Meetings that Produce Results!

A recent survey by cloud-based presentation platform Prezi, in collaboration with the Harris Group, found that 46% of American workers admitted to texting, checking email or social media, browsing the web, or even falling asleep during a meeting.  Besides being rude and showing a lack of social awareness, what could be the cause?  The same survey suggests it’s a lack of preparedness on the part of the leader and an inability to keep people focused once the meeting begins.  How to solve these issues?  Read on!
Prepare for the meeting
Don’t wing it!  Start by asking yourself some questions:
1. What’s the purpose or objective of the meeting? Too many meetings are held with no clear purpose in mind.
2. Who will be attending? Who should be attending? Be sure to ask the stakeholders—no real decisions can be made without them.
3. What do I need to accomplish—my goals?
4. What materials will I need to bring? Come prepared—and let participants know what they need to bring.
5. Might I receive any push back?  What’s the WII-fm (what’s in it for me?) for the participants.
6. Who do I need to talk with before the meeting? Enlist their help ahead of time. Talk to those you would like to have speak on a topic, those who may dominate the discussion, or those who know a lot about the topic.  Yes, suck up!  If they know a lot about the topic, they will want to talk about it.  And, their help could be invaluable.  Get them on the agenda—for a specified amount of time.
7.  Are there any “what ifs…” I need to plan for?  What if a critical person can’t be there?  What if we don’t have the results of a survey that we need?  What if we need to reschedule the meeting?  Then reschedule it!  No one was ever unhappy to ‘find’ some time when a meeting was cancelled.
Develop a thorough agenda
A good agenda will keep the meeting from drifting aimlessly. When a thorough agenda is sent out ahead of time participants will be more likely to come prepared, you’ll receive more buy-in and a greater sense of inclusiveness will develop.  Be sure your agenda includes the basics. Write the purpose of the meeting at the top of the agenda.  Include the names of those who will be presenting and the time allotted to them. Everyone appreciates a meeting that is led effectively and stays on time.  A good agenda will help you accomplish this!
Lead the meeting effectively and keep the group focused
Here are some tips that will help you lead a meeting that runs on time, avoids rabbit holes and ends with action items!
• Write the purpose of meeting on a board or chart paper—so you can point at it!
• Use a Parking Lot. Have post-its available and ask anyone who offers an off-topic statement or question to post it on the Parking Lot. Assign someone to capture the parking lot items (or do it yourself).  Review them with the contributor later or consider for future discussion.
• Refer to the agenda for the next item, who should be speaking and where the group should be time-wise.
• Periodically summarize when an item is completed and you are moving on to the next. Also summarize when an action item has been designated—reiterating who is responsible and the due date.
• Ask questions to encourage participation.
• Similarly, ask for the response you want.  An odd thing we often do is to look at the person we DO NOT want to speak next.  Lo and behold, they speak! Eye cueing is a powerful tool.  When you finish speaking, be looking at the person you want to speak next. 80 to 90% of the time, they will!
• If you have a difficult person, hand them something to move them out of a closed posture.
• If they’re a chatty person—give them a job!
• Have the group brainstorm items for your meeting protocol.  Having them help create the list will give them buy-in. Post their protocol list on the agenda and in the room during the meeting.  It will help the group stay focused and positive and will help keep the meeting on track and on schedule
Engage the participants with visuals 
Come prepared—and I don’t mean with a PowerPoint show!  Research from studies conducted at Harvard and the Wharton School show that when visuals are used:
       • Meetings are conducted in 28% less time
       • Retention increases up to five times
       • Proposals are approved twice as often
       • Consensus occurs 21% more often
       • Time required to conduct the meeting is reduced 40%
So if not PowerPoint, what visuals?  Start with a good agenda.  Then consider handouts (better to pass out something than have them pass out from viewing too many PowerPoints!), charts, boards, demonstrations, anecdotes, props, examples...
Yet, as Seth Godin said, “If all you want to do is create a file of facts and figures, then cancel the meeting and send in a report.”
A group from Hewlett Packard shared a terrific idea:  they deliver one minute minutes to the participants before they leave the meeting.  It can even be handwritten and includes the action items, those responsible and the due dates. You may also consider debriefing after the meeting.    If needed, initiate a special meeting of a few key players.  This can be a very short meeting—try standing instead of sitting!
Then, deliver the meeting minutes to all participants within a few days.  Don’t wait until the next meeting is upon you to send them out.  Who can remember what was covered in the last meeting?  And any action items may not be accomplished. Without accomplishing the action items, a meeting can’t produce results!