Meetings and Road Trips

Managing a meeting is like setting off on a long car trip with friends or family. You need to plan your route, pay attention to the rules of the road, consider what will keep your passengers engaged and occupied, and always remember you have to get back home at the end.

Just as adults and children consider car trips to be tolerable as the only way to get to certain places, so too do business people view meetings as necessary evils.

Here are three ways to make an enormous difference in your meetings.

1. KNOW WHERE YOU'RE GOING

Most of us wouldn't start a trip through unfamiliar territory without looking at a map beforehand so we don't get lost. Preparation may be just ten minutes, but a little preparation goes a long way toward making a meeting successful. You want your time to be productive and efficient. Whether your meeting is with a five-person project team, 100 worldwide sales people, or an online multi-location group, you need to consider a few key items ahead of time.

? What is your desired outcome? If the meeting were over, and you were delighted with it, what would you have as a result? Do you want consensus on a course of action or new ideas on a recurring problem? Do you simply want updates on what everyone is doing? Once you're clear on what you want, you can state a clear Meeting Objective and share it with everyone at the meeting.

? Decide on the type of meeting. Most meetings have four possible activities: sharing information, collecting information, problem solving, and decision making. Many meetings are a mixture of these. For every agenda item, think ahead of time about what you want as an outcome. That will help you, and everyone else, know when you're on-topic and when you're not.

2. HONOR THE RULES OF THE ROAD AND MANAGE YOUR PASSENGERS

When you're in a car on a trip, the easy ways to ruin the experience are to get stopped by the police when you disobey the rules of the road or to have the passengers fighting and complaining. The same is true of meetings. Let people know what the guidelines are. Do your best to keep the dialogue moving forward. Listen to all viewpoints, but don't let one view dominate the others. Manage the time and discussion so that speakers change and participants are engaged. If you're bored, so are others. If you're tired of a particular voice, you're not alone. Use the following guidelines to keep the meeting lively.

? Be an effective chairperson. Be even-handed. Make and maintain good personal connection with your group. If you want active participation, avoid evaluating what people say until it's time to make a decision. Keep the information and dialogue flowing. And when you get to a decision point, say so publicly. State the decision (whether it's consensus or a decision to get more info or a selected course of action), then go on to the next steps on that decision or to the next topic.

? Manage airtime. Manage the meeting like a good traffic cop ? give everyone his or her turn. Enforce brevity. If someone rambles on and on, paraphrase his or her point and then turn to someone else in the meeting. Draw out the quiet individuals.

? Handle conflict. The majority of conflict in meetings arises from misunderstanding between two or more people. Be sure each position is clearly articulated (without value judgments about opposing viewpoints) and understood.

3. END OF THE TRIP

There's something anti-climactic about getting home from a long car trip. The ride home seems endless when the anticipation is gone. This happens in meetings also. So end your meetings with a bang, not a whimper. Here's how:

? Finish on time. Honor the time commitment you made to participants. If you consistently end meetings later than promised, people will either make excuses not to attend your next one or find a reason to leave early.

? Identify next steps. A very frustrating aspect of meetings is the perception that nothing changes as a result of them. A way to ensure something indeed will happen is to identify and write down next steps ? the agreed-upon actions to be taken after the meeting. Include what has to be done, by whom, and when. Do this on a flipchart or in some other visible way. And make sure attendees get the notes of the meeting.

? Finally, follow up on the next steps after the meeting. Let people know it matters that they were in the meeting. Check in. See how it's going. Ask if additional resources are needed. If appropriate, see if a follow-up meeting makes sense as a way to chart progress. Keep people informed.

Again, a little planning goes a long way in making meetings productive and even enjoyable. You probably already spend a lot of time now, clarifying decisions after the meeting or even trying to remember what decisions were made! Consider the cost of meetings when everyone leaves and remembers the tangents and not what actions will be taken. In this case, the meeting itself was ineffective and no one's behavior or subsequent action was changed. That's wasted time ? a real dead end.

Peg Kelley, MBA, has been a professional meeting facilitator for 25 years & is co-author of the booklet "39 Secrets for Effective and Enjoyable Meetings" available for $6.00 at her Facilitation Plus website at www.meetingswithmuscle.com. She publishes a free e-newsletter on Meeting Management Tips. Send your email address to her at Kelley@facplus.com if you want to receive it.

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