I have always loved meetings. I know that people think that I am extremely strange (and I can’t say I disagree) when I say I have 8 meetings (or more) in one day and look very happy about it.
But lately I have been in a rash of meetings that have taken away my taste for meetings. So now I must amend my statement that I love GOOD meetings!
So in the past couple of weeks, I have attended meetings where I have found myself feeling the itch to get up and leave.
1. A meeting with the public school system
2. A meeting at UC Davis with some students
3. A meeting with a church group
4. A meeting with a community social work group
These have been pretty diverse meetings, but as a result of attending these meetings and analyzing why I felt an overwhelming desire to 1) jump up and take over and 2) run out of the room to escape have helped me to evaluate what elements make a good meeting. (Fortunately my good sense prevailed and every time I found myself spacing out and looking out the window, I told myself, “Focus! Focus!” and smiled at the speaker and tried to listen carefully.)
So here are some of my conclusions as to how to run a good meeting:
1. Always state clearly the purpose of the meeting and what you are trying to accomplish BEFORE everyone shows up at the meeting. One of the meetings I went to, it was not clear what it was about and when I got there, I realized that I wasn’t interested in the topic. But I was stuck because it was a small enough meeting that I couldn’t leave without being rude.
2. Acknowledge the people in your meeting. Albert once went to a homeschooling meeting which ended up being all women. The entire time the speakers said, “Ladies, let’s look at this… Ladies, let’s discuss that.” Albert felt very unwelcome. When I went to the UC Davis meeting, it turned out it was all students. They knew that one person from the community would be there (me), but the references were to students the whole time. I suppose the main issue was I really didn’t belong in that group, but even so I felt like I shouldn’t continue further involvement. (However, it was kind of fun in the beginning when they said, “Please introduce yourself, tell what year in school you are and what your major is,” my answer was, “Hi, I’m Angela Yee and I’m not in school any more. I’m actually really old.”)
3. Reduce gaps of silence. Silence is good when a question is being asked and people are pondering the answer, but as the moderator of a meeting, if there’s silence, it means it’s time for you to step in and move the discussion forward. This happens either through 1) asking a question, 2) clarifying a decision, 3) summarizing the discussion or 4) bringing up the next agenda item. When there’s a long gap of silence and the moderator just sits there looking at the agenda, the energy lags and I’m ready to check out. (Or, even worse, jump in and take over!) Perhaps this is just my impatient nature showing through.
4. Increase the energy. I believe that the concept of energy and momentum in meetings is not one often considered by leaders. Leaders are looking to either connect people or accomplish tasks, and energy is not one of the considerations of meetings. But I believe that energy is highly important. When there is high energy and momentum going on in a meeting, people walk away feeling encouraged and like they accomplished something.
This doesn’t mean that the leader needs to jump on the table and do a song and dance, but it means that the leader plays a crucial role in catalyzing conversation, facilitating discussion and decisions, and encouraging people to process through the items on the agenda.
Sometimes this means that the leader also has to interrupt or move along long-winded people who can dominate the discussion, which is not a fun thing to do (for me, at least).
There are many more things that could be talked about (pass out a written agenda, increase the fun factor, bring food, spend some time at the beginning helping people to get to know one another, etc.), but these were the main things that stood out to me that were lacking in the meetings I attended. I’m not a really great meeting leader but sometimes where I learn the most is seeing what other people are NOT doing.