There are a lot of mugs out there that say “I survived another meeting that should have been an email.” We’ve all been there, and more likely than not we have also facilitated meetings that others may throw in the “should have been an email” bucket. We’re busy and it happens. Meetings are constant, burdensome, and necessary. As a fellow survivor and bucket avoider, I’ve put together a few simple tips to ensure your meetings have more ROI.
Define What Success Looks Like
Prior to the meeting, and preferably before scheduling the meeting, take a few minutes to really assess what you need to get out of the meeting. Is it a decision to be made? Is it feedback from the team? Is it simply for others to hear you? Is it an agreement from the other party? Is it to resolve a conflict? It is most productive for a group to know what the goal is. Then everyone is able to work toward completion, even if it may not be an easy topic. The most effective way to ensure everyone is on the same page is sending out an agenda beforehand.
Have a Plan B
While we’d all like to believe that a meeting will give us what we need, we need to be prepared that it may not. Attendees may be distracted, tired, or not in the right mindset for the discussion. Pivoting and adapting may be required. In productive environments, this can be done gracefully and honestly. A statement as simple as, “Considering where our team is coming from today, we’d like to pivot a little bit,” can let team members know they are being listened to and the decision or discussion can be had at a time that better suits everyone. Previously defining what topic is a successful plan B enables you to come prepared for success even in the event that plan A isn’t achievable.
Take a Minute
A few minutes before the meeting, shut down everything else. That includes the phone, all the open tabs, and any paperwork. Close your eyes if you need to. The goal here is to be mindful and present. Check in with yourself. Are you nervous? Stressed? Frustrated? Name what you are feeling and try to tune into your breathing. Breathe in, and as you breathe out, let go of the stressors you are bringing into this meeting. They’ll be there when you get back, believe me. Taking this moment to let the weight you’ve been carrying around all day slip from your mind enables you to go into the meeting focused and intentional. Reactivity reduces and projecting can be limited.
In our striving for efficiency and not wasting anyone’s time, we have lost the art of listening. We listen with the intent to respond, not to genuinely hear what the other person is saying. Pausing may seem like a dumb simple concept but think back on the last half dozen meetings you’ve been in. How often was there appropriate silence? How many times have you jumped in impulsively because the silence that was there made you feel uncomfortable? Despite our habitual quick response time, pausing is the best way to take a moment to think about what was said and how we want to respond. This isn’t necessarily about being politically correct as much as it is about checking in with ourselves. Is what you are responding with what you actually want to say or is it to keep things going? On the flip side, allowing people the opportunity to pause before they speak reinforces having value in what they have to say.
Summarize & Show Gratitude
When closing the meeting, take a moment to summarize what was decided and discussed. If there are action items, make sure those are repeated and written down so there is no confusion on who is doing what. Afterward, genuinely thank the attendees of the meeting for their input and/or time. It may be a mandatory meeting, but everyone’s presence deserves to be appreciated. Gratitude instills value and lets the group know that it may have been easier to just send out an email, but instead we wanted to hear the person or even possibly see them. We wanted to be human together in a time of more and more screens.
Evaluate the Outcome
After the meeting, assess what the real outcomes of the meeting were. Did you meet your previously defined success metric or not? What contributed to that result? Was there another beneficial outcome you didn’t consider? Also include the outcome for others. Was their time used appropriately? Were their opinions solicited and given due consideration (if applicable)? This is a great opportunity to learn from the experience and make any changes for future meetings to ensure your teammates don’t give each other mugs or memes saying they survived.
For a lot of us, meetings are the most stressful thing we do. Thinking on our feet in such a fast paced world while trying to be prepared for a variety of reactions can send us into fight or flight. If meetings cause you stress, here are a few tips to try:
- Work out beforehand. Twenty minutes of lifting weights, going for a run, or yoga fills your body with endorphins, which is helpful for completing the stress cycle and brings you into an equilibrium, reducing the associated reactivity. For more information about completing the stress cycle, I highly recommend the book Burnout by Emily & Amelia Nagoski.
- If you aren’t required to be in the office or in front of a screen, take a walk during the meeting. Like working out beforehand, moving your body during a call can allow for less “what ifs” and instead focusing on the question or discussion as directly as possible. It also reduces the likelihood to tune out, as odd as that sounds, because we are more inclined to care about the meeting when we are able to do something beneficial for us at the same time.
- Meditate. If you are able to take more than a moment to get into the right mindset, listen to a meditation or calming music for half an hour. The key here is to not obsess about the meeting - instead, let your thoughts and stresses go. You’re already prepared - take the time to rest and recharge.
Taken individually or collectively, these tips should help you facilitate more productive meetings for all.
Thanks for reading and happy meetings!