Interview: How Leaders Can Ensure Meetings Don't Suck

Jul 29, 2013
7 Min Read

“No matter what time it is, wake me, even if it's in the middle of a Cabinet meeting.” – Ronald Reagan

Meetings are an important part of our careers, and are necessary for progress, innovation and team work. But they’re also like crabgrass and psoriasis – they can really suck.

That sentiment was the driving force behind “Boring Meetings Suck,” by Jon Petz.

Anita Bruzzese recently interviewed him on how leaders can to improve meetings.

AB: What can leaders do to make meetings better?

JP: As a leader, your job is to prepare and facilitate so the attendees can engage, participate and take action. Your level of preparation is proportional to the quality of outcome.

Begin the meeting or set of meetings with discipline and high expectations. Take charge, but be adaptable.

  • Never allow the “What did I miss?” comments or tangent-takers to take control. It will lead to the downfall of all future meetings. (Try the “pass the pad” method shown here.
  • END early. It’s OK! Move through items quickly. If a decision is made, don’t keep talking around it and find ways to second guess yourself because the meeting has more time left.

AB: What are “suckification reduction devices” and why do leaders need to understand them?

JP: They are quick fixes that are easily understood and implemented. No lengthy discussion or teaching points – get in, get it done, get out.

Meetings make changes and changes are critical to move forward. So get out of the conference room and go make it happen.

AB: If you’re a leader and a meeting is running long, what should you do?

JP: STOP ignoring it. Often times we carry on as if nothing happened, which causes a ripple effect in the time continuum of meetings.

When you have less than 10 minutes to go:

  • Identify where you are in the agenda.
  • Decide immediately what decisions can be made on remaining items. Never leave major talking points at the end of the agenda.
  • Determine what can be forwarded for required reading and response.
  • Confirm the action items such as who, what and by when.
  • Do everything possible to not schedule another meeting on these same items.
  • END on time!

AB: How can you get the windbag in a meeting to shut up and also encourage the quieter members to speak up?

JP: It can be a challenge, but write a name next to each item on the agenda and set a time limit for speakers.  You can also use the “parking lot” technique shown in this video.

Make sure you don’t reject or put down the windbag, because this only leads to much bigger problems. Handle them diligently and with professional tact.  In extreme environments, use the “whoever has the stick talks” and don’t allow interruptions.

As a leader, if you’re not gaining an interactive response, than ask for it.  “What do you think about the change, Nancy?”  Actively call on different people throughout the session. It’s a sure-fire way to get people to speak up initially and help them learn they may be called upon anytime for feedback or ideas.

AB: How can leaders know if they’re the ones that are talking too much and how do they stop such a habit?

JP: This typically happens in “information sharing” meetings in which you are spouting off new data, policies or decisions that have been made or are coming down the pipe. Team acceptance /buy-in is important, but doesn’t mean you need to call a meeting to share it.

Meetings that are only to share information should go away. If a meeting is needed, the information is shared ahead of time and Q&A session can follow, which will solidify buy-in for those who need further clarification or possible modification.  It’s important not to re-read the information already shared but instead discuss concerns, ideas and changes that are brought to the table.

AB: Can you give a tip on how leaders can eliminate distractions during a meeting?

 JP: One of my new favorite methods is the phone stack.

The leader – or attendee if needed – calls “phone stack!” and everyone stacks their phones in the middle of the table. No one touches them. The first person who does  is buying drinks that night or the bagels the next morning.

The goal is to resolve this issue, make the decision, pitch your point, gather feedback or otherwise complete the item before the stack falls down due to all the buzzing and vibrations of each email and text notification from all the phones.

The leader or attendees also can agree when the phone stack is over and everyone can take back their devices without fault.

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