We spend enormous amounts of time in live and virtual meetings–probably the most common and consuming activity in our professional lives. Many are long, inefficient, unproductive and boring. You’ve heard the phrase 'Death by meetings.' Someone once gave me a ball cap proclaiming, “The beatings will continue until morale improves.” Initially, I misread it to say, “The meetings will continue…” Perfect, I thought, I’ll wear it to the office.
A writer shadowed me for a day when I was CEO of AARP. Later, he wrote, “Novelli treated his subordinates as problem-solvers and made sure that meetings ended with everyone aware of who would do what to achieve the desired goal.” I’m proud of that.
Communication pros are especially meeting-conscious (and meeting-fatigued) because they usually operate throughout the organization. They observe tons of meeting inefficiencies first hand and often have deadlines staring them in the face. So, how can we make it better–how can we win at meetings?
Here’s what I’ve learned:
Be a Big Contributor
This means doing prep work, suggesting constructive agenda items, taking on 'next step' tasks at the end of the session, and adding substance to discussions. This will impress colleagues and set an example. In a short time, this improves meeting performance, which is what you want.
Virtual meetings are more difficult, because it’s harder to read the room and zero in on a particular person, but it can be done.
Let Others Talk First...
Even if you’re leading the show. This is especially useful if there are participants from outside your company, or if you’re at a client meeting. This way you can size up the situation and deliver a compelling, persuasive response.
In a negotiating session, know your objective and shoot to get about 75 percent of what you’re seeking. And even be willing to settle for a bit less. Ronald Reagan supposedly said, “Give me 60 percent of what I want, and I’ll come back and get the rest later.”
Total victory is often unrealistic and usually happens only in the movies. Give the other side a sense of winning, too.
Don’t Avoid Conflict...
Including criticisms of your ideas and proposals. Set ego aside and really listen to counter-arguments. Achieving what’s important may involve some disharmony, but a handshake at the end can dispel lingering anger. Again, a virtual setting makes this more difficult, but it's still doable.
A colleague I knew invariably would end meetings in a boil and then bring it with him to the next one. He was almost never effective.
Turn Problems into Opportunities
We learn early in our careers the importance of problem-solving–to work from SWOT analyses and focus on Threats and Weaknesses. This is necessary, but we can usually make even more progress by concentrating on the Os–the Opportunities that we can capitalize on. Meetings–and organizations–often get bogged down with negatives.
Surprise and Delight Colleagues
An unexpected (and relevant) guest, a box of treats, a simple gift, an on-point story-telling or anecdote can loosen up the atmosphere and combat fatigue, sameness and boredom. Make it Life, not Death, by Meetings.
Humans congregate. Meetings aren’t going away. But we can make them better and more productive. Think about keeping score and 'winning' every meeting.
Bill Novelli is a professor and founder of the Business for Impact center at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business. A former president of Porter Novelli, his new book is "Good Business: The Talk, Fight, Win Way to Change the World"