Strategies for Delivering an Effective Meeting

"It was the best of times. It was the worst of times." When he said this, Charles Dickens might well have been talking about meetings! After attending or facilitating thousands of meetings, I've seen it all. I've also learned strategies to make meetings more productive and bring more profits.

I've seen sales, profit and customer satisfaction increase. I've witnessed more engaged associates, less employee turnover and safer and more productive workplaces. I've watched morale soar. I've even heard a speaker's catch phrase repeated routinely throughout an organization five years after his speech. That's the sunny side of meetings.

I've also heard meetings described as ".... an interaction where the unwilling selected from the uniformed, led by the unsuitable, to discuss the unnecessary, are required to write a report about the unimportant." Yikes! I'm an optimist. I'm not cynical; not a whiner and I look for solutions, not problems. But you should hear what comes out of my mouth after some meetings.

And I'm not alone. Here's the chorus: "The company wasted all that money to bring 600 people to a resort to hear a guy speak about how important it is to drink water and floss your teeth! You mean to tell me we have a meeting before the meeting about the meeting? No way, they didn't hire HIM again; he put half the room to sleep last year." Trust me. This is just a sampling. That's the dark side of meetings. So what can we do to make meetings meet their objectives and be more rewarding?

Tighter Budgets

Having a tight budget may seem counter intuitive to having a phenomenal meeting but it isn't. Having to produce more, with less (part of the new normal), activates two of the most powerful possessions all stakeholders have: Creativity and Imagination. Rather than book a celebrity speaker at an exorbitant rate, you redouble your efforts in research, and find that emerging voice, the expert without the name recognition; but whom may well be tomorrow's celebrity speaker. The legendary Jim Rohn once gave a speech titled, Idaho Farm Boy Makes it to Beverly Hills, to his local rotary club. I've got to believe there are scores of Jim Rohn's among us. The same due diligence should be applied to the meeting venue, and all other meeting costs.

Greater Accountability from All Stakeholders

I remember being at the annual meeting of major food retailer. As the "speaker for hire" began his presentation, the VP of Human Resources didn't hear a word. Instead, she was transfixed on the president, and senior leaders of her own company. She was scanning for their level of interest, assessing their body language, watching them observe their associates. The speaker she hires speaks, while her career hangs in the balance. While her job included booking outside speakers for annual meetings, I'm sure that she was the "lone ranger" in this endeavor. When it was time to book the speaker, no doubt she tried to get a consensus from senior leadership that this was the right speaker, at the right time, with the right topic. But bookings take place months before events. And in the whirlwind of retail, senior leaders are more consumed with today's pressing issues, than booking future speakers. They simply deferred the decision to their very capable Lone Ranger. Solution: Top Dogs get involved earlier in the process.

Meeting Objectives / Theme

Every meeting should have stated objectives with a related theme. These obvious components are often woefully lacking in the real world. Attendees should know both in advance. When they arrive at a meeting ill informed, they feel preached at by the facilitator. Their anxiety is understandably high, which stifles creativity, and all but guarantees diminished participation. And you've just lost one of the important objectives for most meetings: Synergy.

So that meeting participants know the objectives an Agenda is essential. The agenda should include the objectives, topics, timeframes, presenters and the Theme. Be sure the agenda is distributed to all attendees in sufficient time prior to the meeting so they can prepare for and research the topics being discussed. Creating a theme can be the single most important factor for bringing excitement to a meeting. I recently held a quarter review just prior to the July 4th Holiday. I themed the meeting, The Second Quarter Review, Show me Your Independence. As usual, each of the participants had to report out on how they performed in the quarter on the usual metrics. They were also asked to dress in a style that resembled their favorite "Founding Father" and in the course of their presentation tell us something they executed outside of standard operating procedures that had a positive impact on their results that quarter. By requiring atypical business attire and reporting-out structure, we turned a typical quarter review into a fun, creative and productive meeting.

The Value Equation / Metrics to Determine Meetings Effectiveness

Metrics should be used whenever possible to measure the effectiveness of a meeting. Speakers often claim their presentation and strategies can increase sales, profits, reduce turnover, improve associate and customer engagement, reduce workplace accidents, etc. While this sounds great, results should ALWAYS be measured in a post meeting analysis. Look at the numbers. If you're receiving the desired outcomes, it's a productive meeting. By all means, keep having them. If not, your meetings fall into that ubiquitous refrain, "we're having another meeting, just for the sake of having a meeting."

Action Items

For those meetings where there are no pre and post metric to analyze for their effectiveness, action items should be assigned. These items should be a specific task(s) assigned to a specific individual or individuals, which relate directly to the stated objective(s) of the meeting. At the next meeting, the agenda should include the assigned individual(s) reporting out on the status of their action items. With regard to the Value Equation the most important thing of all to consider is the question of Time; the real currency of life. All need to ask "was that meeting worth four hours of my time?" If the answer was no; think long and hard. Money can be replaced. You'll never get those four hours back. We're all given the same 24 hours a day to live on. How we choose to spend it determines the quality of our life.

Rounding out the Formula for a Phenomenal Meeting

Emerson once wrote "...that the man fits himself as well as he can to the customary details of the work, he falls into, and tends it as dog turns a spit. Then he is a part of the machine he moves; the man is lost." Over the last three decades, I've seen many "lost" speakers. The most essential element for a phenomenal meeting is that the speaker/presenter be authentic to, and congruent with, his or her topic. Bill Clinton could no more give an effective talk on the perils of promiscuity than could Mother Teresa on the need for more hedge funds on Wall Street. But when you hear Martin Luther King talk about his dream, or Maya Angelou tell us why the caged bird sings-our spirits soar!

In this Tale of Two Cities about meetings, always choose a philosophy to make it about "the best of times." A few years back, a speaker at a small gathering closed his speech paraphrasing Mark Twain, imploring the audience that "Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the ones you did. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover."

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