Have you ever felt that if you had to preside over one more staff meeting you would scream? If so, you're not alone. And if you feel that way about running the meeting, imagine how your team feels about sitting through it.
Until about 10 years ago, I felt the same way. Then one day, something a business associate said to me while we were traveling together turned me around. I was frustrated and overwhelmed by the meetings I had to attend when I returned. He listened quietly to my complaints, then said somewhat impatiently, “Mark, meetings are your job.” That really changed my perspective.
Meetings serve three main purposes: communication, training, and motivation. As a leader, it's your job to make them great as “events,” not just as a vehicle to convey information. As the leader of your company, you are the master of ceremonies. You must ensure those who attend get their money's worth.
I believe 80% of a great meeting is a science and 20% is an art. The first step is to take full ownership of this responsibility, then work on mastering it. Let's look at the recipe for running a first-class meeting.
A Sum of Its Parts Most people see the purpose of a meeting as communication and alignment, but that's only half the story. Equally important are time devoted to training and motivation, both of which are essential for overall business health and growth. A 60-minute sales meeting, for example, would devote the first 30 minutes to sales projections, production updates, and discussions of jobs in the pipeline and client issues. The second half would cover a sales topic, such as how to handle certain types of sales objections or how to create a sense of urgency in a prospective customer. As meeting leader, you might lead the discussion, but you could also involve team members through role-playing or, better yet, by asking them to lead the discussion.
For instance, if you have a salesperson who is proficient in closing techniques, ask him or her to do a 10- to 15-minute presentation. This is doubly effective: Through the act of teaching, the presenter gains confidence and improves his or her knowledge and skill, and the other team members learn something new from one of their own. This approach also introduces variety into the meeting format, making it more enjoyable. Though the topics may vary, the same structure applies to management, production, or design meetings.
The Essentials Here's a list of characteristics all meetings should share:
Start and end on time. This sounds simple, but it can be difficult to achieve. Starting late affects morale among those who arrive on time and sends the wrong message to latecomers. Experiment with start times, but not for too long — consistency is important.
Be interactive. Get everyone involved. Meetings are a team sport.
Be creative. Eating the same meal every night gets boring, no matter how good the cooking is. Experiment with a variety of approaches, from slide shows and videos to reading aloud, listening to tapes, role-playing, or hands-on demonstrations.
Be enthusiastic. Enthusiasm sells and inspires, and it's your responsibility to keep the energy level high.
Logistics are important. If the room is too small, too hot, or too loud, then too bad — you will have a bad meeting.
Control the pace. Just as a movie can lose the audience because it is too slow or too fast, the cadence of a meeting affects how attendees feel. A great meeting has a natural rhythm.
Like other forms of mastery, learning to create great meetings will take time — up to six months, depending on the starting point. But if you truly embrace the notion that “Meetings are your job,” you will enjoy the challenge. —Mark Richardson is president of Case Design/Remodeling and Case Handyman Services, Bethesda, Md., and author of 30-Day Remodeling Fitness Program. 301.229.4600; firstname.lastname@example.org.