It’s been said that a meeting is an event where minutes are kept and hours are lost. So why have meetings at all? Simple: the huge payoff. They leverage your time—you can impart vital information to many key people at once, so the choir sings from the same song sheet. They tap into the power of brainstorming—one plus one can equal three when viewpoints converge. Meetings tamp down turf wars—when a group solves each other’s problems, people magically become less turf-conscious. Yet you’ll waste a year of your life in meetings—unless you announce agendas and expectations with a bullhorn. Get tough.
■ Cancel it. Or, at least, ask yourself whether the meeting truly needs to happen. So many issues can be handled via memo, e-mail, or a quick one-on-one.
■ Still, got to do it? Okay, but invite-only the A-liters, and make sure you have a quorum
■ Confirm the meeting room’s availability, and be darn sure the necessary audiovisual gear will be assembled and working.
■ if it’s a teleconference or videoconference, confirm the timing with the vendor. Do not screw around with cheap speakerphones; state-of-the-art phones won’t waste the time of long-distance participants. E-mail the agenda, handouts, and step-by-step access instructions to all participants (noting the start times in both your time zone and theirs). Add a note to remind teleconference participants to identify themselves before speaking.
■ Prep an agenda that includes time limits for presentations and discussions. Circulate it via e-mail, clearly laying out the meeting’s date, time, and place.
■ Remind presenters to come armed with handouts that minimize questions and note-taking.
■ Appoint a time sheriff to signal you whenever people run long.
■ Designate a note-taker to record the action steps produced by agenda items.
■ Start on time, to the minute. It enforces promptness. George W. Bush was known to lock the door when he began his meetings.
■ We’d sometimes start with sixty seconds of quiet time to just breathe and relax (some people needed to catch their breath after running to get there on time). It’s amazing how this simple exercise can get people grounded and ready to go
■ If it feels natural, go around the table for (very) brief updates on everyone’s personal lives. It lifts spirits and bonds the group.
■ Devote thirty seconds to the meeting’s objective and importance. Don’t assume that everyone takes their seat ready to hand over their full attention (even after a breathing exercise). You need to capture the attention of the woman who just finished arguing with her husband. That guy frantically dousing a departmental fi re? You need him, too. A quick pep talk energizes and focuses everyone.
■ quickly review the agenda, then ask for late-breaking additions or deletions.
Pick Up the Pace
■ firmly, but tactfully, bat away remarks that stray from the meeting’s target. Positive comments get the point across without embarrassing anyone: “Sue that sounds important. Why don’t we get that on the agenda for next time?”
■ Urge ramblers, even when they’re on message, to keep it moving: “Hey, Tony, FYI, we’ve got five more minutes for this segment. Better finish up so we have time for questions.” If time is running out: “Hey, Tony, great point. Can you bottom-line it?”
■ Beware “piling on,” the tendency we have to toss in our two cents. Rather than allow everyone to say the same thing in slightly different ways, ask people to call out ditto to signal agreement.
■ Deep- six side conversations by looking directly at the talker and injecting his name into what you’re saying: “So this solution, Jim, should solve that problem.”
■ Think high- stakes poker. Hold your cards close and betray nothing with your facial expressions. Why? Play your cards too soon and the pot won’t have time to grow. Everyone to ante up. Don’t let the Silent Sam’s get through a meeting without contributing. Call on individuals if you sense they’re stifling their ideas.
■ Ask open-ended questions. You’ll hear thoughtful and often revealing answers.
■ Indulge wisecracks. You’re keeper of the tone, and laughing and kibitzing with everyone else keeps it light and fosters strong relationships.
■ Stand and stretch every hour or so to keep people invigorated and focused. Let people stand if they begin to feel uncomfortable or fatigued.
Tight team meetings generate two powerful side effects. First, you teach participants by example how to efficiently conduct their own staff meetings. Second, you broadcast a message that reverberates through the entire culture