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  • Writer's pictureEndring

How to change your meetings from 'Kill me now' to 'Wow!'

In today’s issue, we are going to talk about how important it is to curate the time you spend working together in meetings or workshops.

Unfortunately, a lot of collaborations end up feeling like a waste of time. And when they are, people get frustrated and turned off. They certainly won't feel it was worth attending in person.

You simply can't afford to run bad meetings or working sessions anymore.

If you make more of an investment in your meetings, people will be engaged, actively participate, and make decisions. They will leave feeling like real progress was made. They'll make coming to your next meeting a priority.

And best of all, you will get MORE done with LESS meetings.

Here are four simple steps to make them better:

1. Make sure the purpose is crystal clear and people know their role.

You need people to actually attend - willing, motivated and prepared to solve the problem.

But it’s not enough to just send out an invite. As Roger Martin recently wrote on Medium: “Every meeting must have a clear purpose that is understood [and] every person at the meeting must have a fulfilling and interesting role.”

This means you need to make it clear how getting together is worth everyone’s time, and why they are all important participants.

Take a look at these two examples:

“Quarterly Project Planning” - 90 minutes

Invited: Brandi, Amir, Cheryl, Nitu, Luca, Oscar


“Review quarterly project plan to find three cost-saving opportunities” - 90 minutes


Brandi, Amir (lead group through financial constraints); Cheryl, Nitu (provide insight into next Q’s projects and business cases); Luca, Oscar (share project priorities and impact on strategy)

Spending the extra 5 minutes to do this helps everyone understand why they are attending. People are more likely to be there (and prepare!) when they know why they’re there.

​Pro Tip: Be very selective about when you bring people together. If you are having a tough time communicating the purpose, there might be a different way to achieve the outcome you want.

2. Structure the conversation and apply constraints

This is where most meetings go wrong. While not every meeting needs a facilitator, every effective meeting needs structure.

Firstly, you need to break down the conversation into the steps that get you to your goal, not topics. An agenda isn't enough.

And maybe even more critical: you need to timebox the steps. Constraints keep people focused and on-task, and actually stimulate more creativity.

Following the same example, the steps for this session might be:

A) Level set: Review financial constraints and upcoming projects (20 min)

B) Prioritization: Rank upcoming projects for cost/effort vs impact (30 min)

C) Ideation: Brainstorm opportunities to reduce cost/scope or defer (15 min)

D) Decision: Align on best options to meet cost-cutting targets (25 min)

The biggest pitfall here is letting these timelines slip. It’s not easy being the timekeeper, especially when someone is on a roll.

So get everyone to buy into the timelines at the beginning of the meeting, and declare that you are going to be keeping things on track. Reiterate the timing at each step.

Pro Tip: Reward people for brevity. Create a bit of a competitive environment around who can be quickest!

3. Involve everyone and make it engaging

OK, so you’ve put some up front planning into how the meeting will run. Now you need to really engage people and make sure every voice is heard.

You don't want someone just sitting there, or have people 'off camera and on mute'.

Get people involved by visualizing the conversation - writing down thoughts on sticky notes or on whiteboards, moving thoughts around and theming them, voting on ideas with stickers.

Another common mistake is to think that the whole meeting has to be a group discussion. But group dynamics don’t always allow for the best ideas to emerge.

Some people think best in the moment and some need time for reflection. Some people (intentionally or not) steamroll the rest of the team.

So when a meeting step calls for sharing opinions or ideas, try giving everyone 2-4 minutes to write down their thoughts alone, and then 1 minute each to share their thoughts with the group.

Giving people time to think - and visualizing the conversation - levels the playing field and respects people’s differences. You might be surprised who comes up with the best ideas.

​Pro Tip: Play some appropriate background music during quiet thinking periods - it’s less awkward, and gives the meeting some variety.

4. Start strong and end stronger

Of course you need to get the work done. But nobody likes a dull, lifeless working session.

Remember that you are gathering a group of human beings: this is a great opportunity to build connection, and have some fun, too.

Neuroscience tells us that doing something fun and positive together connects us, primes us for creativity, and boosts energy.

So start strong by running a simple and fun 5 minute exercise at the beginning. For example:

  • An icebreaker/game

  • Sharing something positive about everyone’s day or week so far

  • Best new show or movie someone has discovered

Don’t stop there. Why not do a quick poll in the middle of the meeting? Play a short, relevant, funny video on the topic? Encourage everyone to stand up and stretch, or even dance, for a short 20-30 second burst?

To end stronger, try to make sure you leave time for a bit of reflection. We like to take 2-3 minutes at the end of a workshop to do two things:

  • Recap in 30 seconds what has been accomplished, and give appreciation for the team’s great work during the meeting.

  • Ask everyone to share a quick thought on what their key takeaway was or what they appreciated about the discussion.

The team will leave feeling positive, productive, and appreciated. And you will learn a lot about the impact of your meeting - so you can do even better next time.

​Pro Tip: If some people are in the office and some are virtual, pay special attention to make sure the virtual participants feel included. Speak one at a time in the meeting room, use shared digital spaces, and make a point of prompting those online to speak first or ask questions.

Wrapping it all up:

It may seem like a lot of effort for what is ‘just a meeting’.

But remember, if you invite seven people to a 1 hour meeting, that’s a full work day you are taking responsibility for.

And a schedule full of vague, dull meetings is a number one detractor from both productivity and engagement.

A bit of planning and structure is well worth the investment.

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