Succinct = Successful
One simple way to have successful meetings? Reduce the number!
Meetings can be a waste of time, for various reasons, the worst when a meeting is held because the convenor doesn’t have the nous, courage or wit to make an independent decision.
Before calling a meeting, first consider if it is really necessary. Do multiple people need to interact? Do people have to be face-to-face? Can a phone call achieve the same result? Perhaps doing your own brainstorm on a whiteboard will achieve the desired result. Once all options have been considered and a meeting is definitely the way to go, then send out the invites.
If documents need to be reviewed for a meeting, send them out with the invite, early enough for participants to review them, give the participants a clue as to the required feedback in regard to the documents – “FYI, for comment, suggest alternatives” – be clear. If an agenda is required, send this out as well and if specific participants have a task in the meeting state it up front.
Be on time. This goes for all participants but particularly for the convenor who should start and finish the meeting as scheduled. If there are latecomers, don’t start again, fill in the gap later. For most of us “time is money” and unless it is the monthly sundowner, get in, get done and get out.
One article commented on a company that removed all extra chairs from the room once the meeting started, forcing latecomers to stand. Maybe extreme, but it does give the idea that peoples’ time should be respected.
Author and consultant Stephen Covey counsels readers and clients to “Begin with the end in mind.” When planning a meeting, therefore, ask yourself “What do I want to see as a result of this meeting?” Be sure of your objective, introduce this at the start and don’t lose sight of it. If you can’t establish the objective, you don’t need a meeting.
Deal with important issues first, then if the meeting runs out of time – which it shouldn’t if planned and controlled properly – you have covered the essentials. Don’t get side-tracked, don’t allow off-agenda issues to creep in and hi-jack the main objective. If an issue raised needs attention, note it and deal with it separately.
Document the meeting, even if it is an email summarising the discussion and invite participants to add to or clarify the message. A record of the meeting endorsed by the participants will avoid misunderstandings in the future.
Workshops will benefit from all of the above. In addition, a workshop should be interactive, after all attendees are there to learn, it is not called a “work” shop for nothing. A workshop is not a lecture, it is not one person holding court, it has a facilitator who will engage participants, who will invite questions and comments.
As the facilitator, a great analogy is “Think of yourself as a workbook, not a textbook”. Teach key concepts, and allow practice of the skills you present. Be accessible, work with the participants, address questions but always stay mindful of the time, we have all become twitchy when sessions go way over time.
Handouts and slides are important, we all like to take something away with us to reinforce what we have learned. Slides though must be simple, graphical, avoid too many “bullet” points and absolutely must be in addition to the handouts. The presentation and handouts should complement each other. Reading everything from your presentation is guaranteed to put everyone to sleep or make them agitated, both must be avoided.
Do not be too formal and use humour, it is a relaxant and when relaxed we are able to absorb more. Sharing war stories to illustrate points makes them a reality rather than an abstract. Be passionate and enjoy your topic, your audience will follow.
In both meetings and workshops, be aware of body language and verbal language, these will give you a good understanding of the mood and responsiveness and you can determine if you are on track.
If meetings and workshops are scheduled to last for a number of hours, take a break – a great quote “The mind can only absorb as much as the butt can tolerate”, even if it is just some stretching.
Finish with a summary, a thank-you and a high note, though if not a trained soprano, don’t sing.