Whether or not you are chairing a meeting or attending as a pro-active contributor you have a responsibility for the proceedings to ensure a productive outcome. All too often meetings take place through a sense of duty and those attending often feel they have no choice in whether to attend or feel unable to influence the content let alone the outcome. So whether you are in meeting together in a room or using technology to get together make sure you are exercising some control –
Is the meeting really necessary?
As the chair think carefully about what you want from the meeting particularly if it is a meeting that is held on a regular basis. What is it that you want people to do when they leave? If you are doing it because ‘you’ve always done it’ or because you want to pass on some information think again. Meetings are an expensive use of people’s time and without follow up action they can not only be a waste of valuable resources but can be very de-motivating.
As a pro-active contributor – make sure you can be just that – pro-active. If you don’t think the meeting has any relevance for you and that you don’t have anything to contribute then speak up beforehand and spend your time being more productive.
Check Meeting Outcomes
As the chair of a meeting you may have arrived with your own agenda into which you have put a lot of research and effort. Those attending may not have been party to this and will be coming at it afresh. Pay them the respect of taking account of what would make the meeting really useful for them individually by asking them for their outcomes, eg, I have called this meeting to talk about xyz and in a moment I’d like to give you the background to my thinking and research then I will ask you individually ‘what would make this meeting really meaningful for you?’ Make a note, if appropriate on a flipchart or board and be careful to cover them off during the meeting or if appropriate defer them to another time.
As a pro-active participant be clear about your expectations and state your outcomes concisely in the positive. No-one likes a winger so even if you don’t fully buy into the ideas being presented use the time to suggest viable alternatives. If you are ambivalent and have no outcomes then have the courage to leave. Don’t waste time.
Do everything you can to keep the energy flowing
As the chair respect the fact that people have taken time out to attend. Preframe the meeting with your expectations, eg when it will finish, what will happen, what contributions you are expecting. Make a judgement on the venue for your meeting – people remain more energetic and focused in well ventilated, spacious environments with lots of daylight. If this isn’t feasible then pay attention to breaks and activities if your meeting is likely to last more than 30 minutes. Try to vary locations particularly if the last meeting of this group was a difficult one with some negative energy stagnating the progress. If you can’t vary the venue then vary the seating or table arrangements.
As a pro-active participant attending a regular meeting make sure you sit in different places, next to different people each time you attend. This way you will be seen as someone who is interested in others and who doesn’t get stuck in their ways. If you are presenting at the meeting find ways to make your presentation interesting and focused on what you’d like attendees to do as a result of attending. See top 10 tips on giving great presentations.
Stay on Track
As both chair and pro-active participant use the following ‘frames’ technique to keep the meeting flowing. The frames are designed to control the process of the meeting to achieve clearly defined results whilst also controlling the emotional attachment people feel towards the content of the meeting which, whilst understandable, is sometimes not productive and can be harmful to relationships. The frames can be used at any stage where appropriate.
Here is a selection of meeting frames –
Backtrack frame – an opportunity to recap at the beginning on progress so far or at any time during the meeting on progress being made. Stay focused on the outcomes and use wording such as “Can I take you back to what we agreed a few minutes ago …. or “If you remember last time we agreed that ……
Possibility frame – “let’s spend the next 20 minutes putting some ideas on the table and looking at the possibilities.” (Use whatever creativity technique you find appropriate and agree the ground rules.)
‘As if’ frame – an opportunity to play out a decision as if it was going to happen and explore the consequences. “So let’s just assume for a moment that we are going to follow this route ……. This has the effect of opening up creativity even more because no final decision has been made.
Evidence frame – use this to elegantly challenge someone’s thinking if you believe their viewpoint isn’t based in fact. “I’m really curious about that – can you tell me what you are basing it on …..
Contrast and Compare frame – use this to make comparisons with other alternatives, ideas, companies, previous activities etc. “How does that compare with what we did last time ……? “How does that compare with what our competitors are doing ….?
Ecology – Check the consequences of your decisions “How will this impact the team/the environment/the brand/pricing policy/ ………?
Agreement frame – use this to recap on agreements either at the end of the meeting or at any point during the meeting. “OK so we are agreed that …..
Check meeting outcomes have been achieved and act!
As the chair check that everyone has achieved their outcome – if not establish how you can help them and make sure you carry out any actions you have agreed.
As a pro-active contributor state whether you have achieved your outcome and if not be clear about what has to happen for you to do so. Make sure you carry out any actions you have agreed.