? Whatever it is, you need to write it down and agree to it with those who will be attending – especially if they are providing input into the meeting. Generally, to agree on the objectives I would just something like “Are you all happy to have a meeting to discuss X so that we may achieve Y?”

Your objectives should dictate your agenda. You know where you want to get to, you just need to define how you are going to get there. What topics need to be covered? When will the meeting be? What is the time constraint of the meeting? What are the priorities and how much of the meeting time budget will they take up? What is the order in which these topics should be discussed? Where will the meeting take place – if virtually, what technology is required? Who is attending (note it’s useful for everyone to have visibility of attendees)?

The objectives and agenda are the framework for your meeting and can be used to keep people on point and the session on track.

Preparing to speak

Some people get super nervous when leading meetings, especially when you don’t do it regularly or it is your first time. I run a lot of meetings on a daily basis and yet I still find I can get quite nervous beforehand. Read this article for some helpful tips on building your confidence using your body to rewire your brain. I use this particular technique on a regular basis.

Managing the meeting itself

Be there on time. Don’t ever be late – you have no excuse other than poor planning. Make sure you leave enough time to get there – take into account the possibility of traffic. Don’t book meetings too close together.

If you are presenting take into account your audience, how they like to receive information and try and cater to that as I spoke of earlier. You can also do some pretty awesome things with your physical presence and speech and tone of speech to command the room and build rapport with everyone in the meeting and presentation.

Be ready to take the reigns. Sometimes the meeting gets off track or unhelpful conflict starts. You need to be willing to step in and do it in the right way. I generally use humour to cut the tension when things get a bit heated or when I want to get us back on topic. It works for me but you should find what works for you, in your particular organisation with your particular audience. Be careful with humour – not all meetings will have room for it and using it in those situations can make it seem like you aren’t taking things seriously.

Who is taking the minutes? If you are leading a meeting try to make sure someone else takes the minutes. It can be very difficult to steer or present and write minutes at the same time. Whatever you do, just make sure the minutes to get taken. You want to make sure that everyone knows who took what action and if applicable what the timeline is for delivery. If you don’t then you could drop the ball on certain actions or accused of doing something different to what was agreed. Minutes have saved some of my projects where a client has questioned whether something was actually agreed or not. If I didn’t have minutes that documented this agreement then it would make my company liable to fix the situation. By taking down minutes and sharing it with the attendees you are establishing accountability and responsibilities that cannot be debated. One thing I like to do is at the end of the session just read through the minutes and make sure everyone agrees and nothing was missed.

Reviewing and improving your meetings

Don’t be afraid to ask for feedback on how the meeting went and whether people were happy with the outline and process. This is especially important to do if you are going to have this meeting at regular intervals. Do a meeting retrospective (find out about retrospectives here) and identify what went well and what could be improved. Ask for honest and open feedback, you could just do it for a few minutes after you have read out your minutes. You don’t need to have a meeting about how to have a better meeting, just ping an email and get some feedback if you would prefer.

When you fail

You will fail. A meeting will be terribly boring, hardly anyone will turn up, you will fluff up your presentation, your powerpoint will be corrupted and you will say “ehhhhmmmm” every other word. It is absolutely OK to fail. Just learn from it. See it as an opportunity to learn how to improve and increase your chances of success in the future. It’s also a good idea to be open about it. Especially if it is a regular meeting. Talk about it. “I am sorry last week’s meeting didn’t go well. Going forward I will have printed copies of the slides just in case.”

Empowering others through the medium of meetings

Meetings, external and internal are a good opportunity to help others learn, develop and grow and it’s these kinds of opportunities you are looking for as a leader. Do you host regular agile stand-up meetings or scrums? Why not rotate the facilitator of the meeting and the minute taker. Ask if anyone wants the opportunity to lead a meeting with a client or an internal meeting or presentation. The way I learnt how to hold good meetings and present was to be thrown into it and have to figure it out myself. What works and what doesn’t works – sometimes I would fluff it up but that is OK – remember failure is a chance to have another go with better information under your belt.

Summary

Meetings that are run badly suck. They waste people’s time and take people away from important work. When done correctly, meetings can be effective and provide value for everyone involved.

Here is how to do it:

  1. Tailor your meeting to your audience. Understand the audience as best as you can and tailor the meeting in a way that engages with them and allows them to gain and or provide maximum value from the meeting. Skype or in person or on the phone? What works best for your audience and the purpose of your meeting. What medium are you going to use? Is PowerPoint needed?
  2. Be selective about who you invite – ask why you need them and what value they will bring. Don’t just bring your mates for no reason.
  3. Prepare, prepare, prepare.
    1. Give yourself and others enough time to prepare
    2. Sort out your objectives and agenda and get them agreed
    3. Get yourself ready mentally to speak in front of people
  4. Manage the meeting, keep it on track according to the agenda. Step in and resolve conflict – check this out for some tips. BE ON TIME.
  5. Review how it went – ask for feedback and improve your meetings
  6. Look for opportunities to empower others with meetings. Give them a chance to lead and present. It will aid learning and development but ask if they would be interested first.

For more info to help you run better and more effective meetings check out the book “Meetings Suck” on Amazon US / Amazon UK.

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