Tag Archives: Business

26 Ways to Make Meetings More Fun (…and productive)

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by Charlie Hawkins

Looking for ways to bring new life and energy to your meetings? Turn “dull and dreaded” to “energizing and effective” with these tips.

1. Keep It Moving

Change some aspect of your meeting about every twenty minutes: presentation style, insert Q&A, use a panel discussion, small group breakouts, videos, mini-breaks, team presentations, exercises, games, quizzes, feedback, voting, etc.

2. Social Time

Start ten minutes earlier than usual (e.g., 8:50 instead of 9:00 am).

Design the first ten minutes as a social mixer.

3. Bread Winner

Bring different kinds of breakfast breads to morning meetings; rotate “catering” responsibilities to each member of the group with the challenge to bring a new and different kind of bread. Each month the group votes on the best “bread winner” of the month.

4. Ideas To Go

Line the walls of the room with different problems for group members to solve, posed as “How can we…” statements. (e.g., How can we improve service in XYZ area?)

Give group members a “stickies” notepad, and invite them to roam the room, write ideas on their pads, and stick them on the problem to which they apply.

5. Act It Out

After information is delivered (training, new policies, etc.), break the meeting into groups of 5 to 8 people and challenge each small group to design a skit, song, rap, dance or other ways to recap part of the “learnings” from the session.

6. Change Places

Have every group member place their business card into a bowl or container. Then, everyone draws a card other than their own. When generating or responding to ideas, participants assume the persona of the person on their card and respond from their (assumed) point of view. This is a great way to “level the playing field” in the meeting.

7. Give It A Chance!

Have soft kids’ toys in the room (foam balls, squish toys, etc.)

Any time someone crushes another person’s idea (e.g., “that won’t work…we tried that before…it’ll cost too much…” etc.), group members are invited to pick up the near toy and bombard the offender, shouting “Give It A Chance!”

8. Standup Meeting

Remove all the chairs in the meeting room, and hold the meeting standing up. It will make the meeting shorter.

9. Hourglass

Get a two or three minute egg timer (miniature hourglass) or electronic alarm clock and use it to time discussions. Designate a timekeeper to monitor.

When the agreed-upon time is up, the timekeeper shouts out “Time!” which is the signal to move on. Imposed time constraints often boost creative output.

10. Give Me a Break!

Set a ground rule that any group member can call a break during the meeting for any reason (potty break, food, stretch, etc.)

Set an alarm clock for ten minutes (15 or whatever), and resume the meeting immediately when the alarm sounds. Re-start the meeting with a summary of where you left off.

11. Call Your Office

Pose a challenge to group members.

During a break, group members call their office and talk to anyone they think can give them a new insight on the challenge. Report back to the group.

12. Balloon Toss

Supplies: toy balloons, small note pads and pens or pencils.

Have group members write ideas to a given challenge on a piece of paper (one per sheet), fold the paper and put it inside a balloon. Blow up balloons, and tie them.

When all are done, everyone tosses the balloons for 15-30 seconds, and captures a balloon. Each person takes the new idea they have received, and builds on it. Report to the group.

13. Games

Start each meeting with a game or brain teaser to get the creative juices flowing.

Sources: Games Magazine; The Great Book of Business Games, E. Scannell & J. Newstrom; First Aid for Meetings, C. Hawkins; daily newspaper.

14. Skip It

Instead of having a meeting, make a conscious decision to “skip it.” Ask the people who would normally attend to do something to develop their creative awareness …take a walk, listen to music, draw, go to an art museum, play with a child or play skip-the-rope. Also ask them to capture any ideas which come up while they are playing, and e-mail them to the meeting leader.

15. Celebrate Success

When the group has something to celebrate (open new account, finish project on/ahead of time, promotions, etc.) celebrate it in the meeting with sparkling water served in champagne glasses. If appropriate, use champagne!

16. Cartoon Time

Ask group members to search for and bring a favorite cartoon to the meeting, and post them for all to see. To make it even more challenging, make it any other cartoon except Dilbert™.

17. On Your Best Behavior

Designate a portion of each meeting for “meeting skills training.” Introduce a new skill at each meeting, such as gate-keeping, building, summarizing, etc. (See Make Meetings Matter or other resources).

After the skill is introduced, have group members practice it in small groups of 5 to 8 people. Each person try to use the skill at least once during a discussion.

18. I Don’t Think So!

Ask the group to identify the most common types of disruptive behaviors in meetings (interrupters, boors, manipulators, side conversations, nay-sayers, etc.)

Anytime someone exhibits one of the disruptive behaviors, any group member (or the whole group) can shout out “I Don’t Think So!” to lightly remind the “offender.”

19. The Funniest Thing

Ask group members to write down the funniest thing that happened to them or in their department since the last meeting. Put the responses in a bowl. Periodically during the meeting, draw them out and invite the group to guess who wrote each story. The “authors” can embellish if time allows.

Variation: skip the writing and just share the stories at the beginning of the meeting or during.

20. Exercise Break

Rotate responsibility for group members to lead the group in some kind of physical exercise to start the meeting or use during breaks. If desired, award prizes for the best exercises of the week/month. Bring a boom box with upbeat music to accompany.

21. Pet pictures

Ask everyone to bring in pictures of their pet(s) or of a friend’s pet if they don’t have one. Alternative: draw a picture of their pet.

Go around and share stories about the pets. This can be done before or during meetings, or during breaks. Build: ask each person what qualities of their pet they possess.

22. Facilitate This!

Take turns being the meeting facilitator. Responsibility: keep the meeting on track.

Each facilitator is challenged to introduce a new ground rule, game, exercise or brain teaser to make the meeting more fun.

At the end of the meeting, the group votes whether to incorporate the new “tool” regularly or occasionally.

23. Game Breaks

During breaks, stage games or competitions that challenge people mentally or physically. If energy is lagging, use games that involve light physical activity.

24. Outside the Box

During nice weather, hold all or part of the meeting outside. Take advantage of the environment by changing the dress code, refreshments, activities, etc.

There’s nothing quite like a poolside location for grinding through a budget meeting, or a meeting under the shade tree for coming up with new ideas.

25. A Little Lower Please

Hire a professional masseuse to give five-minute back and neck rubs to participants during the meeting. Time the massages so that everyone receives the relaxing treat. For example, ten participants x six minutes each = one hour.

In addition to virtually guaranteeing attendance, this can be used to start and end on time. Anyone late misses their massage.

26. Hat

Invite group members to wear a creative hat to the next meeting…or bring a box of fun hats for members to choose. During the meeting, have a “hat parade” while designated judges choose the best (most creative, absurd, etc.) hat.

Challenge members to think (generate ideas, etc.) from the perspective of the person represented by the hat. This can also be directly linked to Edward deBono’s “Six Thinking Hats.”

About the Author

Charlie Hawkins is president of Seahawk Associates, a management resource for strategic planning, idea generation and communications effectiveness. Charlie has over 30 years’ experience as a facilitator and consultant, and is the author of Make Meetings Matter, a complete guide for planning and running effective meetings.

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How to Conduct Small-Group Meetings

One approach to ensure effective decision making in small, informal meetings is to develop motions and decisions through consensus. Consensus occurs when there is general agreement by the group on the decision being made.

Well managed meetings allow all participants to be part of the decision making process. Here are some techniques a chairperson can use to encourage and support group participation and discussion:

The chair solicits views

The meeting chair suggests that comments are welcome from the group. Then, if necessary, asks specific participants to share their views. Participants hear several short opinions rather than listening to one or two long speeches.

A survey

After a brief discussion, the chair asks for a show of hands to determine support for proposed idea(s). This should help the chair determine how to proceed. This encourages participants to express an opinion.

Groups

Groups can be particularly useful in the decision-making process at meetings and for generating ideas from participants. The meeting divides into smaller groups, for a fixed time to discuss assigned issues. A person is chosen to record the conclusions of the group. The groups then report their ideas to the larger meeting. The alternatives that are generated will assist the meeting in resolving issues and making decisions acceptable to all.

Brainstorming

This is a procedure for generating ideas which can help to develop alternatives that will assist in resolving the issue being discussed and in coming to a decision. Guidelines for brainstorming are:

  • don’t criticize the ideas of others while brainstorming.
  • impractical suggestions may trigger practical ideas among other participants.
  • the more ideas, the greater the chance of developing a particularly good idea.
  • build on the ideas of others, improve on a previous idea, or combine several ideas into one.
  • choose one person to record all ideas on a flipchart so that everyone can see them and a record exists: and
  • after a brainstorming session, critically screen the list of ideas for four or five consistent items or themes. Also, if brainstorming has been done in smaller groups, identify similar issues from the lists of individual groups. Finally, develop this list of ideas into options for decisions.

Managing Conflict

Conflict arises in meetings. You might assume conflict is negative, but it can be helpful leading to innovation, positive change or agreement when discussing an issue. It is important to remember that disagreement is necessary to the process of group decision making. The chairperson may have to resolve conflict in a meeting to reach an acceptable decision.

The following are steps that are useful in resolving conflict:

  1. Recognize that there is conflict and identify the issue causing the disagreement.
  2. Collect all information relating to the conflict, share it and assess it.
  3. Propose practical solutions, including the consequences of the proposals.
  4. Find a mutually acceptable resolution without coercion.
  5. Carry out the agreement and evaluate its effectiveness, with all parties sharing in the evaluation.

If a meeting does get out of hand, take a short break. When the meeting reconvenes, the chair can summarize the discussion up to the point of conflict or have opposing sides summarize their respective positions. The chairperson can then attempt to lead the two opposing sides in negotiating a solution.

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How to Manage Work Life Balance

Take this Work/Life Balance quiz from the Canadian Mental Health Association. It will open in a new window. Once you have your results, come back here for some tips to help you manage the balance between work and life.

In Life

  • Decide what is important. If you do not have a clear sense of your personal values, goals and priorities, you will not be able to determine which activities are important to furthering your life plan.
  • Eliminate the unnecessary. Once you have a clear picture of your life plan, drop those things that do not move your goals forward. Learn to say no!
  • Protect Your Goals and Priorities. Everyone will have an opinion as to how you should be living your life. Listening to opinions is fine, being dictated to is not. Live the life you want, not the one your parents or best friends or anyone else thinks you should be living.
  • Don’t go it alone. Get the support of family and friends. Give your partner permission to remind you when things seem to be getting out of balance. Better yet, your partner should be involved in developing your life plan.

At Work

  • Schedule brief breaks for yourself throughout the day. Your productivity and effectiveness will increase if you take short breaks every couple of hours. You will get more accomplished.
  • At the end of each day, set your priorities for the following day. Be realistic about what you can achieve in the time you have available.
  • Only respond to email once or twice a day. Then, shut off your email program to avoid being distracted as messages come in.
  • Make a distinction between work and the rest of your life. Protect your private time by turning off electronic communications.   Don’t be available 24/7.
  • Address concerns about deadlines and deliverables early. As soon as you see that a deadline is unrealistic, communicate your concern to your employer – don’t wait until the deadline passes.
  • Take all of your allotted vacation time. Taking vacation allows you to come back to work refreshed and more productive.
  • Learn to say no!

At Home

  • Create a buffer between work and home. After work, take a brief walk, do a crossword puzzle, or listen to some music before beginning the evening’s routine.
  • Decide what chores can be shared or let go. Determine which household chores are critical and which can be done by someone else.  Let the rest go.
  • Exercise. Even if it’s only for 15 minutes at a time, you’ll feel more energized and refreshed.
  • Create and implement a household budget. Start by setting aside some money from each pay cheque for the future.
  • Make healthy food choices. Healthy eating will gives you and your family more energy.
  • Pursue a hobby. Either with friends or family or for some quality time on your own.
  • Learn to say no!

In Your Community

  • Make choices. Social, community and volunteer obligations pull us in many directions. Choose the ones that are most fulfilling and learn to say ‘no’ to the rest.
  • Manage expectations. Be clear at the outset about how much time or support you can contribute to community organizations or your children’s school events.
  • Learn to say no!
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6 quick tips for managing paper

Close your eyes and picture the Zen-like state of your desk in a paperless world. When you need data from the last quarter, you speak to your computer and a soothing voice responds with the information. When it’s time to pay the bills, you instruct your computer where the payments are to come from.

Now, look at the paper sitting on your desk, dressers, tables, shelves, filing cabinets, etc.

The ideal of a paperless office has been around for at least three decades. While individuals, such as Eric Mack, experiment with paperless solutions, or online services offer paperless solutions, paper usage has increased significantly.

In 2003, Canadians used a whopping 2, 867,442 tonnes of paper, compared with 1,198,100 tonnes two decades earlier. Source: CBC News

For whatever reason, you’re stuck working with paper. Here are some tips for managing your piles (paper, that is).

  1. Keep only the work at hand visible. If you’re working on the month-end report, have it in front of you. Other pending work should be stored in some form of filing system, which makes it easy to retrieve, but keeps it out of sight.
  2. Have a fixed time each day to process routine paperwork. There are regular systems that dump a daily amount of paper on our desks: mail, filing, circulating files, etc. Set aside a few minutes every day to make sure this paper dealt with and not left piling up on your desk.
  3. Keep large wastebasket and/or shredder near your work area. Some percentage of the paper you process can go straight to recycling or garbage: used envelopes, advertising brochures, last week’s cafeteria menu. Toss it immediately.
  4. Don’t use a bulletin board. It’s a burial ground. I have a bulletin board in my office, but I am ruthless about what gets pinned to it. If you can’t be consistently ruthless, don’t put one on the wall.
  5. Organize your stationery. If you have to keep blank stationery on hand, get some type of storage system. Not only does lose stationery add to the cluttered look, it ends up dog-eared, frayed and unusable.
  6. Get a notebook. Resist the urge to take notes on dozens of pieces of scrap paper, notepads and sticky notes. Find a notebook that works for you and keep it with you at all times. That way, not only will you have a single, neat source of all your notes, you’ll only have one place you have to look to find information.

It doesn’t look like paper is going away anytime soon. You will need to have systems to control your paper flow.

How to Connect With Your Audience

Communication works best in an active, not a passive environment. If you want to get your message across to your audience members, you have to connect with them.

Interaction is a continuous way to get feedback on how well your content is understood. It also gives listeners a chance to contribute their experience to the learning process.

How do you build interaction?

  • Be prepared to be spontaneous. Have questions ready—begin with relatively easy, accessible ones. Ask questions that create disagreement and watch the audience come to life.
  • Work to get everyone involved: even in large groups. I have an assortment of candy ready. I give a chocolate bar to the first person who answers a question. It’s amazing how responsive the rest of the group gets when there is chocolate at stake. (Yes, these are adults. )
  • Break into small groups. Ask participants to consider issues with the person sitting next to them or small groups.
  • Discuss as a larger group. Have the smaller groups present their findings to the whole group. Use those points to generate further discussion with the audience.

The way you move when speaking also affects you connection with the audience. If you spend the entire speach leaning on the lectern, with your arms folded, it will be difficult to connect with the listeners.

Move!

  • Don’t rock or scurry back and forth, but don’t get locked into one position.
  • Walk toward the audience.
  • If you can’t walk toward the audience, lean in.
  • Use eye contact.
  • Energize and use gestures. The larger the audience and the room, the bigger your gestures have to be.
  • Get your face involved.
  • Use vocal variety.
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