How many dental appointments can you pretend to have in one month before your boss questions you? The answer is five. You see, I used this excuse (among many others) to get out of a regular meeting that I was supposed to attend during my first job right out of graduate school. This meeting -- like many meetings -- was a massively inefficient waste of time. I would go to great lengths to miss this weekly time-stealing abyss, including once letting air out of my car tires so that I would have to meet the tow truck when it arrived and thus avoid the dreaded meeting.
But meetings don't have to be this way. It is possible for meetings to be effective and efficient. In fact, you can actually structure and run meetings that people are excited to attend. But it takes preparation, a smooth preamble, and effective paraphrasing. In other words, you need to be mindful of the 3 P's.
Prepare with an agenda that sets expectations.
•Send out an agenda in advance that includes not only the overall meeting objective, topics to be covered and time limits, but also contains a few questions people are to contemplate prior to attending. This sets expectations and signals from the very beginning that you expect involvement from attendees.
•If virtual (Web meeting or conference call), have a set time when people can login and make sure everything works. This allows you to hold your meeting without having to do simultaneous tech support.
•Practice your opening statements. Like a presentation, starting a meeting, especially if the stakes are high (e.g., senior leaders are present, critical decisions are to be made, or tension exists among the participants), can be nerve-wracking. A great way to feel more confident and less anxious is to be comfortable with how you are going to start. Consider an opening that greets people and checks to see if anyone has additional items to cover.
Provide a preamble to orient participants.
•Set ground rules at the beginning to help your meeting participants' interact. Ground rules should explain what is expected of people (e.g., cell phones off, laptops closed) and perhaps the consequences of noncompliance.
•For virtual meetings, tell people how they are to contribute. For example, should they use the chat feature on a web conference, or should teleconference participants state their names before speaking to avoid confusion.
•Clearly explain the purpose of the meeting, what will likely happen as a result of the meeting (and when it will happen), and how people will be kept informed after the meeting.
Paraphrase during the meeting to boost engagement.
•Within any given meeting topic, connect participants' contributions to each other and your agenda via paraphrasing (e.g., "so what I hear you saying links with what 'so-and-so' said..."). By linking what participants have said, people stay focused and see ideas building off of each other.
•When moving from one point to another, sum up what was said (perhaps also capture it via note taking) and transition to what is next (e.g., "now that we have covered agenda item 1, let's focus on our second topic.").
•Value the contributor as well as his or her contribution. Simple statements like "thank you for that comment" or "glad to hear from you" can help keep people on task and feeling invested in what's being said.
By invoking the 3 P's, you can increase the likelihood that your meetings will run smoothly. And if you reliably run your meetings in this manner, people not only will feel more inclined to attend and participate, they may even thank you when they leave.