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Make Meetings Fun & Easy!
Plan Ahead To Avoid An All-Meet Diet

by Craig Harrison
February 25, 2001
edition of
The San Francicso Chronicle

Much of our work life is consumed by meetings: board meetings, management meetings, staff meetings and committee meetings. It's enough to make you want to telecommute.

Worse than the actual time spent in meetings, those that are poorly run or ill conceived extract a further toll: they shorten our tempers, make us irritable and in some extreme cases, even engender contempt for co-workers or management. The solution: make meetings clear and easy.

Here are five basics for any meeting you will be conducting:

  • Is this meeting actually necessary? Can your objectives be accomplished otherwise? Can a letter, memo or e-mail accomplish the same goals? Sometime the best meetings are the one you never have.

  • Assuming the need to meet, what are your meeting's objectives?  Make sure you and your participants understand them. Print them in e-mails and/or memos leading up to the meeting.

  • Use a printed agenda and pre-define a window of time for the meeting. When will it start? When do you aim to conclude? Are objectives stated on it?

  • Share the agenda in advance if possible to better orient attendees to what will follow, whether by e-mail or memo.

  • Start on time and try as best you can to stay true to the Agenda and its timing, whether times have been assigned to each item, or you are using your own private timeline.

Here are some ways to jazz up your meetings:

  • Meet me in St. Louis...well, perhaps that's not possible, but consider the effect a refreshing venue can have on the meeting and types of dialogs which will ensue. Can you take your meeting outside to a park or picnic area, or even to a vacant executive board room. Remember, environment informs experience.

  • Decor. So you can't go to Aruba or Tahiti for your meeting. Bring those places to you.  Many companies adorn their meeting rooms with exotic names and matching decor. Would you rather go to a meeting or go to Bali? Now you can do both, in a manner of speaking.

  • Encourage the use of summary handouts to represent data better viewed than heard. It's actually a service to others to give it to them in written form for present and future reference. Just as pictures are worth a thousand words, so to do graphs, tables and charts visually impart information quicker and more powerfully than many verbal reports. Encourage such presentations.

  • Reports. You've heard of the One Minute Manager. How about the two minute report? Reports are not speeches. Let those giving reports know that they have a limited time to give a summary of progress to date, outstanding issues and next steps. Ask that they deliver theirs while standing. These tips keep them focused.

  • Play the theme music from Jeopardy softly in the background to underscore the fact that time is finite and will expire. Alternately, use an egg timer or digital timing device to remind attendees the clock is ticking.

Here are some techniques for staying on track:

  • Issues arising in your meeting may lead to involved discussions.  These may be best dealt with by "referring them to committee." Assign a committee chair and ask that a report be given once the committee has met. Often the report is given at the next meeting.

  • If you are running out of time or the issue being discussed isn't urgent, it can be "tabled" until the next meeting, or even "tabled indefinitely."

  • Any member can "call for the orders of the day" to induce the attendees to adhere to the agenda at the time of the call. It's the fastest way to get back on track when your meeting's gone awry.

  • Develop a familiarity with the basics of Parliamentary Procedure, such as the steps required to make and pass a main motion, and how to preside over a meeting as its leader or conductor.  Roberts Rules of Order is one such recognized standard for conducting business. Its charts and tables give a nice overview of the process of conducting fair meetings.

The thought of running a meeting shouldn't make you want to run away. With a pinch of preparedness, a dash of common sense and a shot of confidence you can meet the challenge of meetings, and live to laugh about it.

© Copyright 2001 Craig Harrison. All Rights Reserved.

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To schedule an engagement, contact Craig by email: Craig@ExpressionsOfExcellence.com
or by phone: (510) 547-0664.