Meetings can have lots of loose flow to them. They start a little late because people show up a little late. There’s that spot where you haven’t seen Jumpha in a while and you ask about her children. You pass out the agenda and people face-down a while browsing it and shuffling papers. Some folks are reading and answering mail via their BlackBerrys.
I think that’s all crap. Meetings are often like dental visits. You should go in, get scraped, picked, rinsed, and cleaned, go home with a toothbrush and a sixth month appointment and that’s that.
You can fantasize all you want about the whiteboard meetings with all the gorgeous visualizations and all that, but those are truly the rarity, aren’t they? My early subscription to Fast Company magazine had me fooled for a while. I started believing that meetings were gorgeous, luscious events, where people really plotted out the future of the company. Bull.
Meetings are where people hash out status, assign work, and make snap decisions. They should be treated that way. And yes, I know your place is culturally different. I know you’re only one woman. I know that you’re not the boss. Here are some tips for when YOU get to lead the meeting.
- Publish the agenda as early as possible. At the top, state: “This is the agenda for this meeting. We will review items on this list ONLY. If you would like to propose an agenda item not yet covered, please do so in the reply. An adjusted agenda will be sent out. “
- At the bottom of the agenda, set the rules of the meeting: “Your time is important. I value your time and respect your attendance. Please turn off all mobile devices for the duration of the meeting. Please agree to stick to the agenda. Please refrain from sidebar conversations.”
- At the beginning of the meeting, start regardless of whether all the people you need are there. It only takes missing a few beginnings, especially if you refuse to go back, to get people to arrive promptly. Once they understand the nature of your meetings, they’ll get the clue.
- Start every meeting with the briefest of “house rules” conversations: “We’re going to meet quickly on this specific agenda. I’m going to talk, and you’re going to confirm the information we have here. There’s a question of next steps that we’ll keep open for discussion. Please, no cell phones – turn them off- and no sidebar conversations. One speaker at a time. Thanks. Let’s begin.”
- Be pleasant, but be the authority. Gently remind people that the agenda is there, that the meeting is what it is. There shouldn’t be discovery at this flavor of meeting.
- Never go over. If you still have agenda but no time, stop the conversation. Thank everyone for their time. Get up. They can stay, but you should walk out. Don’t bend on this. You’re making people late for the next meeting.
- If you can, finish early.
- Give people every chance between the meetings to be heard. Those who blather the most at meetings are just afraid that you don’t get their point. Go to them personally, one on one, and listen to them as long as you can stand. Reflect their words back. Show them you know what they’re saying.
- Publish meeting notes right away. They should be very little more than the agenda with “confirmed” next to every point, and/or maybe a small block of notes at the bottom. If you are all in the same building, consider just photocopying your version of the notes and handing it to everyone. If an electronic copy is needed, be brief. Do not publish volumes of information. Meeting agendas are status queues, not logs for the meeting. (One peeve of mine with most project managers, formal or informal, is that they write mini novels when a status is all that’s necessary).
You ARE the authority at meetings you call. You can bring this culture to your company fairly quickly, because it shows respect for people’s time, a willingness to call the meeting and disperse quickly, and a strong sense of knowing what you know. Meetings where you seem prepared and act as the authority are always more pleasant for all involved. I strongly urge you to give these tips a try and write back.
–Chris Brogan writes about self-improvement and productivity at [chrisbrogan.com] . He writes about new media and content at Grasshopper Factory. Meet Chris Brogan at PodCamp Boston or at the Podcast and Portable Media Expo show in California.
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