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6 Item Checklist for Running Impressive Meetings

6 Item Checklist for Running Impressive Meetings

In 2006, I was elected President of the spanish chapter of Entrepreneurs’ Organisation, a volunteer-led organisation for successful entrepreneurs. Honestly, I was a mix of emotion: both proud of the honour; but nervous that I would not be capable of leading the group.

Our first board meeting was chaos. There was a paper agenda, but I failed to keep people focussed on the agreed discussions. Each board member would throw their own opinion in for every small point. We spent almost 4 hours sucked into petty administrative details. It was tiring.

I learnt over the next 3 months that my way of running meetings was not effective. It was not only that we were not agreeing and taking decisions, we each left the meeting less motivated than when it began. This was a volunteer board.  If I had been one of the board members back then, I would have skipped as many meetings as I could.

“That’s it, I don’t need this crap. I am going to Quit”

I was on the verge of resigning the presidency, and of resigning as a member due to my frustration. I said to myself “I am paying for this, I am frustrated and members are blaming me for every little thing that doesn’t work out”.

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I attended a training session for new chapter presidents run by a wonderful Canadian entrepreneur. She began the training “There are two types of people in this room: the first have had a mission to become chapter president for years, have conducted a campaign with a clear manifesto, bring a team and are now celebrating the achievement of a multi-year goal; the second…  went to the bathroom at the wrong moment and came back to find that they had been nominated for president…  and still feel that they didn’t really ask to be in the role.”

She paused while we laughed “I don’t care which is your path. But you have a clear choice to make… You can spend the next year saying that you didn’t really choose this; or you can decide to make the role your own. This training is for those who chose to make the role their own.”

She got me. I knew that I was the “bathroom-at-the-wrong-moment” president, not the multi-year campaign. I knew I was waiting for others to step up and make things fun. I knew that I had abdicated any real responsibility for the role to others. I made a decision in that moment to go for it. I decided I had nothing to lose. I had mentally decided to leave the organisation, resign my role – so there was no “risk” to me if I decided to make things run “my way”.

Over the next 2 years, I learnt how to run meetings that get volunteers engaged, proud, active and delivering big results. What works for volunteers also works for corporates, universities and professional associations.

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The Golden Rule of Leading Anything

It is always the leader’s responsibility. If you lead a meeting and it is not fun, it is your responsibility to act. If somebody comes unprepared, it is your responsibility to act.  It does not matter whether you wanted to be the leader or did not want to be the leader; it does not matter whether the others are older, richer, wiser, better looking, sexier or taller: your role comes with full responsibility.

If you don’t accept the Golden Rule, go play tetris or candy crush. Don’t bother with the rest of this blog post.

The 6 Item Participant Checklist for Impressive Meetings

1. Participants Felt Heard

My girlfriend is brilliant at this. I can come home and rant about something stupid that happened at work. She listens. She listens without adding her judgement. Often, my rants are idiotic. (I think she knows…  She doesn’t say.) She isn’t aiming to fix me. She accepts that I am saying that I am frustrated, that something unexpected happened. After about 2 minutes of feeling heard, I realise that I am ranting and I let it go.

2. Participants Leave Energised

An hour of talking about problems is not an engaging hour. What inspires us? Big dreams. Great locations. People’s life stories. Progress. Celebrating small wins. Recognition of good efforts. A big bureaucracy trades in problems. A volunteer organisation trades in the gift of people’s time.

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3. Participants Leave with New Perspectives

John D. Rockerfeller, the richest man in the world back in the 1850s, was famous for his ability to look like he was almost asleep in a meeting… and then suddenly sit forward and ask a question that changed the whole dynamic of the discussion. A meeting leader is not the one with the best answers, a leader is the one with the best questions.

4. Participants are Proud to be Part of the Team

What teams are you proud to be part of? Teams that stand for something. I am proud to be a member of Barcelona Football Club. I love the values of teamwork that I see displayed on the field. I am proud to be part of Entrepreneurs’ Organisation because I am encouraged to dream bigger, to contribute more deeply. I am proud to be part of teams that are encouraging individual members to be the best version of themselves.

5. Participants Have Access to Necessary Resources

I had an interview back in 2005 with Sequoia Capital for a role leading the European division of a global insurance claims processing company. The founder explained their golden rule: if somebody fails to achieve a goal, we place 90% of the blame with their boss. There are only 3 reasons why somebody fails to achieve a goal:  1. they were not clear on the goal (bosses fault) 2. they didn’t have access to the resources necessary (boss fault) and 3. they were not motivated (50% their fault, 50% boss fault).

6. Participants Have Desire to Deliver on Specific Actions

Two parts to this one: desire and specific. Nothing is a greater waste than giving a vague action to a person who sees no purpose to the action. As a leader, you must work to help people see how they personally and professionally can benefit from the action. As a leader, you must work to ensure that the individual understands exactly what success will look like and how they can take the steps necessary.

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The Choice you Must Make, The Golden Rule

Whether you became leader by deliberate action or by accident; whether you conducted a multi-year campaign or left for the bathroom at the crucial moment – you have a choice: wait for a magically sign from the sky or take responsibility now to change things that you do not love. The Golden Rule: If you don’t like it, remove it, change it or step down as leader.

Featured photo credit: Stéfan via flickr.com

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Conor Neill

Professor of Leadership, President Vistage Spain

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Last Updated on August 6, 2020

6 Reasons Why You Should Think Before You Speak

6 Reasons Why You Should Think Before You Speak

We’ve all done it. That moment when a series of words slithers from your mouth and the instant regret manifests through blushing and profuse apologies. If you could just think before you speak! It doesn’t have to be like this, and with a bit of practice, it’s actually quite easy to prevent.

“Think twice before you speak, because your words and influence will plant the seed of either success or failure in the mind of another.” – Napolean Hill

Are we speaking the same language?

My mum recently left me a note thanking me for looking after her dog. She’d signed it with “LOL.” In my world, this means “laugh out loud,” and in her world it means “lots of love.” My kids tell me things are “sick” when they’re good, and ”manck” when they’re bad (when I say “bad,” I don’t mean good!). It’s amazing that we manage to communicate at all.

When speaking, we tend to color our language with words and phrases that have become personal to us, things we’ve picked up from our friends, families and even memes from the internet. These colloquialisms become normal, and we expect the listener (or reader) to understand “what we mean.” If you really want the listener to understand your meaning, try to use words and phrases that they might use.

Am I being lazy?

When you’ve been in a relationship for a while, a strange metamorphosis takes place. People tend to become lazier in the way that they communicate with each other, with less thought for the feelings of their partner. There’s no malice intended; we just reach a “comfort zone” and know that our partners “know what we mean.”

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Here’s an exchange from Psychology Today to demonstrate what I mean:

Early in the relationship:

“Honey, I don’t want you to take this wrong, but I’m noticing that your hair is getting a little thin on top. I know guys are sensitive about losing their hair, but I don’t want someone else to embarrass you without your expecting it.”

When the relationship is established:

“Did you know that you’re losing a lot of hair on the back of your head? You’re combing it funny and it doesn’t help. Wear a baseball cap or something if you feel weird about it. Lots of guys get thin on top. It’s no big deal.”

It’s pretty clear which of these statements is more empathetic and more likely to be received well. Recognizing when we do this can be tricky, but with a little practice it becomes easy.

Have I actually got anything to say?

When I was a kid, my gran used to say to me that if I didn’t have anything good to say, I shouldn’t say anything at all. My gran couldn’t stand gossip, so this makes total sense, but you can take this statement a little further and modify it: “If you don’t have anything to say, then don’t say anything at all.”

A lot of the time, people speak to fill “uncomfortable silences,” or because they believe that saying something, anything, is better than staying quiet. It can even be a cause of anxiety for some people.

When somebody else is speaking, listen. Don’t wait to speak. Listen. Actually hear what that person is saying, think about it, and respond if necessary.

Am I painting an accurate picture?

One of the most common forms of miscommunication is the lack of a “referential index,” a type of generalization that fails to refer to specific nouns. As an example, look at these two simple phrases: “Can you pass me that?” and “Pass me that thing over there!”. How often have you said something similar?

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How is the listener supposed to know what you mean? The person that you’re talking to will start to fill in the gaps with something that may very well be completely different to what you mean. You’re thinking “pass me the salt,” but you get passed the pepper. This can be infuriating for the listener, and more importantly, can create a lack of understanding and ultimately produce conflict.

Before you speak, try to label people, places and objects in a way that it is easy for any listeners to understand.

What words am I using?

It’s well known that our use of nouns and verbs (or lack of them) gives an insight into where we grew up, our education, our thoughts and our feelings.

Less well known is that the use of pronouns offers a critical insight into how we emotionally code our sentences. James Pennebaker’s research in the 1990’s concluded that function words are important keys to someone’s psychological state and reveal much more than content words do.

Starting a sentence with “I think…” demonstrates self-focus rather than empathy with the speaker, whereas asking the speaker to elaborate or quantify what they’re saying clearly shows that you’re listening and have respect even if you disagree.

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Is the map really the territory?

Before speaking, we sometimes construct a scenario that makes us act in a way that isn’t necessarily reflective of the actual situation.

A while ago, John promised to help me out in a big way with a project that I was working on. After an initial meeting and some big promises, we put together a plan and set off on its execution. A week or so went by, and I tried to get a hold of John to see how things were going. After voice mails and emails with no reply and general silence, I tried again a week later and still got no response.

I was frustrated and started to get more than a bit vexed. The project obviously meant more to me than it did to him, and I started to construct all manner of crazy scenarios. I finally got through to John and immediately started a mild rant about making promises you can’t keep. He stopped me in my tracks with the news that his brother had died. If I’d have just thought before I spoke…

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