Let’s face it, we’re getting worse and worse about being civil to one another and business meetings are a prime place where manners are disappearing.
In Marketing, we always discuss the value of the first impression and what it does to carry a brand forward. The old cliché that, "you only get one shot to make a first impression" is true, so why do so many people squander that opportunity – especially in the business meeting format? In the past while, I have attended meetings or heard stories from others with similar gripes that include people getting up to leave while someone is presenting to other individuals never lifting their heads out of their laptops, iPads and smartphones.
Nothing screams "big waste of time" more than people not putting all of their attention on the task at hand.
It is not incumbent on the person speaking to be engaging all of time (that’s not an easy thing to do), but it is incumbent on the person who organized the meeting to create an environment that can lead to the best result possible.
Here are 15 ways to create a winning business meeting:
- Set a simple and short agenda. You can figure out the minutia later. If you’re pulling people away from their day-to-day work keep it short and simple. Also only put items on the agenda that can be resolved within the meeting.
- Invite only the people that really have to be there. If you have the right people in the room, those people can then find the additional resources to figure the rest out. Too many meetings have too many people which causes some (sometimes a lot) of the content to not be relevant to others in the room. If something is being discussed it should be relevant to all participants of the meeting.
- Confirm with attendees on the day before. Make sure to send a friendly reminder the day before. Also re-confirm with those that are presenting to ensure that they keep their content relevant to the entire group, and that they don’t kill your meeting with death by PowerPoint.
- Do some research. If your company is bring in a new potential partner or vendor, do your research before the meeting. A basic online search will help you understand who the company is and what they do. If you have time, hop over to LinkedIn and review the profile of the people who you are meeting. If you don’t know who the company is, who you are meeting and why you are meeting them, then why did you show up? Doing that baseline research goes beyond common courtesy… it’s just common sense. Leave any (and all) meetings that start with someone saying, "so tell us why you are here and what you can do for us?"
- Create a space. Bring the lighting up. Bring all of the chairs close together. If the room is too big, move the chairs so people have to sit close to one another. Put the drinks in the middle of the table so attendees don’t have to get up or disturb the presenter. Black belt tip: leave name cards on the seats – this will force people to sit next to new/different people and will encourage more interactivity amongst the group. If you want winning results, you have to create an atmosphere to win!
- Technology first. If you’re using a conference call, video conference, Skype or even Internet connectivity, make sure it is set-up and running correctly ten minutes before starting the meeting. Meetings that start ten minutes late because of this are not only wasting people’s valuable time but also demonstrate a lack of professionalism.
- Hand-outs. If you must have hand-outs (my recommendation is to only give them out at the end of a meeting or to email a digital version after the meeting’s conclusion) place one in every seat prior to the start of the meeting.
- Start on time. If people are late, it will be them who will be missing the content. Don’t penalize those that are on time. And yes, this includes superiors. Bosses, managers, etc… should be embarrassed if their own staff can be there and ready before them (lead from the front) – it says something about their respect for the team.
- Chair it. Always have someone chair the meeting. This person should give a 30-second pitch for the meeting that is ahead and do any formal introductions if you are meeting with people you have never seen before. All meetings should start off with a simple opening statement around the context of the presentation. Great meetings are created by great chairs.
- Nobody gets out alive. Go to the bathroom before the meeting. There is never any reason to get up and leave. And yes, that means to grab a bottle of water or snacks before. How would you feel if people were getting up and leaving while you were presenting? If you can only stay for a portion of the meeting either check in with the person chairing the session or don’t bother showing up at all. People who leave in the middle are a huge disruption and distraction. Black belt tip: if someone does have to leave in the middle, have the Chair let the group know during the opening statement.
- All hands on deck. Unless you have an agreement that people can use laptops, iPads and smartphones to take notes (which is not the best idea), all of that technology should be banned from formal meetings and presentations. Recently, I was speaking in a meeting and noticed that the three people next to me were on their laptops… working on their email! Why invite someone in and create a meeting if the people attending are doing the same work they would do if there wasn’t a meeting? Everyone loses. More importantly, it is totally insulting and distracting. So, even if you are legitimately taking notes, sit far away from the presenter and be very quiet and subtle about it.
- Never table an item. Why do people say, "let’s table that item"? That’s stupid. Never table an item. If something was put on the agenda, it’s important for the team to come to a resolution on it. Get it done.
- Clean up. When the meeting is done, please clean up. Don’t wait for someone else to do it (even if you have a cleaning crew). Put the chairs back nicely, remove your food/beverages and toss out all papers. Shut down the computers and projectors (and don’t forget to put the remotes back in a place where everyone can find them). Leave it in the same way that it was created.
- Be a human being. Be kind. Use your best manners. Smile. Thank people for their attention and time.
- Follow-up. Send a thank you note (written is best, but email is acceptable) letting people know that you appreciated their time and what the follow-up/output of the meeting will be.
Now it’s your turn to add to this list. What are some of your best tips and tricks to having a successful meeting?
Always put the sexiest topics of agenda at the END of a time-limited meeting . If the attendees want to get to those items, they’ll be more than willing to work through the less sexy items.
#2 hits home for me. I’ve attended meetings with clients that last FOR HOURS that have nothing to do with me. The only thing that keeps me from having my head hit the desk is the fact I charge for my time. Worse yet, try conducing corporate training to a room full of people that don’t want to be there & their management sitting two rows behind them. That’s painful.
Great ideas! Here are a couple more:
If possible, organize the agenda for meetings of one hour or more such that critical attendees only need to be present for their part of the meeting.
Try scheduling 45-minute and 30-minute meetings. The agenda will expand to fill a longer meeting.
Schedule 50-minute meetings instead of 60. People have back-to-back meetings and if all meetings are one hour long, everyone will be consistently late.
Look for opportunities to get things done via email and personal interaction. God bless the person who days “no” to one more unnecessary meeting.
Those are good points. I work in a meeting-heavy environment and I can say that most meetings don’t accomplish anything or very little. Sometimes it would be as simple as walking over to someone’s desk to ask a question but we prefer to book a formal meeting. I am going to quote Seth Godin here and ask the same question he asked: “Do you often find ideas that change everything in a windowless conference room, with bottled water on the side table and a circle of critics and skeptics wearing suits looking at you as the clock ticks down to the 60 minutes allocated for this meeting? If not, then why do you keep looking for them there?”
Less meetings and more time to make a difference, please.
Remove the chairs altogether. It grabs attention, necessitates a shorter meeting and makes it more difficult to work on laptops and mobile devices.
If the meeting has an open discussion with decisions that need to be made, or follow-up that needs to happen, someone (the chair) should be responsible to make sure all decisions reached are recorded and that follow-up projects are assigned. Coming to the end of a meeting with no clear resolution can be extremely frustrating.
Someone needs to speak up if the side tangents are getting a little too wild. Nothing worse than devoting 80% of the meeting to one item and then hastily divvying up the remaining time to 5 other topics.
• Start every meeting with “who did what and when?” (five minutes)
• End every meeting with “who does what by when?” (five minutes)
• No meeting should last more than 45 minutes.
• Appoint one person to take clear concise notes – rotate role if necessary.
• Assign roles. The essence of teamwork is not that everyone does everything but that each person focuses on their strength that adds to the process. No one expects Sydney Crosby to be the goalie.
• Outlaw ass covering. Take responsibility for your area of expertise and own it – good or bad.
• Focus on results.
• Stick to the subject at hand. Make note of any half-baked ideas for another time.
• Avoid “status” meetings for all your projects in one meeting. That is a nightmare.
• Don’t reverse delegate aka “we should do that” expecting others to “do that”.
• Don’t confuse activity with progress. Everyone has mastered looking busy.
• Never ever book a meeting for 3-4pm. That is the least creative time of the day.
• Save most of the chit-chat and small talk for lunch or drinks after work.
Addendum to Brook’s point on time:
End on time, and have time check points for the agenda points in between. I am sure we have all been in meetings with five agenda points, only to get to the end of the meeting still talking about point 1. What are those stories of meetings at Google that have a giant clock projected on to the wall?
Physical chairs should not be aloud. Everyone should stand. It’s amazing how fast meetings finish.
I would add to #8 and echo Joel’s thoughts with
#8-a “plan to end early, there is nothing like free time”
“getting customers by sharing what we know is what we do”
I’m with Samantha – stand- up meetings work like a charm.
Agree to turn off the blackberries and IPhone before starting. Nothing is more distracting than seeing half the attendees busy texting and answering email with their hands just below the conference table pretending to be engaged.
A couple of ideas:
– Document actual concrete actions that people will take as a result of the meeting, and who will take them
– Measure success of meetings by the ratio of concrete actions to person hours spent in-meeting
– Track meeting metrics over time
– Include meeting success metrics in overall company executive dashboard.
Make sure everyone introduces themselves and explains their role (in 20 words or less). Besides establishing why everyone is there, it tends to make people more willing to contribute throughout the meeting.
This post hit home for me today. I was in a meeting the night before and the conversation became a little heated. We know going into these meetings that at some point, this may happen and are good enough not to carry it outside.
But in my case last night, I took advantage of that “goodness” rule and went a little overboard. I feel really bad about that so now my next task is to apologize to the others and guard against doing that again.
Thanks for this post,
re: #9 Chair It – I’ve always found that clarifying everyone’s timing as part of the opening helps you avoid mid-meeting exits AND allows you to ‘gently’ rein in tangents that are straying too far from the agenda.
By confirming, “we have a hard stop at 4pm” you are effectively giving everyone the ‘speak now or forever hold your your peace’ option and you can feel free to use it to re-focus the discussion without anyone feeling that you’re limiting their airtime or rejecting their train of thought. You’re simply following through on your commitment to the agenda.
I read some excellent advice recently – Only have a meeting when you need the people in the room to work together. (otherwise just send/request updates.)
Having a good chairperson is paramount – so very many people are rubbish at it – hence meetings run on – some people are not heard, others ramble, tangents are followed, tempers fray. How and WHy to run a meeting – shoudl be compulsory management training. In one particularly pointless meeting (called by my boss – a regular occurrence, he thought having regular mneetings was a mark of a good mnager – ha!) I calculated what it was costing the company in salaries and overheads to have the meeting. He didn’t like it I can tell you.
Try calculating the cost of meetings – it’s quite scary.
A meeting organizer should not hesitate to cancel a meeting should achieving the objective be placed in doubt (lack of attendees or necessary information). Very few people mind gaining freed-up time…especially from a canceled meeting. I have also had considerable success including timing for each agenda item. It really helps to focus the converstation and helps it move along to a conclusion and keep the meeting on-time.
You took the “Who does What by When” comment out of my mouth. Essential. “If everyone’s in charge, no one’s in charge.” Might also want to clarify if there are any prerequisites.
I would add that whoever is taking notes should copy (if handwritten) and distribute these “Next Steps” within 10-15 minutes of the end of the meeting.
Make it known to everyone beforehand what time the meeting is scheduled to end. And then make sure that the chairperson paces things so that you finish on time. People are more apt to stay focused when they know that they have, say, only 10 minutes remaining to discuss the matters at hand.
Balancing the needs of the group and the needs of the agenda are often the challenge. As a professional facilitator, I suggest having some ground rules up front that I call, “How we want to work together” Although this can be pertinent to longer meetings,seminars or workshops I think it’s good to get everyone on the same page. Reminding people that time is limited and be aware that there are other people in the room that may want to contribute can never hurt. If the subject matter is controversial I like to use Steven Covey’s “Seek to understand, rather than be understood.” You would think that as adults some of this would be obvious, trust me it’s not.
Tip #1 goes along way towards setting the environment for a successful meeting. It gives everyone in the meeting a structure to work within, communicates what the expectations for the meeting are and allows the meeting to be reeled back in by creating anchors for the discussion (for those who are prone to drifting).
There are some great podcasts with tips and ideas for making meetings more successful by the guys over at manager-tools.com (about 4 years worth of them to be precise).
Terrific tips both in the post and comment.
One thing I’ve found that leads to a good meeting is how you schedule it. It drives me nuts when people email back and forth over availability. Invariably they’re in different time zones, and by the time half of them reply, the others are no longer available.
I’ve become a huge fan of Tungle, which is a great scheduling tool and syncs with your calendar. It makes it really easy to schedule/re-schedule meetings, and for me, that puts me in a good mood going into it.
Excellent post. Your timing could not have been better for me personally.
I’d like to comment on your introductory remark about “bad manners”: it’s bang on.
I too seem to be witnessing a rash of bad manners lately, especially in meetings. People who arrive late (and don’t apologize), people who don’t pay attention, people who can’t stay on topic. Stunning.
After one particularly bad meeting, I told my colleague: “If any of my teenage daughters were caught doing these things in high school, they would get a detention.”
In other words, the behaviour I am seeing in meetings, by business professionals, is not even good enough for high school.
Scary, isn’t it?
PS psst, point 11, I think you mean “Everyone loses” not “Everyone looses.”
Thanks for the copyedit 😉 I fixed it 🙂
People going out of the room for answering their mobile phones are a menace. Normally it is just the guy whose presence would be essential.
An observation about ill manners at meetings. People are communication something more than just being late or other ill mannered behavior. At my last job, folks would come in late, be ill prepared, or forget the meeting all together. I think this is a sign of inefficient management in the company and that the staff was given more than too much to do (due to a reduced workforce and cost cutting measures),creating unappreciated employees who are overwhelmed, and burning out. Meetings were often too long as a result of larger agenda’s to compensate for a reduced workforce. So, perhaps the ill mannered blackberryite or lap-topper is communicating that they are overwhelmed with their work load and one more meeting is just too much.
Ill manners of an individual should not be blamed on anyone but that person. Rise above. If your manager is a moron and the company is inefficient, don’t become a drone. Rise above. We’re all under pressure to do more with less but blaming poor manners on a crappy corporate culture makes no sense to me.
Do you really have to have a meeting? I work in a dispersed team and we use short conference calls quite often in place of lengthy meetings less regularly.
Of course, nothing beats that face-to-face interaction, but once a relationship is established it saves a lot of time, money and energy if you can swap a meeting for a phonecall.
That works… if you don’t consider a bunch of people on the phone the same as a meeting (I do).
Agree with Joel. I used to work for a company that scheduled all meetings to last one hour. There might be 20 minutes of content, but that meeting lasted an hour. The company I’m with now does a lot of 30-minute meetings… and many of those last 10 minutes. It’s much more efficient, and gets everyone focused on meeting results.
I always follow a 10 seconds rule. I have to get the message across in 10 seconds. that’s how you can make a meeting fruitful
Amen on the short and sweet. I can’t count the number of meetings we’ve been to that were pointless on long simply because a proper and thorough agenda was not prepared.
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