How To Run A Meeting

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Bottom Line Up Front: Remember the Three B’s of Army Briefing and apply them to a meeting: Be Brief, Be Brilliant, Be Gone.

For a Simple Meeting.

Ideally they respect you. Ideally you put out an agenda. Ideally the team has worked together. However, none of this is necessary to run good meetings or earn others’ respect. Tell people if they don’t think the meeting is a good investment of their time they are free to leave. Mean it.

First, be brief.

Brevity takes many forms. For this post we’ll look at Brevity of Duration and Brevity of Pace.

For Brevity of Duration, set a finish time for the meeting and make it as short as possible. I held a meeting not too long ago. One. hour. long. because we had a lot of material to cover. Ugh. We had very smart people in the room who knew far more than I about the task at hand. We had a product to deliver at the end of the meeting. I told everyone, “We’re out of here in an hour.”  That’s pretty up front, but go one step further-- put in a failsafe. Tell someone young and ambitious, “If I don’t stay on schedule, get up and walk out.” That shows confidence. Confidence inspires people; it holds you accountable and keeps you on schedule. You’ll also learn a lot about the young man you ask to keep you on schedule. If he has guts, he’ll do as you say and get up and walk out. You might regret that one… but try it anyway just for fun.

For Brevity of Pace, keep the meeting moving briskly. Tell everyone at the beginning to keep their comments brief and to the point. Actively manage them without being rude. It’s hard to do this well—especially with very sharp people-- and comes with experience. Say what you expect and gently urge them forward.

In that hour long meeting, we were reviewing a document and doing a common-sense review. I had to ask this question a lot, “Keep or delete the comments?”

If discussion dragged, I asked, “OK, so does it stay or not?” and sometimes I had to repeat myself until someone answered that question.

Second, be brilliant.

Brilliance means shine. Brilliance means do a great job running the meeting. Brilliance means enjoy the task. Joy is infectious. Brilliance also means to prepare as best you can. If you can’t prepare—either because of time or your own busy schedule-- admit it, but make up for lack of preparation with humility, good intent, and clear communication. Greet each person by name. Have some details right when they arrive. Maybe have coffee at each seat. Maybe a pad and pencil. Give personal attention. Make people feel they are important. Each of us is important. Say please and thank you, but mean it. If you get up for coffee get coffee for others. There’s something great about serving your subordinates coffee.

Third, be gone.

For an hour long meeting, announce progress at 15 minutes, 30 minutes, 45 minutes then 50 minutes in. At 50 minutes in say you’ll conclude in 5 minutes. 55 minutes in close down and review. Ask if everyone is clear on due outs. Review the due outs. Use gentle public pressure to get soft commitments. Close the meeting gracefully and with sincere, if understated, gratitude. Don’t be fulsome… that’s not masculine. Announce the meeting officially over. Leave if you must. Say all are invited to stay to talk afterward. If people stick around, it’s a good sign.

Call to action: Apply these hints to your next meeting. Let me know how it goes.