To minimize the occasions of people overlooking your comments in a meeting, link your message to something that a well respected, powerful attendee stated. For example, “Bill thinks that we should increase our sponsorship of community events. I think we may want to consider working with an outside firm to reassess the marketing and branding of our business.” By acknowledging Bill, who the attendees admire, you gain the attention of the audience who are then more open to focus on your comments.
By linking your comments to someone with high credibility, you are more likely to 1) increase your exposure in a meeting, 2) enhance the likelihood that you will be taken seriously and 3) expand your degree of influence.
If you’re attending a meeting that is inefficiently run, try asking these questions to get the meeting back on track: 1) If no agenda: “Just so we don’t forget anything, would you mind if I jot down an agenda?” and 2) If no focus: “Before we get too far, could we talk about what we’d like to accomplish…I want to make sure I’m focused on what’s important.”
Research has revealed that poorly conducted meetings can create frustration and stress, making people anxious and depressed. Even if you’re not leading the meeting, there are ways in which you can enhance its effectiveness.
Bring the “meeting after the meeting” into the meeting. Oftentimes, there is more discussion and sense-making after a meeting than during the meeting. At the end of your discussion, consider asking indirect questions such as, “How are people going to respond to this?” or “What misconceptions may people have about this?”
The discussion that takes place in the hallways and b the water cooler often determines whether people will be supportive of actions and decisions. By encouraging discussion with these types of questions, you will help clarify meaning, process concerns and harvest dissent.
Use the “dinger” to keep a meeting on track. A “dinger” can be a glass or other object, placed in the middle of the table and struck by any participant when he or she feels the group is veering from the subject at hand.
Using the “dinger” is a less intimidating and confrontational approach to keeping a meeting on course. It might also incorporate a bit of levity into the meeting, with the possibility that someone might get “dinged”. It signals that you’re serious about sticking to the agenda.
In a meeting, use a “parking garage” to store off-agenda items. For example, when someone brings up an item that is not directly related to the current discussion, note it on a flip chart in an area reserved for topics for future discussion.
This is a diplomatic way to legitimize the person’s contributions while keeping the meeting on track.
Use a flip chart to list concerns that surface in a meeting. Write the issues exactly as the participants state them and don’t discuss, evaluate or defend them at this time. After all concerns are noted, the next step is to discuss, “Given this list, what issues are most important to address?”
Using a flip chart legitimizes a person’s contribution. It also depersonalizes and de-emotionalizes the process by focusing attention on the ideas rather than the person who voiced the concern.
Clarify your objectives before going in to a contentious meeting. Sometimes managers make tough decisions that disappoint employees. In cases like this, the manager’s objectives should to be to: 1) develop an understanding of the position of those who are disappointed and 2) create an understanding of the reasons for the manager’s decision. The objective should not be to secure agreement.
People often erroneously assume that understanding = agreement. It is entirely possible to understand one another and disagree. However, creating understanding despite disagreement usually solidifies the relationship between the two parties.
Use signposts to indicate the progress you’ve made in a meeting and signal the need to move on to other topics. Signposts are indicators of critical junctures that are reached during a discussion. For example, you might say, “To recap, in the first phase of our discussion, we covered A, B and C. Now, in the next phase we need to address X, Y and Z.”
Using signposts in this manner focuses group members’ attention on the task instead of on personalities. It also demonstrates that you are listening and understanding what is transpiring in the discussion.
To control dominating or long-winded speakers in a group meeting, try subtle techniques such as seating talkative members where you can seem to overlook them naturally when asking questions of the group. Or, when a long-winded person has made a point, cut in as tactfully as possible with, “How do the rest of you feel about that point?” or a similar request for others to participate.
You cannot assume that silence = acquiescence, nor can you assume that everyone will feel the same degree of comfort raising concerns during a discussion. This is particularly true for those with more introverted personalities.
Avoid holding meetings that are merely “information dumps”. Many times information such as routine performance statistics or financial reports can be transmitted via e-mail or memo. Instead, use meetings to share ideas, clarify meaning, get feedback or solve problems.
Focusing “face time” on interpreting information and decision-making is a more efficient use of the participants’ time. It is more likely to energize the audience and it creates a forward-thinking mentality vs. one that focuses on the past.
Use the “Rule of Thirds” to plan a meeting agenda: 1) For the first third of the meeting (the “get-go” phase), cover announcements and easy items; 2) for the second third (the “heavy-work” stage), cover the difficult items, and 3) for the last third (the “decompression” stage), focus on discussion and the easiest topics.
Solving a few simple problems in the beginning of the meeting builds a mindset for problem-solving as well as momentum to solve more complex problems. Additionally, research and experience reveal that important business should be handled as much as possible within the middle third of the meeting because that is when group members tend to have the most physical energy and sharpest psychological focus.
At the end of a meeting, distribute an evaluation sheet, asking participants for feedback. Participants might rank on an “agree-disagree” scale, such items as: “Important issues were discussed in the meeting” and “Overall, I thought the meeting was worthwhile”. Additionally, they can respond to open questions such as, “The best part of the meeting was…”, and “The meeting could be improved by….”
This evaluation process provides continuous improvement ideas. For example, the facilitator can learn how to improve his or her organizational or meeting management skills. Additionally, it ensures that everyone has a “voice” in the process.
Use a quiz as an icebreaker for a meeting. Consider a situation where survey results will be discussed and the attendees feel that they already know the results. The meeting convenor can develop a 10-item objective quiz on the results, asking items such as “The most frequent complaint about our products was ____?”
The quiz acts as an attention-getter and focuses attention on issues to be discussed. Additionally, it can be used as a summary of the key points and is a hedge against “over-confidence” of meeting attendees.
Reward meeting participants for intriguing comments. Consider throwing out “virtual candies” or handing out the real thing to those who contribute important insights.
This is a modest, yet playful technique that recognizes and rewards contributions.
Additionally, it acknowledges work done within meetings rather than just at the completion of projects.