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Four Ways to Improve a Meeting

Pointless. Mind-numbing. Soul-sucking. You know what I’m talking about: meetings.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. In this video, I share my three favourite f-words that will help you hold better, more useful and more effective meetings, as well as one last powerful tip that will help you continually improve.

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Full Transcript

Hey, I’m Michael Bungay Stanier from Box of Crayons, and if you work in an organization of any size, even if it’s just you, you know that one of the things that probably makes your heart sink just a little bit are meetings, because, honestly, so many meetings are terrible.  You sit there half an hour, an hour, two hours, and you think to yourself, “Well, that’s two hours of my life I’m never going to get back again.”

You’re not sure why you’re in the room.  You’re not sure if you’re contributing, or at least, you’re pretty sure you’re not contributing.  You’re not sure what the point is.  Somebody’s blathering on in the front of the room or over the telephone or over the WebEx, whatever it might be.  And you thinking to yourself, “I could be doing anything else but I’m stuck here.  I am trapped in this particular meeting.”

So what if you could raise the game on a meetings?  And, you know, there’s some great resources out there on how to do that, how to run a better meeting, but I’m going to give you four insights that I think would really help.  The first three all start with F, so that’s going to make it nice and easy for you to remember.

So, tip number one on how to improve a meeting:  Invite fewer people.  You know, it’s so easy to keep adding people to the invite list when you’re running a meeting or it’s so easy to be added to the invite list by random people who just want you to show up in this room.  If you can just figure out “what’s the fewest people we should have in the room, virtual or reality?” then that’s going to really make a difference.  The fewer the people, the more easy, the more straightforward the meeting’s going to be.

And you want to have—there’s a quote by Einstein:  “Things should be as simple as possible but no simpler.”  When you’re designing a meeting, you want to be thinking about “what’s the fewest number we need to have in the room?”  But no less than that.

The second F is this.  I want you to make the meeting faster.  My experience, and yours as well, I’m guessing, is that meetings expand to fill the time allotted to them.  You have a two hour meeting, it takes two hours; you have a one hour meeting, it takes one hour.  So why don’t you reduce the current length of your meetings by one-third?  You have a one-hour meeting at the moment, make it a 40-minute meeting.  If you have a half-hour meeting, make it a 20-minute meeting.

That does a couple of great things.  The first is it allows people to actually get from your meeting to their next obligation without arriving late.  So that’s a bonus already.  But what it does is it makes you go, “Okay, we’ve only got this amount of time now.  What’s critical for us to get covered?”  And, really, that’s the third F that I want to bring you to, which is around the focusing piece.  Because so many meetings tend to be just a kind of download of stuff, and whilst it can be useful to hear this stuff, a meeting room with a whole bunch of people it not always the best way to do that.

So one of the best ways to drive this focus is not to kind of have agenda items but, rather, to have agenda questions.  “What’s the question we’re seeking to answer by having this conversation?”  Because what that does is it now creates an outcome that you’re looking for rather than just the endless dumping of information and knowledge.

So those are the three F’s.  Fewer people, faster and more focused.  Focused by driving it through questions on the agenda.

But there’s one other powerful thing you can do to improve the quality of the meetings you’re part of or particularly the ones that you run, and it’s this:  At the end of every meeting, before everybody rushes off, and now of course, you got a bit more time because you cut them down by a third, by the time you get to the end of the meeting, before they go, I want you to look around the room and go, “Okay, what’s one thing that we could do to improve the quality of this meeting?”

So if you have a whole year of meetings, whether they’re team meetings or they’re on the phone or in reality, whether it’s one-to-one meetings, if you ask at the end of every single one of those meetings, “What’s the thing—what’s the one thing that we could do that would improve the quality of this meeting?” what I can promise you is this.  In 365 days’ time, you are running a much better, much more tight and much more useful meeting.

So, look, meetings are just a way of working today.  They’re important.  Great meetings can be wonderful.  My bet is that you have your fair share of pretty terrible meetings in your life, so don’t just accept it.  Use some of the factors that we talked about in this short video to up your game, improve your meetings and improve the way that you work.

 

 

2 Responses to Four Ways to Improve a Meeting

  • Marge

    Focus: basing the meeting on answering questions instead of a list of topics to get through. Now, that sounds more engaging to me. Thank you.

  • Ken Macumber

    1.I agree in theory with the “question” agenda. I still believe, however, that an agenda is worthwhile (even if it a series of questions).
    2. Without an agenda, it is easy for a meeting to either go longer OR the topics at hand get lost when someone (not the meeting organizer) goes off on a tangent and the group goes down that “wasting time path”. The moderator should ALWAYS bring the team back to the questions at hand.
    3. There also needs to be a clear conclusion to the meeting (moderator says “this concludes our meeting, questions have been considered and answered”
    4. Notes and/or minutes should always be distributed”. As I say, “Don’t get it right, get it written”.
    5. Once something has been resolved/queried, move from that question/agenda item to the next immediately.
    6. Avoid small talk in between agenda questions.
    7. “FASTER” Try to initiate “stand up” meetings – you’ll be surprised how fast the meeting gets concluded with everyone NOT SITTING DOWN.

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