A well-run meeting goes beyond the agenda—it also creates an environment that motivates and inspires participants.
Let’s face it. Meetings are unpopular. A study by Steven Rogelberg, of the University of North Carolina surveyed 182 senior managers in a range of industries: 65% said meetings keep them from completing their own work; 71% said meetings are unproductive and 64% said meetings come at the expense of deep thinking.
We all know these frustrations because we encounter them every day at work. What can you do to enliven and improve your meetings? Here are ten ways to make your meetings more effective and ten ways to make them more fun.
Improve the effectiveness of your meetings by:
1. Clearly State the Purpose of the Meeting. What is the reason for the meeting? Is it to share information, to make a decision, to brainstorm ideas, to build team spirit or to review and update status? Once you know what type of meeting it is and what the primary objective is then you can move on. Publish the agenda, emphasise the importance of the meeting and, if there are important decisions to be made, then clearly state what they are.
2. Invite Fewer People. Invite only those whose presence is essential. Other people can be kept informed with email or intranet.
3. State the Start and End Times in Advance. Start on time. Don’t wait for latecomers. Keep the pace of the meeting brisk. Do not allow diversions or long rambling statements or conversations. Try if possible to end on or before the appointed end time. Get a reputation as someone who runs punctual and speedy meetings.
4. Turn off Phones. Stress to people that if they are in the room, they are in the meeting. No mobile devices allowed.
5. Have a break. If the meeting is going to be longer than an hour and a quarter then have a short comfort break at around 45 minutes.
6. Use an External Facilitator. If the meeting involves contentious issues, setting strategy, brainstorming or important decisions, it can help to have a skilled facilitator. They will manage the discussions, keep to topic and keep to time. They will ensure that everyone is heard and that decisions are reached.
7. Try the Amazon Approach. Everyone gets a detailed brief at the start of the meeting and reads it in silence. Once everyone is fully aware of the facts the discussion can begin.
8. Have Meeting Free Days. Restrict meetings to just certain days or certain mornings. This means that people can schedule uninterrupted time for essential work and projects.
9. Send out summary. After the meeting create and circulate a brief summary of key decisions and actions.
10. Ask for feedback. Keep improving your meetings by asking for feedback from participants. What did they like or not like? Take on board suggestions for improvement.
Make your meetings more interesting and enjoyable with these tips.
11. Go offsite – but not to a hotel. Try holding your important meeting in an art gallery, a museum, a castle, a stately home or a zoo. The change of environment is stimulating and makes a complete break with the workplace.
12. Start with an Icebreaker. There are many to choose from. There is evidence that if we laugh and break the rules at the beginning of the meeting then we are more creative later. So one method I use is to get everyone to share on their table a big lie about themselves. It has to be original, remarkable and brazenly delivered. This gets people chortling and breaks down barriers of status or hierarchy.
13. Remove the Chairs. If you want a quick and decisive meeting, then try having have everyone stand. Or in a small group you can go for walking meeting outside.
14. Use advanced brainstorm methods. There are many great brainstorm methods which displace people out of their comfort zones and get them thinking creatively. I particularly like SCAMPER for product ideas and the Random Word for lateral thinking.
15. Wear the Six Hats. For reviewing and deciding on important or controversial proposals try using De Bono’s Six Thinking Hats. This method forces people to view the proposition from both supportive critical standpoints. Everyone wears the same-coloured hat at the same time. It leads to faster and better decisions with more buy-in from participants.
16. Try the Disney Method. In some ways similar to the Six Hats. People have to adopt four different roles. Everyone starts as an observer looking at the data. Then they are dreamers generating wild and brilliant ideas. Then they are realists selecting the best idea and making it workable. Finally, they are critics identifying weakness and risks in the plan.
17. Say Yes And…. No-one is allowed to say no. Everyone has to build on the ideas of others by adding to them. You arrive at some fantastic ideas and then come back to reality. Remember that you can always make really creative ideas workable but it is almost impossible to make a bland idea creative.
18. Give People Prior Homework. Depending on the issue to be discussed you can ask participants to do some real-world research with customers, friends and family before the meeting. Or ask them to bring and share their best creative ideas. Or delegate some people in advance to argue passionately for or against the proposal.
19. Use Cool Tech. Meeting technology is advancing at quite a pace. Many of the apps may look gimmicky but they are getting better. If you are fed up with Zoom or Teams meetings then try a virtual gaming world. Red Dead Redemption allows you to discuss issues while sitting around a campfire with wolves howling in the night. Facebook’s Horizons Workroom takes your team into the Metaverse.
20. Split introverts and Extroverts. I asked a group to self-select into introverts and extroverts and then each sub-group did some brainstorming. Both groups produced good ideas. Afterwards I asked how they found the experience. The extroverts saw no difference – it was just a normal brainstorm. The introverts thought it was much better – with no noisy people dominating the conversation they had more time to ponder and share.
Have fewer, better, more effective meetings. Many meetings are dry, dull and poorly managed. Well-run meetings are motivational, interesting and productive. Try some of these ideas to sharpen your meetings.
Paul is a professional keynote conference speaker and expert facilitator on innovation and lateral thinking. He helps companies improve idea generation and creative leadership. His workshops transform innovation leadership skills and generate great ideas for business issues. His recent clients include Airbus, Microsoft, Unilever, Nike, Novartis and Swarovski. He has published 30 books on lateral thinking puzzles, innovation, leadership and problem solving (with over 2 million copies sold). He also acts as link presenter at conferences and facilitator at high level meetings such as a corporate advisory board. He has acted as host or MC at Awards Dinners. Previously, he was CEO of Monactive, VP International of MathSoft and UK MD of Ashton-Tate. He recently launched a series of podcast interviews entitled Insights from Successful People.