Communication Skills

How To Run And Participate In Effective Meetings

People skills | Business skills


Real work is done outside meetings, not in them!

After all is said and done, more is usually said than done.

- Anon


1. Three kinds of meetings: 1. Information 2. Discussion 3. Permission


2. The ideal meeting length: 15 Minutes (Source: A Study)


3. What's wrong with meetings?

People dislike meetings because meetings don't seem to respect people's time. You are working and then you are told to stop everything and go to a meeting. They didn't ask if you were relevant to the purpose of the meeting. You don't even know the agenda of the meeting, and even if there were some agenda, most of the time someone takes up most of the time and the agenda goes out of the window. What's more, in every one of these meetings, there will be people eager to hijack the proceedings with antics, ramblings, flattery and what have you. You don't want meetings for the sake of having meetings, where people who don't want to do any actual work kill theirs and other people's time. Someone said, 'Life ishort and meetings are long, so don't waste life.'


4. To make meetings work

We want meetings to be well organized (each point discussed in sequence, getting everyone's inputs), is held at the right time, for the right reasons. We want meetings only when there actually is something to discuss with others. We want our meetings to have someone guiding and controlling the participation, seeing to it that the meeting’s objectives are met.


5. How to head meetings


He/She who writes the Agenda and Summary Doc (innocently called 'Meeting Notes wields…Incredible Power!

- Tom Peters


The person who heads a meeting is responsible for its success or failure. When you head a meeting, before the meeting starts you must have a list of things to discuss/finalize and a list of relevant people. At the meeting itself, you start by telling them what will be discussed in the meeting, giving them a time limit for contributing to each point (no ramblings) and see to it that aall points are discussed with the time limit and then a final decision made. And summarize important points in the end, along with what's next.


You also should get the meeting notes recorded (e.g. on your phone) and later transcribed and distributed among relevant parties ('Notes from meeting held at...').


6. Destructive or selfish group roles to avoid in meetings


Autocrat: tries to dominate or constantly interrupt other members of the team.

Show Off: talks all the time and thinks they know all the answers.

Butterfly: keeps changing the topic before others are ready.

Aggressor: doesn't show respect to others, comments negatively about them.

Avoider: refuses to focus on the task or group relationship problems

Critic: always sees the negative side to any argument, but never suggests alternatives. Puts down the ideas of others.

Help seeker: looks for sympathy from others: victim

Self-confessor: uses the group as a forum for inappropriate talk about self

Clown: shows no involvement in group and engages in distracting communication.


(Source: University of Kent)


7. How to attend meetings

If you relevant to the meeting's topic, come prepared with useful facts and stats. If not, or, if you have nothing to say, remain silent .Even if you have something to say, and you think you can make your point stronger if you listened to what others have to say, wait, listen to others and then present your big idea. Many 'meeting heroes' fall early when they speak prematurely. Listen and observe, listen and observe.


Always ground your meeting arguments in business logic (if it is a business meeting) - giving facts, interpreting them logically, and so on. Hold your ground without being loud and aggressive.


When people disagree with you, don't lose you calm, but agree with them incorporate their stand in your argument - 'Yes you are right, I can see if we use your idea and then add in idea x, we might be able to...'


Two kinds of questions people ask during meetings:

1. Questions designed to honestly elicit more information.

2. Questions designed to demonstrate how much you know or your position on an issue and to put the answerer on the defensive.


Never combine the two.


8. How to be persuasive during meeting

- Don’t ask for permission to talk or offer opinions.


- Avoid Problem phrases: ' I Just wanted to say..', ' I may be wrong but....', 'This may be off the subject, but...'


- Send ' I' messages instead of 'You' messages when you are signaling a problem.


Reason: 'I' messages place responsibility for the discontent where it belongs with you.

When you use these messages, you allow your audience to be generous and help you out of your predicament. ' You' messages, on the other hand, can cause your audience to become defensive about problem.


- Give your comments a positive label.


If you want to make a point, say, ' I would like to make a point.' Then, make it. Do the opposite when you disagree. Saying, for example, 'I would like to disagree' presents you as a negative influence too early. Simply start with your reasons.


- Add ' In my opinion' to soften a contrary statement and to relax people who might disagree.


- Increase your chances to get what you want by using quick decision messages.


For example, 'Do you want to spend another meeting on this?' and so on.


- Select the right tone.

Use first person for credibility: 'Today, we are going to solve the problem'.


Use the second person for familiarity: 'You have the potential to solve this problem.'


Use third person for objectivity: 'The issues are so serious, they demand....'


(Source:'20 Ways To Manage Better' by Andrew Leigh)


9. How to appear smart during meetings

It is better to be useful than smart. But some people want to 'prove' they are smart.


They will ask the other speaker, if she/he is presenting to go back a slide, or they will interpret a fact differently (e.g. fraction instead of decimals - 'so that is one in four, right?'). It is your play. Some people who do the 'smart' stuff may have become disillusioned and cynical from attending many bad meetings.


10. What to do when a meeting ends

Ask three questions, get answers to them, share the answers with relevant people: What do we see as the next steps? Who should take responsibility for them? And what should the timeframe be? (Source: HBR)


Meeting best practices from famous companies and people


1. Steve Jobs

He kept meetings as small (number of people) as possible. He made sure someone was responsible for each item on the agenda. He discouraged the use of presentation software as much as possible. Instead, he wanted people to debate and think critically, face to face.


2. Seth Godin

- The organizer of the meeting is required to send a short email summary, with action items, to every attendee within ten minutes of the end of the meeting.

- Create a public space (either a big piece of poster board or a simple online page) that allows attendees to rate meetings and their organizers on a scale of 1 to 5 in terms of usefulness. Just a simple box where everyone can write a number. Watch what happens.

- If you're not adding value to a meeting, leave. You can always read the summary later.


3. Google


- There is a firm agenda. Even five-minute gatherings must have a clear agenda.


- There is a note-taker. On one wall, a projector displays the presentation, while right next to it, another projector shows the transcription of the meeting.


- There are micro-meetings. Smaller, self-contained gatherings on a particular subject or project.


- There are office hours (where people can meet the CEO). Beginning at 4 p.m., for 90 minutes a day. Employees add their name to a board outside the CEO's office, and they are seen on a first-come, first-serve basis.


- They discourage politics, and use data. Google chooses designs on a clearly defined set of metrics and how well they perform against those metrics. Designs are chosen based on merit and evidence, not personal preferences/relationships. Google's culture is driven by customer feedback data, not the internal politics that pervade so many of today's corporations.


- They stick to the clock. There is often a big timer on the wall, counting down the minutes left for a particular meeting or topic.


4. Elsewhere

Intel often uses a 'meeting tax'. People calling the meeting are held responsible.

In other companies, people have to justify in terms of business value, for using so many man-hours with the meeting.


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