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By Duane Craig
July 10, 2017
How do you hold a meeting that everyone wants to attend? Do you..
A. Give away valuable prizes and make sure everyone wins something?
B. Threaten them with their jobs if they don’t attend?
C. Have free drinks and food?
As you might have expected, the correct answer is actually D. none of the above. Rather than Instead, follow these guidelines. Rather than bribing or threatening people to attend your meetings, try out some of these tactics:
Don’t schedule meetings that aren’t really necessary. Everybody has plenty to do without going to meetings that waste their time. A meeting also needs a very clear objective. What is the outcome you expect?
Don’t invite people who don’t need to be there. There’s nothing more annoying than sitting through a meeting that’s regarding nothing relevant to you. If you need to iron out clashes among three trades, include only the necessary people from your own team who have direct oversight or specific input.
If you’ve set a well defined objective you can do a lot in a short time. If you find you have to hold meetings that run an hour long, or longer, the objectives are probably too vast. Hold a series of meetings instead of trying to cram everything into one. A rule of thumb is to aim for 30 minute meetings. There are apps available that will time the meeting with popup notices at set intervals to keep people aware of the ticking time. You could also set up a cooking timer or other device to keep people focused on brevity.
Whatever you can do to present information visually and succinctly will really make a difference in audience participation. You don’t need one of those new fancy whiteboards, but you do need something that’s visible to all attendees and allows participants to show information visually. Put your objectives at the top along with any guidelines for participant interactions.
There is a growing call for people to be more present in their interactions, and mobile devices, especially cell phones, are great interrupters. One CEO goes so far as to require cell phones be turned off during some meetings. It’s one thing if people will use their phones or tablets in some way that augments the meeting. But, it’s quite another if the calls relate to things that can wait. And most of the time, they can wait.
Inform participants of the objective at the beginning of the meeting, and ask everyone to offer insights based on facts. Ask participants to clearly state when they are using opinions. If you “own” the meeting then it’s expected you will overview the objective and guide the discussion and interactions. Be accountable to that without monopolizing the meeting by covering your perspectives at length. Tell participants when decisions have already been made, and the topics that are not open for discussion.
It takes nerve, but you should be willing to let anything happen, short of breaking common courtesy, safety, and security boundaries. Instead of having people listen to talks before they offer their information or opinions, allow interaction on the fly. As long as you have a clear objective which you keep guiding people back to, you’ll speed up the meeting and get better outcomes.
Detours happen, and add value, sometimes in the best ways. Allow new ideas, and stories that match the objective to have places in the discussion. Flexibility within the confines of the objective ensures the group doesn’t miss out on innovation.
Even though you want to keep the meeting tracking to the objectives, don’t lose insights. In construction, everything is related to something else. When people offer input that links to other topics, don’t ignore it. Make notes and tell the participant that although it doesn’t directly relate to the objectives, you will refer them to someone, or get with them after the meeting.
It often takes time and a gentle nudge to get people talking. According to Josh Neblett, cofounder and CEO of the e-commerce company Etailz, silence works well. When there is a freeze in conversation, he says just sitting silently, and looking from person to person will definitely get questions flowing. From there, others will often chime in with answers and ultimately discussion will follow.
Once the meeting is running, people genuinely want to reach its objectives. But, there are always some people who get sidetracked or who want to rehash what’s already been covered. When you empower participants to help keep things on track, you gain the advantage of peer pressure. You wouldn’t do this at every meeting, but when you know you will have disruptors participating, you might find the group useful for keeping things on track.
Too many meetings end with people wondering what they signed up for. Make sure that doesn’t happen at your meetings by using methods that track and remind people of their action items.
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