Meetings have a bad reputation. They are perceived as pointless, boring, uncontrolled, and a waste of time. When participants aren’t engaged, texting and emailing while “listening” becomes more attractive, making a troubled dynamic even worse. A good meeting leader knows how to facilitate interaction by skillfully drawing each attendee into a meaningful dialogue that accomplishes real work. By capturing the audience and energizing the climate, you can make your meetings stand out. Here’s how.
Limit the FYI agenda items.
Informational items constitute one-way communication, leaving participants wondering why an email or intranet site wasn’t used to convey the messages. Unless an active Q and A will be needed to clarify bad news or complex information, use another form of communication. Avoid lengthy presentations such as briefings from each participant. Instead, limit the time frame within which each person can speak, or send out needed information ahead of time. Focus the meeting on active discussion.
Make decisions and solve problems.
The key to a great meeting is doing work that is meaningful to each participant. Solicit opinions on important issues. Weigh the pros and cons of each idea. Search for a solution that meets established criteria. Ask group members to bring problems to the group when they need assistance to think through the best approach. If the group will not be the final decision-maker, make it clear who will review the ideas and how they will be assessed, increasing the probability of acceptance. A meeting should be a stimulating conversation that empowers the group members to have impact.
Engage every participant.
Make it impossible for minds to wander too far or for smartphones to become more enticing than the meeting. Ask each person’s opinion on agenda items by going around the table. Post ideas on a flip chart or smart board. Pose interesting questions that keep the dialogue lively. If the group is large, break into smaller groups to generate ideas, then have each report back. Facilitate the process and avoid dominating the discussion. Make the meeting theirs’, not only yours.
Respond positively to all ideas.
Keep the energy high through continual reinforcement. Thank participants for their contributions, even if you don’t agree with all that’s said. Praise the group for their accomplishments, i.e. developing a creative list of potential solutions to a problem, making a difficult decision, successfully compromising on conflicting viewpoints. Remember that people tend to do more of what they are praised for. Make sure the atmosphere does not turn negative, thereby making it feel unsafe to make contributions.
List action items and follow-up.
Don’t drop the ball. Create a set of next steps, persons responsible, and due dates. Monitor between meetings to ensure something gets done. If a discussion is not finished, requiring a continuation at the next meeting, make sure you track where you left off in the dialogue.
Meetings don’t have to be dreaded. By following these guidelines, participants will look forward to your meetings, knowing that their time will be used productively and they will come away energized by being part of a group that makes a difference.