When Meetings Go Stale
A fresh approach to reviving your meetings
by Jeff Musall
Now it’s your turn to deliver the latest numbers on last month’s trade show or brainstorm ideas to reach that market segment you’ve had so much trouble reaching in years past. You’re going to need a plan to get everyone on the same page and avoid losing track of time.
Preparation and organization
The lion’s share of a meeting’s success is decided before it starts. Strong preparation and professional organization can even make up for shortcomings in other areas, if necessary.
- Determine what kind of meeting this is. Some meetings inform, entertain, or motivate. Others are meant to persuade attendees to do something.
- Identify your objectives for the meeting. These are what you want to the audience to do. Your objectives are different than the meeting's agenda, which is what you plan to do.
- Simplify complexities. Unless you're giving a presentation of mathematical formulations to a group of quantum physicists, present complex information as succinctly as possible. Professional visual displays and videos are great tools. It's much easier to create a display to break down things concisely, rather than repeatedly explaining concepts.
- Rehearse your presentation. Yes, that's right. Stand up in your office, call an imaginary meeting to order and deliver your presentation from start to finish.
(These tips and more can be found in The Presentation: A Story About Communicating Successfully With Very Few Slides—a highly readable, 70-page book by Andrew V. Abela, Ph.D., professor of marketing and market research and former brand manager with Procter & Gamble.)
If the material to be presented is dry, or the information isn’t entirely positive, being ready to deliver it effectively becomes even more important.
If you’re delivering a negative report, understand that the worst thing you can do is dance around the subject. According to Joe Latta, a director of business writing and editing for Freestyle Services, being direct shows respect to your audience and strength of character.
“Simply state the facts in a concise manner, and then pivot to your action plan for remedying what happened,” he says.
But what if that information isn't necessarily negative, just dry and boring? Finding ways to spice up the information right off the bat can work wonders. Consider using an icebreaker or a warm-up activity to get everyone moving and the energy flowing in the room. This can be helpful in keeping a buzz in the room as the agenda turns to the boring stuff.
With dry material comes the probability of audience questions for clarity. Don’t be dismissive of these. Engage your audience and make sure they understand what you’re presenting.
“We’re all nervous when we make presentations or lead meetings, but you need to be flexible and not drive through your meeting agenda,” Latta says. “Often just taking a moment to answer a few questions and show concern and respect will get everyone re-engaged and back on track.”
Running an effective meeting from start to finish
You don’t have to rely solely on the agenda to make your meeting a success. Whatever the topic, approach the task with the clear intent of delivering the best product possible. Considering the meeting as you would the delivery of a product or service, meant for consumption by participants and the organization as a whole, will help make your meeting a success. Your goal is for everyone to leave as a happy consumer.
- Set expectations. When notifying the people you expect to attend your meeting, make sure they’re equipped with the necessary information to help the proceedings run smoothly. Include the rationale for having the meeting in the first place, along with a list of items or ideas that will be discussed.
- Set a firm agenda. When everyone understands the purpose of the meeting and, more importantly, what the objectives are, it’s much easier to ensure everything is accomplished. Even if a significant part of the event is set aside for brainstorming new ideas, make sure that achieving results is still very much the objective. This should be summed up from the beginning in a clear statement of the desired outcomes.
- Start on time. Make hard start and stop times and adhere to them. A meeting should never start late and should, as closely as possible, end on time. Meeting organizers need to emphasize that lateness is not acceptable. Finishing on time shows your acknowledgement that the attendees’ time is important too, and that every consideration is given to respect that.
- Be clear and stay on course. Clearly state the objectives from the start of the meeting, and don’t stray from them. Throughout the meeting, consider how each component of the presentation serves those stated goals. If you notice the conversation starting to go off topic early on, it’s easy to execute a course correction.
- Take questions in an orderly fashion. This can be accomplished by setting aside specific time blocks for questions. If you elect to take questions at random, it’s important to maintain flow. Obviously, being prepared to answer questions quickly and authoritatively is paramount.
Properly conducting a meeting can be a challenge for even the most seasoned professional. With the proper preparation and presentation techniques, leaders and speakers can lessen the potential pitfalls. With the right approach, a meeting becomes less of an exercise conducted for its own sake and more of a productive undertaking.
Jeff Musall is a freelance writer whose years of experience hiring, training and supervising staff called for turning numerous dull, boring or difficult meetings into productive, engaging ones.