By Susan M. Heathfield
Meetings are an inevitable part of business. You share information, brainstorm ideas, generate solutions and create processes and systems. The problem is, many of these meetings are painfully boring, which means that the people who are attending have their brains tuned out.
If people aren’t paying attention and focused, the meeting is just a waste of everyone’s time. How can you make boring meetings more exciting so that they accomplish something?
Here are 5 practical tips:
1. Ban SmartPhones
Yes, this is like telling people to throw their children into the wolves’ den before coming to the meeting. People will insist that they must have their phones—after all, an emergency could occur. Yes. The world could come to an end during your quarterly planning meeting, but it’s unlikely.
The problem with today’s technology is that it allows you to focus on what is not in front of you—the meeting. The funny thing is, if people were face to face with the people they were texting during your meeting, they’d be texting someone else. Phones stay in desks.
Without the phone, two things happen during your meeting. You’re forced to stay in the present and downtime is spent communicating with the other participants. Why is that important? Because you’ll find your meetings are more interesting when you know your colleagues.
How do you get to know them? By talking to them. What do you do when you have your phone? You don’t talk to the new people.
2. Prepare, Prepare, Prepare
A meeting where the lead or moderator comes in late, doesn’t have an agenda, and wings it, is boring and tedious. A well-prepared meeting can be fascinating and engaging. When the leader has a plan and a purpose, the meeting will be more interesting.
When there’s no direction or goal, the meeting won’t be interesting.
The other part of preparation is improving your own skills. You’ve been to meetings which were productive and interactive and made you feel like you could go forth and accomplish great things. And, you’ve attended meetings where you are pretty sure that if you fell asleep no one would miss you, and you wouldn’t miss anything important. The difference is the person who runs the meeting.
If your meetings are boring, take a look in the mirror. Find a way to improve. You can take a formal class (your HR department might help you out with suggestions), you can ask for feedback and mentoring from a coworker whose meeting skills you admire, or you can take an online class. A lot of help is available for you, and a lot of it is free for the taking when you want to make your usual boring meetings more exciting.
3. Everyone Participates
Why should everyone participate? Well, because if participation isn’t necessary, you can handle this whole issue via email. Seriously. There are very few times when you need to bring a group in to convey information.
Yes, there are some things like mass layoffs or a complete company restructuring that will go over better if you have a manager speak to the entire group, but in most cases, meetings should always be interactive.
How interactive? Well, that depends on the purpose of the meeting. If it’s a brainstorming session, everyone should speak. If someone isn’t speaking up, call on that person. Introverts may dislike that type of meeting—and you shouldn’t make meetings high pressure for introverts by putting them on the spot.
But your meeting culture needs to assure that everyone participates in these brainstorming sessions and they should know that their participation is required in advance.
If it’s a planning meeting, or a goal-setting meeting, or even a quarterly report meeting, there should be time for input, whether to ask questions or make comments. The atmosphere needs to encourage participation, but with a few limits (see below).
4. Don’t Let Any Person Dominate
If you’re leading the meeting, it’s natural that you should speak the most.
After you, though, you don’t want another person to dominate the conversation. That can make a meeting tedious. Remember to redirect comments and call on people who you know are experts in the area to diffuse a compulsive talker.
For instance, when Jane has made her fourth comment and starts to go for a fifth, cut her off as nicely as possible by saying, “Thanks, Jane, we know your position. I’d like to hear what Karen has to say. And, Jim and Bob have not yet had a chance to speak.
Sometimes, you’ll have to talk to the Janes of your office before a meeting to remind them that the point of coming together as a group is to share ideas with everyone and if she dominates, the meeting won’t be as successful. Or, immediately following the meeting works well, too, as you will have fresh examples if needed.
People who have taken the time to attend a meeting bringing their knowledge and experience deserve the chance to speak and share their opinions. As the leader, you can learn to control behavior that undermines the meeting.
5. Make Actionable Items
A meeting that ends with no actions was just a waste of time. It’s an info dump, in which case a meeting was not the best way to proceed. An interesting and exciting meeting ends with things people can and should be doing—either to further their individual goals or the company’s goals or, ideally, both. If people aren’t walking away knowing what their next steps are, then the meeting failed.
In addition to having actionable items, there needs to be a follow-up. This can take place in a second meeting or individually, but it has to happen. People will tune out if they know that the action items are all for show.
Meetings are never going to replace trips to Disneyland for excitement, but you can make them more exciting and interesting and productive. Make these five changes and you will make your usual boring meetings more exciting for the people who attend. And, that’s a good thing for your organization’s success.