Once upon a time, I worked for a woman who was known for being a star meeting
facilitator. She would get called by CEO’s left and right to facilitate strategy sessions and management
off-sites. She would prepare for these sessions meticulously and down to the last detail.
Frequently, as we were prepping for the meeting
, she would remind me in an ominously warning voice: “Romy, if the room is too hot or too cold, people are going to blame you for it.” While room temperature is sometimes a tough one to control, I think her broader point was that if you’re going to lead a successful meeting, you have constantly be thinking about the participants. What’s going to make them feel good about the experience? How can you make sure everyone is engaged and heard? How do you make your participants a part of the meeting process, instead of just an audience?
1. Have a clear objective, and make sure everyone knows what you’re there to accomplish. If you can come in with a clear single thing to achieve and then achieve it, everyone is going to feel good about the meeting.
2. Have a clear, achievable agenda, and share it. Make sure everyone knows what are you going to cover and in what sequence. It helps you keep the meeting on track, and gives your attendees a sense of inclusion in the process.
3. Keep it short.
Don’t bite off more than you can chew. Everyone has lots to do and a short attention span. The more you can keep the meeting brief, the more people will thank you
. That means you need to keep the scope of the meeting highly focused.
4. Make sure it’s in a room that’s comfortable with chairs at the table for everyone. Seriously. If people feel uncomfortable or are marginalized to “back row seats,” they are not going to be receptive - and probably what they’ll remember after the fact is not the great content, but just how uncomfortable they felt.
5. Choose the right seat. If it’s a meeting that’s around a long table, as the leader, you should sit in the middle of the table not at the head. That way, you are closer to everyone, and sending a message that says, “this is a discussion.”
6. Bring snacks. Everyone likes food. Especially not completely unhealthy food.
7. Phones Down. At the start of the meeting, ask everyone if they wouldn’t mind setting aside their phones for the duration of the meeting so everyone can have a better experience.
8. Make sure all the key stakeholders can and will attend. Nothing worse than assembling a group without a key decision-maker so then nothing gets decided. Confirm RSVP’s for everyone, and send a meeting reminder the day before.
9. Keep the tone purposeful but light. Inject humor wherever possible. If you can find any way to make the meeting fun, people will thank you.
10. Keep it on track. If someone tries to take the meeting in another direction (and they always do), say, “that’s a great thought. Let’s schedule a separate meeting to discuss it.
11. Make sure everyone has a chance to be heard. If someone is being drowned out, call attention to them and give them the floor.
12. Elicit participation from everyone. If someone is being quiet or thoughtful, ask them directly for their input. And if someone is not paying attention, call them out on it!
13. Take notes on the whiteboard as you go. If you jot down people’s thoughts, it gives them weight - and it also helps bring participants along to a conclusion or solution with you.
14. Wrap up clearly. Recap key findings and next steps. Reiterate how the group has successfully accomplished the task at hand. The mental “checking of the check-box” will make everyone feel good.
15. Thank people for their time. These days, time is the most precious commodity anyone has. Thank them for making time to join you.
16. End five minutes early. If you can wrap up the meeting 5 minutes before the scheduled time, people will LOVE you. These days so many people’s schedules are so booked, they will be forever grateful if you give them 5 extra minutes to catch up on email or - God forbid - take a bathroom break.
17. Send a meeting recap, notes and follow up THAT DAY or the next day at the very latest. Make sure it is clear who is responsible for what follow up and by when. And if you need a follow up meeting, send the invite for it immediately too. It gives people a sense that the project is progressing.
Ultimately, it’s all about anticipation. If you can think through the purpose and the flow of the meeting in advance, and map out the participants’ experience, you are sure to have meeting that is no less than mind-blowing. And if all else fails, for goodness sake, check the thermostat!
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