How to Be Known for Leading Great Meetings-Part 2

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.

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