Sunday, April 11, 2010

Meetings, And Why They Don't Have To Suck.

Let’s get one thing out of the way right off the bat. I do not hate all meetings. I just hate the dumb ones. Which means I hate MOST meetings. Now, there isn’t any sort of secret code for putting together a good meeting. It’s not like we’re splitting the atom bomb here- we’re just trying to get a group of people together for a defined purpose and achieving that goal. And getting donuts.

Like so many other things I talk about here, the first element a successful meeting has got to have is a clearly defined and clearly communicated purpose or goal. That pretty much applies to everything we do in business and in life…. Step one: have a goal. Step two: tell everyone.

Don’t be afraid to ask the dreaded “why” question. “Why are we having this meeting?”And don’t ask that question after it’s far too late, when you’re already trapped in a conference room, struggling to stay awake, and texting your friends “this mtg sux”, all the while losing an hour or two of your life that you will never, ever get back.

I’ve been invited to far too many meetings where the agenda was something like, “to go over our upcoming event”. “Going over an upcoming event” is NOT a goal! That’s what we have e-mail, text messages, cell phones and ICQ for. 9 times out of ten those kinds of meetings are called by the person responsible for the event, and are a way for them to feel warm and fuzzy about the event, sort of a group hug . I’m all for group hugs, but not when they’re disguised as a meeting I’m required to attend.

I see a lot of “old school” managers that love having meetings. I think they might be uncomfortable with the technology available to us in business today. Really, I’m not really sure why we even have meetings at all, unless the purpose of the meeting is for brainstorming, team-building or something else that actually requires face time. For the most part, e-mail, conference calls and web-based meeting software can cover most communication needs.

On the other hand, when done right, meetings can be incredible communication tools and an effective way to achieve goals that just can’t be reached any other way. Again, do yourself a favor (and everyone at your meeting!) and have a well communicated goal in place before the meeting begins. Focus the participants on the goal and you’re half way home!

Here are a few more tips for successful meetings:

-Have a clearly communicated goal before the meeting starts (I know, I know, but it bears repeating).

-Stay small if possible. If you absolutely have to have a large group, break them down into smaller teams to keep them engaged.

-Establish cell phone and text messaging rules. If at all possible, abolish phone use during the meeting. You can establish set times for attendees to check messages, tweet, etc. If you absolutely can't do that, you could find ways to incorporate their use into the meeting- have participants text or tweet ideas, etc.

-Engage participants painlessly- make it easy for attendees to express their ideas. Invite them to write their ideas like graffiti on large Post-Its around the meeting area, or write ideas on smaller Poat-Its at their work space and organize them at the meeting, etc.

-Have clear "next action" steps in place before you end the meeting. Just like you had a plan walking into the meeting, have a plan walking out.

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Jeff Mann

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