067 – How To Run A Great Meeting, Reverse Engineered
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Hey there, this is Jamie Newman here and I want to start off today’s episode with something I find a little funny. Well, maybe it’s not so much funny as it is, kinda sad.
You see, the topic for today’s episode is how to run a great meeting.
If you’ve been with me over the past couple of months, you know that I’m going through a series each Monday on the Fundamentals of Management, and one of the core skills that every manager needs to develop is the ability to run a great meeting.
So, in preparation for this show, like I do every week, I spent some time researching and reviewing some of the advice that is out there on the topic of running a meeting.
What’s funny is that almost every single article, video, blog post, and book, on this subject starts off the same way.
Like, exactly the same way.
It goes something like this,
We’ve all been there. Sitting around that boardroom table, wishing we were anywhere but in this unnecessary meeting, listening to the boss or some other person drone on about stuff we already know or don’t really need to know.
It’s that this point that I am supposed to cut away from whatever vivid depiction of a complete waste of time I’ve drawn out and transition into a word of warning.
You know, you should probably listen to what I’m about to teach you, otherwise, the meetings you run could be just like this. Boring, useless, unproductive, and demoralizing to your team.
What’s sad though is that 90% (actually, since I’m making this stat up, let’s go with 99%), 99% of the advice that follows begins with this foundational point:
The first step to running a great meeting is to ensure the meeting is necessary. Define the purpose of the meeting and if you are an overachiever, write it down and meditate on it.
Now, I’m obviously poking fun at this advice for a reason, and it’s not because that’s bad advice.
In fact, I agree, there are many meetings that appear to be run without a clear purpose and at best are simply unnecessary uses of time and resources.
The problem is, and you know this if you’ve ever run a meeting before, you ran the meeting because you thought there was a good reason for it!
I mean, let’s be honest, who has ever decided to run a meeting without an objective in mind? Who sat in their office and thought, I’m going to gather my team together for an hour and a half to intentionally waste their time.
So if everyone who runs a meeting runs a meeting with a purpose or objective in mind… why is this always the first piece of advice given? Why does every meeting expert start off by telling people, telling managers and leaders, to define a purpose for the meeting?
I don’t know, actually. Maybe the advice always starts off this way because most meetings aren’t run well, and it’s a really easy first step.
But instead of regurgitating the common top 10 tips on running a great meeting, I’m going to reverse engineer how to run a great meeting, and hopefully, provide you with some actionable advice you can walk away from this conversation with.
You ready? Let’s go.
How To Run a Great Meeting, Reverse Engineered
Now, in order to reverse engineer something, you need to start with the end in mind. So, instead of thinking about purpose, let’s think about results.
You may have a good reason to run a meeting, but I want you to think about what happens after the meeting.
Of course, I recognize that this is a fine line that I’m drawing, but it’s going to be really helpful once we dive in.
The Ideal Future
So imagine for a moment that your meeting is now completed…
- What does the room look like?
- What are the emotions in the room?
- What information is scratched down on notepads, who is sticking behind to talk to you?
- What happens immediately after the meeting finishes and what positive changes occur in the next hour, the next day, the next week even?
- What are the ideal results you are looking for in the meeting?
Do you have a beautiful image?
Now imagine what would happen if you didn’t have the meeting at all?
I’m being serious here.
The Less Than Ideal Future
As much as you feel that the meeting is necessary and important, I want you to think about what would happen if the meeting didn’t happen.
And I don’t mean for you to imagine your business falling apart.
Yes, I want you to think about the negative consequences of not getting the information to your team members, but I also want you to think about what you would do if you had to get the information to your team but couldn’t hold a meeting. So think creatively.
Okay, do you have the two pictures in your head?
On the one side, you’ve got the ideal future after running a great meeting and on the other side, you have a less than ideal future of not running the meeting… whether that’s your business imploding or you simply getting creative on how to communicate whatever information you think is important to provide to your team.
And I promise, I’m going somewhere with this, and it’s not just that you shouldn’t run meetings because meetings can be important and valuable. I’m also not suggesting that you do this exercise every time you plan a meeting… because, well, you won’t do it. I wouldn’t do it.
What I want you to do is expand your perspective on how you run meetings. It’s my goal today to help you build a framework to effortlessly and consistently run effective meetings, without having to do a 10-step ritual to prepare.
So here’s what I’m going to do today.
- I’m going to talk about the reasons for meetings and the challenges that come with running them.
- I’m going to share a few tips that you can use to make your meetings more effective and engaging.
- And I’m going to share my approach to running a great meeting (which is non-conventional, to say the least).
So here’s my first point.
While it’s convenient to run a meeting, it’s difficult to run an effective meeting.
As a manager and a leader, meetings are used to convey information to a group of people or to solicit ideas and feedback from group conversation.
That’s really it.
Whether it’s training, a personnel change, and organizational change, or a big announcement… it’s about conveying information. Other than that, the only reason you would grab a group of people together is for some sort of brainstorming discussion or feedback discussion where you are looking for high participation from everyone and you have some sort of collective goal in mind.
So whatever meeting you have planned, it’s planned for one of two reasons. To convey information or encourage group discussion.
But as I said, while it’s convenient to hold a meeting, running an effective meeting is difficult.
It’s convenient because when you grab a group of people together, you can communicate a message once and to many people. Obvious, but it takes more time to speak one on one with every team member than it does to tell everyone at once.
It’s also convenient because how easy is it otherwise to brainstorm, host some healthy debate or encourage discussion… unless you have a group of people in a room? Well actually, I’ve got a couple suggestions on that, but the point here is… meetings are convenient.
But, I also said that it’s difficult to run an effective meeting.
This is why I am talking about meetings on the podcast. It’s a core skill that managers need to develop if they want to become leaders because most managers don’t know how to do it right. And that’s probably why the first piece of advice given by most experts is to define a purpose.
Because every bad meeting leaves the attendees wondering, what was the point? And if your team is wondering what’s the point… it’s going to be difficult to inspire and influence behavior.
So let’s talk about why it’s difficult, and I’m going to share a bunch of reasons why your meetings may be terrible and we aren’t going to dive into each of them because I think they are pretty self-explanatory, and we have all experienced a bad meeting, so you are going to know what I’m talking about.
You’re not able to run a great meeting because…
You’re not a very good public speaker
Your powerpoint presentation is lame
You don’t encourage participation, even though you ask for it
Some of your team members don’t like to talk in groups
Some of your team members talk too much in groups
It’s easy to get off track and waste time
You’re trying to cover too much information all at once
Your team members are distracted PAUSE because your team members are distracted
You haven’t set expectations for punctuality and focus
Your meetings are too long
Not all of the information you share applies to or impacts all of the participants
You’re not prepared
Alright, so if you are facing one or many of those particular problems when it comes to running a great meeting, I could go step by step through each of those and offer a suggestion, but instead, I’m going to break down 5 simple tips that you can use to run more effective meetings.
And if you have a specific question, just shoot me an email and I’ll see how I can help you in your specific situation.
Here are my 5 Simple Tips to Running Great Meetings:
Remember how I said I wanted to reverse engineer this whole thing?
Let’s go back to the ideal image you had at the beginning of the show. Your ideal results. Your team is walking away energized, motivated, with purpose and direction.
Now, if that’s the case, in this hypothetical world, why don’t you zoom in on the notebook of one of your underperforming employees. If you run an effective meeting, I want you to think about what your most ineffective employee would have written down. Because you are going to learn a ton from that (unless your underperforming employee is underperforming because all he or she does is take detailed notes.)
You see, your ideal meeting involves everyone walking away from the meeting with clear direction and that includes your struggling employee.
So whatever you want that employee to have written down at the end of the meeting… that’s all you need to cover.
And that’s tip # 1. Only cover what you need to cover.
TIP 1 – Only Cover What You Need To Cover
Have you ever put together a meeting agenda? They usually have 5 or 6, maybe more, items for discussion. But what I’m suggesting is that you could maybe drop that list down to, I don’t know… one point?
For some reason, and this is especially true if you run recurring meetings. You have thath 90 -minute time slot blocked off, so you try and fill up that 90-minute time slot, even if you don’t need it.
Let’s jump back again to the beginning of this show, but now let’s think back to that less than ideal situation… the one where you don’t have the meeting. I bet you didn’t panic about your employees missing EVERYTHING… it was probably just one or two critical things that you needed to convey to the group. The rest could be communicated either one on one or even in a short email or memo (ooh, that’s another topic I’ll have to cover in this Fundamentals of Management series). How managers can send emails that actually get read!
So whatever that critical important piece of information is, whatever ideal result you are looking for after your meeting, that’s the topic… and that’s it. Keep it simple – Only cover what you need to cover.
TIP 2: Force Participation and Force Engagement
Of course, I don’t mean to get out that whip and threaten your employees with some stupid claim that meeting participation is going to be discussed in their annual review.
But I mean, be intentional in your discussion.
There is nothing worse than asking for participation and discussion and then hearing crickets when you ask a question… or watching time fly by and you are the only one who has said two words.
So, I’m sure there are some really cool ice breaker ideas out there to get people comfortable in the room, but I’m going to suggest something that requires less prep and isn’t cheesy.
You know your people, at least you should… and that means that you know which ones love to talk and which ones do not.
So here’s what I suggest.
At the start of the meeting, tell your team that you will be asking for their feedback, asking them some questions and that you’d appreciate some participation in the meeting… because the topic is important and you care about them.
Then, explain that you will do this, by calling on them by name throughout the meeting. Sure, this may invoke fear in some, but it’s a fear that is going to encourage them to pay attention. No one likes being caught with a surprise question when they are thinking about lunch that’s 25 minutes away.
After you have done that, start by leveraging the talkative team members to open up the discussion. For each point that you make in your message or presentation, ask a team member for some feedback or their opinion. Start with the talkative ones and then integrate the shy team members.
Keep an eye on the time when you do this and be observant for body language. You don’t want to catch people unprepared, you want to catch people when they ARE prepared. So if someone is writing down something, or if they lean in, or nod, that’s the time to ask for their input.
As a special bonus tip here, take some risks in pursuit of authenticity. If you think someone disagrees with you on something, call them on it and say something like, “hey Jen, you don’t look like you agree with me, what do you think?”
If you genuinely want honest feedback and candid participation in a meeting, you’ve got to be willing to ask tough questions and you need to be patient and open to constructive criticism and different ideas.
But all in all, tip #1 is to Force Participation and Engagement
TIP 3 – Schedule Less Time Than You Think You Need
This relates to Tip #1 because it helps you actually accomplish Tip #1. Let’s say you think you need 1 hour to get your message across. Cut 15-20 minutes off of that and see how you can be more efficient with your communication. Your team will thank you because you’ve saved them 20 minutes, but this also helps you ensure that you only cover what needs to be covered.
Parkinson’s law suggests that “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion”. So fight the law and shrink the time available!
Run out of time? That’s okay, you can always follow up with missing information via email or one-on-one conversations… and worst case scenario, well you use that whole hour you originally had. That’s a lot better than planning a 1-hour meeting and running 20 minutes late!
TIP 4 – Enlist Champions
Do you want to increase engagement during meetings and save time in meeting prep? Don’t do it alone.
Select 2-3 key members of your team to own part of the message and delegate some of the work. This empowers your employees to deliver an important message. It also increases engagement in the meetings because there are more people involved in the presentation. More people speaking, more people to listen to, and more opportunity for you to observe the room and encourage participation. Additionally, your key employees are now seen as experts in the office on the subject they have covered, which allows them to champion change in the days and weeks that follow.
TIP 5 – Set Clear Expectations
When I interviewed Mark Deterding on the podcast, back in episode 44, I remember he shared something really profound.
What you allow in your presence becomes the rule of your command
It’s the idea that you can’t expect people to behave how you want them to unless you set expectations and hold others accountable.
And this is really frustrating because there are some things that as leaders and managers, we feel should just be common sense when it comes to employee behavior.
Things like, showing up on time, or not answering your phone during a meeting… or maybe not even having your phone out during a meeting, and things like asking to be excused from the meeting opposed to just walking out, and things like showing up prepared.
Those all sound like good, common sense things, but we all know that they aren’t. And as managers, this can be extremely frustrating.
Let’s take punctuality for instance. Remember that ideal vision of an effectively run meeting? The one where your team members smile as they leave, ready to take on the world?
That ideal future can be derailed in a heartbeat if some members of your team walk in late, walk in distracted, or walk in unprepared.
So what do you do? Well, most managers react. They either scold or correct the behavior in real time, which certainly hampers the team spirit, or they let the poor behavior slide and hope that it doesn’t happen again.
But I’m going to suggest that you set clear expectations. If you run recurring weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly meetings, that means taking some time in the first meeting to lay out your expectations. And if this is a one-time meeting, I’d suggest a couple things, first of all, as a manager, you should have clear expectations for office behavior established already and those expectations can include expectations about participation and behavior within team meetings.
Secondly, when you communicate the meeting the first time, make your expectations clear before the day and time of the meeting.
If everyone is clear on what’s expected, it’s a lot easier to hold accountability and address non-conformance properly. Because as obvious as this sounds, if you don’t tell your employees not to have their phones in the meeting… they won’t know to not have their phones in the meeting.
So there they are…
My 5 Simple Tips to Running Great Meetings
Only Cover What You Need To Cover
Force Participation and Force Engagement
Schedule Less Time Than You Think Is Needed
Set Clear Expectations
But before I let you go, I want to make sure that I share with my approach to running a great meeting with you, which as I said, is non-conventional.
And I’m going to be talking about this for sure next week, and maybe for 2-3 weeks depending on how deep I decide to go, but here’s my approach.
Monday Morning Meeting, Every Week
One-on-One Meetings with my employees, Every Week (if possible… and I’ll explain in a moment)
Friday Wrap-Up Meeting, Every Week
Quarterly Meeting, umm… Once a Quarter
Here’s the reasoning behind this.
Every Monday Morning, I want to see my team together for 5-10 minutes. I get to say hi, chit chat about the weekend for a moment, get a feel for how each person showed up to work, recommunicate any big items on the team schedule, and make sure everyone has a plan.
Similarly, Every Friday Afternoon, I want to see my team for 5-10 minutes before they head out for the weekend. I want to hear what they are up to, I want to get a feel for how they are feeling about the week, both personally and professionally, I want to hear what they’ve learned during the week, I want to thank them and recognize some great work, want to get them excited for what’s coming the next week.
In between, I want to meet with each of my employees, one-on-one, about what they want to talk about. That’s anywhere from 5-25 minutes and it’s their time, their agenda, and about getting to know them and helping them with their careers. I’ll absolutely be doing a complete podcast episode on this, but this costs time, especially if you have a number of employees, but I have some suggestions for large teams to share, and I also believe that if you have 5 direct employees, let’s say, that spending 2.5 hours of one-on-one time will shave a good chunk of time off of your week in general.
And finally, the only meeting that I think should ever go beyond 20 minutes… is a quarterly business plan meeting, and really I look at those as more of a pep rally than anything else.
Oh, and yeah, there are times where I’ll sprinkle in another meeting, and that’s to brainstorm a business problem, and typically that’s with very few people and I limit that type of discussion to 10 minutes.
But again, that’s the topic for next Monday as we continue this series on the Fundamentals of Management. Thanks for listening, and if you have to have them… have some great meetings this week!