Ways to Improve Those Terrible Meetings

By Steve Hansen

Over the last 10 years or so I’ve witnessed an ever increasing amount of work piled onto middle managers and senior executives. I’m pretty confident that you have experienced this phenomenon as well. What I’ve noticed over these 10 years as a coach is that almost everyone does very little preparation for meetings anymore, arguably as a result of this increased work load. How many times have you thought, “I’m a subject matter expert so I’ll just wing it”?

I’m referring here to the everyday variety of meetings and calls that regularly fill your calendar, not those big boss type meetings where you’re carefully preparing a deck. The problem with everyday meetings is that when you’re already working at 200 miles per hour it’s challenging to prepare for the next stop.

So it’s time to redefine the meaning of preparation for the everyday meetings. Many of my clients have been able to shift their thinking about what preparation specifically means for these kinds of meetings. They start with a set of simple questions designed to elicit quick responses, questions that they can answer in a matter of minutes (sometimes in less than a minute). Let’s see what these questions look like.

What is this meeting or call about?

What is my role in this meeting?

  1. What are the points  I want to/need to make
  2. What information might be asked of me
  3. What do I need to bring to this meeting

Who will be in the meeting/on the call?

  1. What do I need to consider about the other individuals’ positions, points of view, or communication styles regarding what we will be discussing
  2. How might I need to adjust my comments given who the participants are

What outcome(s) am I looking for?

There’s another issue that arises when we begin talking about meetings and preparation. And that has to do with the value of meetings in general. I think it’s obvious that some meetings are necessary and valuable to the organization. But have things gotten out of hand? It seems like it from what I hear as a coach.

This is where leadership courage  may need to be exercised. I’ve seen so many managers and executives feel like they are “at the mercy” of some meetings. Well, we are not victims of the system are we? What can we do to change the circumstances that have been institutionalized over the years? It may take some courage to ask and answer questions like these.

  • What could I provide or suggest that would make this meeting more regularly productive?
  • What’s the value to others at the meeting if I stay engaged and participatory?
  • How might I, or other participants, opt-out of a meeting if receiving no benefit?
  • If I feel this meeting is a waste of my time (but I’m mandated to attend), what can I contribute to make it more productive?
  • If it’s my meeting, why don’t I change it?

Clearly meetings can be a troublesome problem when they get out of hand. But being proactive, taking a few moments to move thoughtfully from one meeting to the next, and challenging the conventional wisdom about a particular meeting, can help keep you engaged in positive, productive ways.

For more ways Steve can help make your meetings and experience of them better, set up a consultation today.