When business people hear “Let’s schedule a meeting,” they react the same as they would when they hear “Let’s schedule a root canal.”
Meetings have long been—and continue to be—the Bermuda Triangle of business. In 2004, Patrick Lencioni offered his advice to make meetings more productive in his bestselling book, Death by Meeting. This week, conflict-resolution mediator Priya Parker will publish her advice in The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why It Matters.
With all due respect to these accomplished authors, let me offer five additional solutions to that chronic problem in the form of rhetorical questions that each leader, as well as each attendee, must be able to answer before and after a meeting—but especially during.
1. What’s the Point?
Take a lesson from the rhetorical question teenagers often pose when they interrupt long parental lectures with “…and your point is?” Define the goal or goals of your meeting in advance and state them clearly at the start. Practice the second of Stephen R. Covey’s Seven Habits of Habits of Highly Effective People: begin with the end in mind.
2. How Long Will This Take?
Set the length of the meeting—in the advance invitation and again at the actual start—then countdown occasionally as the meeting nears its designated end. Conclude promptly at the announced time. If you do not get to all the agenda items, roll them forward to another meeting. At all costs, leave the conference room before the next scheduled group starts peering into the room impatiently.
3. Where Are We Going?
Establish a roadmap or an agenda of the items to be covered. Distribute the list in hard or digital copy, write it on a whiteboard or project it on an LCD monitor. Along the way, track the progression.
4. What Am I Doing Here?
Every participant should understand his or her role in the meeting and participate accordingly.
5. How Are We Doing?
At pivotal points, pause in the agenda to give each attendee an opportunity to react. Invite challenges and different points of view, get them out into the open, rather than sweep them under the carpet. They may not get resolved, but they are open for discussion.
Jerry Weissman is among the world’s foremost corporate presentations coaches. His private client list reads like a who’s who of the world’s best companies, including the top brass at Yahoo!, Intuit, Cisco, Microsoft, Netflix, RingCentral, Mobileye, OnDeck, CyberArk and many others.
Jerry founded Power Presentations, Ltd. in 1988. One of his earliest efforts was the Cisco IPO roadshow. Following its successful launch, Don Valentine, of Sequoia Capital, and then chairman of Cisco’s Board of Directors, attributed “at least two to three dollars” of the offering price to Jerry’s coaching. That endorsement led to more than 600 other IPO roadshow presentations that have raised hundreds of billions of dollars in the stock market.