Let's face it, most of us don't love meetings -- especially on days they dominate our calendar. Unfortunately, we've all sat through horribly convoluted, superfluous meetings wondering why the organizer decided to bring this plague down upon us.
No one wants to get a reputation for organizing needless or unproductive meetings and with a little planning it's completely avoidable. Since meetings use two precious commodities -- our time and attention -- it can be very useful to mindfully outline what you hope to achieve when gathering a group together.
Using simple awareness techniques to plan and run a meeting can help us clearly acknowledge our intentions, goals and desired outcomes. All it takes is a little upfront planning.
Think before you schedule
- Define the goal of the meeting, why is it necessary to take up everyone's time?
- What's the concrete outcome you want the group to come away with?
Until you can answer these two questions you'll want to hold off actually arranging your meeting.
Before the Meeting
Make time to prep
Back-to-back appointments can leave us feeling rushed and on the run. We can arrive to our own meeting still focused on the list of action items we just got in our last meeting along with the anxiety or excitement about how we're going to get everything done.
If you're leading a meeting it's important to block off the 10 minutes before it starts for some prep time. Find a place -- whether it's at your desk, a conference room or someplace else -- where you won't be interrupted and can have a few minutes for quiet reflection.
Set your intention
Consciously decide what your intention is for the meeting. Do you want there to be free flow of creative ideas, honest engagement, or an agreement on how to move forward? Whatever it is, and the simpler the better, acknowledge it while you take a couple of slow, deep, breaths. Then visualize your exhale rolling that intention out across the room and the meeting being very successful. If you feel silly doing this just remember that Phil Jackson, one of the most accomplished coaches in NBA history, regards visualizing results before they happen an important tool for success.
Commit to being present
Inwardly affirm your commitment to being fully present throughout the meeting and practicing conscious listening. Let yourself listen to what everyone says without feeling the need to defend yourself or the project. Don't take anything personally in the moment. In defend mode we're usually so busy thinking about what we want to say next that we miss what people are actually saying. When you can consciously listen without any defensiveness you're much more likely to pick up on subtleties like:
- Who's not talking and why that's important
- What's not being said but probably should be
- The important issues that are being completely side-stepped
Basically, the less reactive you are the more effectively you'll be able to respond in the moment.
During the Meeting
Lead with gratitude
Before you jump in to the meeting topic, take a moment and thank everyone for being there. Gratitude is a powerful practice and something we don't always get a lot of during our work day. If you don't feel gratitude is appropriate, then think of some other positive statement to lead with.
Reiterate the whys
Next, state the goal of the meeting and what you'd like the outcome to be i.e. new ideas, an action plan, delegated tasks etc. Even if you think everyone knows the whys of the meeting, do it anyway. Remember, everyone else has just as much on their minds as you do, orient them clearly at the beginning of the meeting.
Be open to questions
At the end of the meeting leave time to ask if anyone has anything else they'd like to bring up or if they have any questions. Let people know that you are open to talk one-on-one if anything else comes up. Again, thank people for their contribution.
After the Meeting
Acknowledge what went right
Make the time to jot down some personal notes about what you feel went right during the meeting and what you wish you had done differently. If you can keep notes about your meetings, you can review them as part of your future preparation to remind yourself what works well with different teams and what doesn't. This can be especially useful if you work across business units with a variety of personalities.
At first this may seem like a lot to do just to have a meeting but over time it will become second-nature. In the long-run applying mindful awareness to your meetings gives you the opportunity to become not only a better listener but a more engaged and present leader.