Attend only if needed. Some use meetings as a weapon in their office politics arsenal. They attended to be seen and heard whether they need to be there or not. If you’re not going to contribute to the discussion or if the outcomes do not affect you, don’t attend. Too many non-essential participants can extend the length of the meeting.
Get There On time. I refuse to start a meeting late for the sake of the person who wanders in five-minutes past start time; mostly to prove they are too busy and important to get to a meeting on time. It is discourteous to the chair and to those who make the effort to be on time.
Be prepared with your contribution. If you’ve given up attending meetings where your contribution is not needed, it stands to reason all the meetings you attend require participation. Prepare whatever information you anticipate needing. Go overboard. Bring twice as much data as you think you’ll need. Just don’t spew the whole works. If you have information to hand out, get it to participants a day or two before the meeting.
Pay attention. There will always be those at a meeting so focused on their opinion that they are not really listening to what the others are saying. Listen actively to the discussion. You don’t want to merely parrot or repeat another participant’s contribution.
Get involved in the discussion. Review the agenda and clarify your thoughts prior to the meeting. Make some notes. Being prepared will make it more likely that you will have some energy behind your points of view and, therefore, be more likely to express them.
Be courteous. You’re not likely to agree with everything said at a meeting. Never interrupt anyone – even if you disagree strongly. Note what has been said and return to it later with the chair’s permission. The point of most meetings is to reach agreements. If the participants are combative, the meetings will drag on. Look for ways to build consensus.
If you are attending a meeting, ensure that you respect the time of other attendees by being well prepared, attentive, concise and respectful..
Meetings can be effective ways of sharing information or reaching a decision. However, ineffectively run, they can swallow up your time without giving much benefit. Just as jobs have a cost, meetings have a cost; not only for you but for all who attend. After any meeting ask yourself, “was my contribution worth my investment?”
Here are some tips for running meetings in the most effective way possible:
1. Hold meetings when trigger events occur
Many regular meetings are little more than a case of doing something because it’s the “correct” way to do things or it’s always been done that way. The management team feels it is a “good thing” to communicate, but are unclear what they would like to communicate. Time is alloted for discussion and discussion expands to fill the time.
It is more effective to hold meetings when specific events show them to be necessary. For example, a deliverable is delayed by two weeks. How does this effect the overall timing of the project and what steps can be taken to keep the whole thing on track.
By scheduling meetings to occur on trigger events, you ensure time is invested in the solution of a problem, only when the problem occurs.
The agenda is effectively the to-do list for the meeting. It shows the aim and discussion points in priority order.
Using an agenda focuses the meeting, and provides a guide for keeping discussion on-track. Circulating the agenda sufficiently in advance, allows people to prepare for the meeting so it isn’t held up for lack of information.
3. Setting the time of the meeting
You can schedule the meeting to take advantage of the attendees:
Where people tend to waffle excessively, you can schedule the meeting just before lunch or going home, giving participants an incentive to keep things brief.
Where people are time conscious, write the cost per minute of the meeting on a flip chart can have a focusing effect.
Always start meetings on time. When meetings start late, you are in effect penalizing all those who arrived on time. Start without the late-comers.
If you’re have a problem with people consistently showing up late, start a meeting at an unusual time, say19 minutes past the hour. This can improve punctuality.
4. Other Useful Techniques
Invite the minimum number of attendees needed to a meeting. The more people in attendance, the more discussion there will be. Inviting people who are not needed wastes their time.
Make sure that decisions made at a previous meeting have been acted on. This ensures that the meeting will not just be seen as a ‘talking-shop’.
At the end of the meeting, prepare minutes summarizing the points discussed and defining action steps on the decisions. This ensures everyone understands what has been decided and who will do what.
Meetings can be effective methods for reaching decisions. They can also be huge time wasters. When you invest time in a meeting, you should expect a sufficiently large pay-back to justify the investment.
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.
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.
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.
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.