Archive for the ‘Meeting Facilitation’ Category

Winning Ways for First Meetings

Saturday, April 2nd, 2011

What were you thinking about during a recent first meeting with a prospective client? Were you listening intently or were you distracted by what you wanted to say?

I’ve been thinking about a great first meeting that I had with a prospective client last week. From the moment we sat down the conversation was off and running. The meeting was an important opportunity, but I resisted the natural pull to stay stuck in my own brain and instead focused on the other person. Reflecting back, the meeting’s success was due to two things: 1) Curiosity-fueled preparation and 2) Demonstrating (not telling) the ways in which I could be a helpful resource.

Curiosity-Fueled Preparation

  1. I read through the background information found on the company’s web-site and in a Google search, and profile information on LinkedIn, to learn about the other person and her company but also to identify what I didn’t know yet. Rather than plan out what I wanted to say about my business, I focused on what I wanted to ask about my prospect’s business.
  2. Armed with what I knew and what I wanted to know, I anticipated a few possible openers to kick off the conversation.

Demonstrating vs. Telling

  1. I built on my questions by sharing new perspectives and insights from my unique vantage point.
  2. I respected the prospective client’s expertise and demonstrated how my knowledge, expertise and experience complement it.
  3. I offered a sneak peak at what the prospect would experience when we work together: relevant suggestions, fresh thinking about her business and tips that will help her business be more successful.

Your next business lunch

Just for fun…the next time you’re in a restaurant on a weekday, observe the conversation of business people lunching nearby.  Chances are you’ll be able to spot the good listeners and those preoccupied with their own thoughts.


Leading isn’t about talking more (or louder)

Monday, March 7th, 2011

Which type of meeting leader are you?

Dan and Tom are both SVPs in the marketing group of a large technology firm. They each have a team of about 30 people and meet with their teams regularly.  But that’s where the similarity ends.

Dan’s meetings are painful experiences for Dan and his team members. As he does every week, Dan stands at the head of the conference room and takes his team through the meeting agenda. He shares with them updates about the business, notes budget and deadline changes. After speaking for about 30 minutes he invites discussion. He really wants his group to share their challenges, collaborate on solutions and ask questions, but inevitably there’s silence. “No questions….So everything’s good?” “No one has anything to share?” More silence accompanied by some uncomfortable body language as people look down at their notepads and squirm in their chairs. “Then that’s it…let’s get back to work,” he says as he ends the meeting.

Tom approaches his meetings differently. He distributes responsibility for different parts of the three-part meeting agenda to individuals on his team.  He makes it clear that he’s looking for a quick update followed by one or two thought-provoking and conversation-starting questions posed to the group. Tom waits for others to speak and then, when appropriate, he contributes (vs. dominates) the conversation. He may ask another probing question, or synthesize what he’s heard, or connect the dots of the various comments. He asks “one-finger” questions such as, “What’s one problem with the way we’ve been tackling this problem?” Occasionally, he reframes a doom and gloom comment that threatens to derail the meeting, by asking a constructive follow-up question. “Sounds like ABC is a serious concern. Is there a way that ABC may help us do XYZ?”  Then Tom gets quiet again and listens to the conversation.

Dan asserts his position by talking more than anyone else, learns nothing new and his team members are informed but not engaged.  Tom uses his leadership role to draw out the best of the people on his team, by listening, probing and challenging.

Two different leadership styles. Dan takes very seriously his role as a leader keeping his people informed — certainly important. Tom sees his role as shaping information through collaboration to boost insight and action.

Leading isn’t about talking more (or louder) than everyone else. Have you tried listening, synthesizing, connecting the dots, asking a one-finger question or reframing?

If you’re struggling in your leadership role and would like help becoming a more inspiring and effective leader like Tom, let me know:

How to Be Known for Leading Great Meetings-Part 2

Friday, February 11th, 2011

Knowing that you’ve clarified desired outcomes and your agenda (discussed in Wednesday’s blog), you’re ready to focus on actively facilitating your meeting.

Every meeting needs someone in charge. When you’re “it” there are three ways to lead a great meeting.

  1. Engage and manage your meeting’s cast of characters
  2. “Park” distracting tangents
  3. Break through the clutter of endless meetings

1. Engage and manage your meeting’s cast of characters (really important!): If you’re looking for active discussion you need to anticipate ways to drive group participation. What open-ended , discussion-starting and thought-provoking questions can you ask? What exercises will encourage the individuals around the room to share their ideas or opinions? How can you make it safe for everyone in the room to speak?

  • Begin meetings with a warm-up exercise that helps people break-away from the work they’ve left behind at their desks. Use the warm-up to jump-start thinking or create a level playing field for the discussion so titles and hierarchy become irrelevant.
  • Respectfully listening to each person’s contribution will encourage people to speak. We respectfully listen by capturing ideas on a flip chart. Listen with your whole body and nod (genuinely) in receipt of the person’s idea. Repeat part of the idea and use that as a foundation for your next question. Dismissing an idea or allowing bullying behavior in the room will discourage people from contributing.
  • You encourage the less-than-confident person to share by encouraging them to talk about their area of expertise. Watch for body language and notice when someone wants to say something but doesn’t know how to break into the conversation. Create an opening for them. Go even further and reinforce their contribution by acknowledging their participation after the meeting.
  • Share the “stage.” During your meeting prep invite others to “own” a part of the discussion. Rotating speaks and getting everyone involved helps to raise the energy level of the room.  Whenever possible, whomever is facilitating should stand.
  • Don’t tolerate meeting bullies or toxic meeting participants. Set ground rules up front. State clearly that all input is welcome as long as it benefits the group discussion because it is the collective thinking that will lead to the best plan. When a negative influence criticizes others’ suggestions, challenge him to reframe his criticism as a positive idea. Demonstrate what you’re looking for. For example, if he says, “Forget it. There’s no budget for that.” Suggest that he say something like, “On a limited budget, we’ll need to think about…”  Another tip for controlling a meeting bully is to allow them to briefly comment. Acknowledge their comment (“interesting perspective”) and then refocus your attention — your line of sight — so that you physically end the conversation with the negative individual and invite others to talk.

2. “Park” distracting tangents: As the facilitator you’re responsible for moving the meeting from the start to the desired outcomes. During your meeting set-up, establish a flip chart labeled “parking lot.” When a question is asked that takes the meeting off-track, respectfully “park” that point on the flip chart. “You’re raising a really great point that we can’t fully explore during the one hour we have for today’s meeting. Let’s capture it on our parking lot. At the end of our meeting we’ll discuss next steps for all parking lot items.”

3. Break through the clutter of endless meetings:

  • Anticipate room set-up. The seating should be conducive to the meeting purpose and desired outcomes — both the chair/table-set up as well as who sits next to whom.
  • Make the meeting visually distinctive. Imagine if you welcomed people into a meeting that felt completely different from the moment they entered the room. Wallpaper the walls with easel paper. Have colorful paper tossed (not in neat piles) on the conference room table, with colorful markers vs. 8-1/2 x 11″ lined pads with ball-point pens. Spread out a few, fun and touch-inviting toys on the table. We know that our brains become super-charged and creative when we return to our most playful selves so go for the unexpected.
  • Vary the media integrating flip charts, slides, hand-outs and props.
  • Choreograph the meeting experience and pace: Vary fast-paced discussion with calmer discovery exercises. If people are seated for a long period of time, build in an exercise that has them “race to the walls” to write down their ideas.
  • Instead of the usual pizza or sandwiches for a lunch meeting, order fun or unexpected food such as Chinese food with chop sticks or ice cream sundaes. If most of your meetings are in the morning, schedule one for late afternoon and bring in wine and snacks.
  • Absolutely begin and end on time. Demonstrate that you respect the time of the other meeting participants.
  • Wrap up the meeting vs. just whimpering to a close because you’ve run out of time. Summarize what’s been accomplished. Establish next steps. Thank  meeting participants for their time and contributions.

Don’t lead one more ordinary, dull or pointless meeting. Start right now and think about how you’ll make Monday morning’s staff meeting feel different, more inspiring and engaging.

How to Be Known for Leading Great Meetings-Part 1

Wednesday, February 9th, 2011

If you’re like the thousands of business professionals I’ve worked with over the past thirty years most of the meetings you attend are frustrating, lack focus, start late and run long. Sometimes you wonder why you’re in the room, too often you can’t figure out what the meeting is trying to achieve, and frequently you want to scream, “Who’s running this meeting?”  The brain ache is even worse when you’re the one who called the unproductive meeting.

You can immediately improve the way people think about meetings you lead by remembering two rules:

  1. We move towards that which we think about so always know your desired outcomes and draft an agenda to make sure the meeting is successful.
  2. Break through meeting clutter with active facilitation.

I’ll talk about active facilitation in part 2 of my focus on how to lead great meetings (this Friday). For now let’s focus on desired outcomes and agendas.

You wouldn’t get into your car and drive without knowing where you want to go. A meeting is a trip of sorts. And it focuses your meeting to start with your end in view (a variation on Stephen Covey’s “end in mind”). You must know where you want to go in your meeting — your desired outcomes — in order to ensure that you’ll get there at the end. And, like a drive, you have to think through which roads you’ll take and where you might want to stop — your agenda.

Your desired outcomes need to be crystal clear. For example, “at the end of this meeting we want to have three new ideas about XYZ,” or “group consensus about ABC,” or “clear understanding re: our individual responsibilities moving forward to execute this program.”

Your agenda shouldn’t be a laundry list of 20 items you want to discuss. We’ve all been in meetings with a page-long agenda and those same meetings rarely moved beyond the first few discussion items…typically not the most important issues which were for some reason saved for last. Instead, craft a three-part agenda. “We’re here to discuss three things,” is so much more memorable and motivational than, “Let’s get started because we have to talk about 20 problem spots…” or even said more positively, “15 areas of opportunity…” You can almost see the eyes glazing over.

A good meeting facilitator opens the meeting with a clear statement of the desired outcomes and a quick overview of the agenda. Your meeting will be even more successful if you distributed the desired outcomes and agenda in advance of the meeting to allow your meeting participants to think about the topics. The advance thought and focus will absolutely elevate the level of discussion during the meeting.

Tune back in on Friday for part 2 to learn about active meeting facilitation.