How Productive Are Your Meetings
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a businessman, one of my favorite movies is "Planes, Trains and
Automobiles" featuring Steve Martin as an advertising executive
trying to return to Chicago during the Thanksgiving holidays. The movie
opens with Martin attending a meeting in New York City where he is
pitching an ad campaign to the President of a large corporation, played
by William Windom. The meeting is rather long and boring as Windom
quietly agonizes over the layout of Martin's proposed ads. All of the
meeting attendees sit quietly and patiently as they wait for Windom to
make a decision (which he never makes). As it is the holiday season,
they all have other things they want to do (in Martin's case, it is to
return home to Chicago). Ultimately, the meeting is a colossal waste of
time for all of the attendees.
We've all been involved with such meetings where the
person running it is either insensitive to the needs of the attendees or
the subject matter is painfully boring. It should come as no surprise
that excessive or pointless meetings are probably the number one cause
for decreased productivity in organizations, be it corporate or
nonprofit (as Dilbert has pointed out to us time and again). Understand
this, unless someone is looking for an excuse to duck a work assignment,
nobody wants to attend an inconsequential meeting.
Remarkably, there are a lot of people who don't
understand the basics of running a productive meeting, hence the problem
as exemplified by Martin's movie. There is nothing magical about
conducting a good meeting. It just requires a little preparation, along
with some leadership and structure during its execution. Here are some
simple guidelines to follow:
First, determine the necessity of the meeting itself.
Do you really have something important to discuss or do you just want to
simply "chew the fat." Meetings are nice but we should never forget they
distract people from their work assignments. Therefore, we should only
hold a meeting if it is going to benefit the attendees and assist them
in their work effort. Let us not forget there are many other
communication vehicles at our disposal: memos, e-mails, web pages
(including blogs and discussion groups), posted notices, general
broadcasts over a PA system, etc.
If you are convinced of the necessity of the meeting,
you will need to know three things:
Your objective - Is the purpose of the meeting
to communicate a particular message, develop a dialogue and reach
consensus, educate/train people, or to offer a simple diversion for the
attendees? People do not want to hear the boss pontificate on some
trivial manner (a la Dilbert). Make sure you have a firm grasp of the
purpose of the meeting and what you hope to accomplish. Ask yourself how
the attendees will benefit from the meeting.
Your audience - Be sure to understand the
targeted audience, their interests, their work assignments, and their
How the meeting should be conducted (this is
critical). Should it be held on-site or off-site to minimize
distractions? Who should lead the meeting? How should the meeting room
be setup, such as required audio-video equipment,
flipcharts/blackboards, computer equipment, podiums, and the setup of
tables and chairs. A classroom setup is fine for lectures and
presentations but not necessarily conducive if the participants are
going to work in teams. For dialogs and strategy sessions, a roundtable
or u-shaped layout is better. Even the chairs are important; everyone
likes comfort but if you want to keep people's attention, there is
nothing wrong with hard chairs that force the participants to sit-up and
take notice during the meeting.
Print up agendas in advance so everyone knows the
meeting's purpose, the items to be discussed, the timetable, and what is
needed for preparation. It is not uncommon to also advise the dress code
for the meeting. If possible, send agendas and any other items in
advance for the attendees to adequately prepare themselves for the
meeting. This will save considerable time during the meeting.
Post scheduled meetings to calendars and, whenever
possible, send out reminders at least one day in advance.
Having a strong and fair leader for the meeting is
essential for its success. This may or may not be the main speaker.
Nevertheless, the leader has to play the role of traffic cop so the
meeting doesn't get sidetracked and stays on schedule. Knowing when to
defer peripheral discussions to a later time or place (such as after the
meeting) is important to keep everyone focused on the main mission of
the meeting. Being the traffic cop often requires skills in tact and
diplomacy so the meeting doesn't spin out of control.
Here are some other items to consider:
* Stick to the agenda. Start and end on time and
maintain order. Got a gavel? Do not hesitate to use it judiciously.
Maintain civility and decorum. Allow people to have their say but know
when issues are getting out of hand or sidetracked.
* Follow the old military principle of: "Tell them
what you are going to tell them; Tell them, and then; Tell them what
you've told them." Developing a punchlist of action items at the
conclusion of the meeting can be very useful for certain situations.
* Introductions are important so participants know
the cast of characters involved and their interests. But do not waste an
inordinate amount of time here. Also, name tags or name cards are useful
to avoid the embarrassment of forgetting names and titles.
* Make the meeting worthwhile. Keep it interesting
and informative; Heck, make it fun if you can. Make it so the attendees
feel that they are not wasting their time.
* Again, know your audience - speak in terms your
audience will understand. An eloquent vocabulary might be impressive,
but it may also intimidate and confuse the attendees (beware of the
"verbosity of bullshit" phenomenon). Also, read the body language of the
attendees to see if they are paying attention.
* I am not a big fan of histrionics. Many lecturers
like people to get up, stretch, shake hands with everyone or hold a
group hug. This can be downright embarrassing to people. Get to the
point and move on.
All meetings should be reviewed, either formally or
informally, to determine the success of the meeting. Informal reviews
are used for short meetings to determine action items to be followed up
on. Formal reviews should be considered for all lengthy meetings.
Standard critique sheets should be used for attendees and the leader to
evaluate the meeting. Prepare a summary and evaluate the meeting's
success. More importantly, learn from the comments received. There is
little point of going through the motions of a review if you have no
intention of acting on it.
Mastering the execution of an effective meeting
requires a little planning, a little organization, and a lot of
management. Bottom-line, how do you know if your meeting was a success?
People do not groan when you call the next one.
"Unless someone is looking for an excuse to duck a
work assignment, nobody wants to attend an inconsequential meeting."
- Bryce's Law
Keep the Faith!
Note: All trademarks both marked and unmarked belong to
their respective companies.
About the Author
Tim Bryce is the Managing Director of
M. Bryce & Associates
(MBA) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 30 years of experience in the
management consulting field. He can be reached at email@example.com
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Article Published/Sorted/Amended on Scopulus 2010-03-22 08:52:39 in Employee Articles