How to run a meeting that actually gets something done.

So for this post I wanted to do something more around soft skills, and I’ve actually had a couple of people ask me to write something up about this. Running a meeting is not the easiest thing in the world, but there always seems to be this perception that everyone should know how to without any guidance or instruction.

As part of my day job, I’m a pre-sales resource, so that means I run and coordinate a lot of meetings with a wide variety of people, everything from tech talks for developers, to regular cadence check-ins, and business strategy sessions with executives. And over the years I’ve come up with some tips and tricks to ensure that those meetings are productive, efficient, and don’t waste anyone’s time. Here are some tips to help if you find yourself in a position of having to run meetings and want to make sure they are productive.

Tip #1 – Time is valuable

This is more of a guiding principle than a tip, and one that you should take to heart immediately, and it really is the foundation of everything else in this blog. Everyone is busy, all the time…we live in a connected world where multi-tasking is the new normal. If someone is having a meeting with you, they are giving you the two most important things they have, time and attention. You need to treat these as valuable resources to be utilized appropriately, and not something to waste. This means do the following:

  • Be on time – This is common sense, you will never recover from arriving late, it already convinces the people your meeting with that you don’t see their time as valuable.
  • End on time or EARLY – I know, blasphemy, but if I can end early, I always do. Your customers will thank you for this. I don’t rush meetings, but if we accomplish what we need to, just wrap up, no need to draw things out just because of the time block.
  • Make sure you have enough to justify the meeting: Not everything needs to be a meeting, sometime a phone call will do. Always better to do things via a phone call than email, but if one of these can replace a meeting, take that option.

Tip #2 – Begin with the end in mind

This goes to the points above about making sure you have enough to justify the meeting, and looking at how valuable both the people you are meeting with’s time is, and how valuable your time is. The first question you should be clear on is…”What do I hope to accomplish here?”

This goes to Steven Covey’s principle, “Begin with the end in mind.” If you can’t answer this question, don’t waste anyone’s time. But if you can, great, use that to structure the rest of the meeting and work backwards.

For example, if the goal is to get approval to embrace a new technology, start with the problems it solves. Give them a reason to care and then work backwards into what it takes to implement.

If the goal of the meeting is to understand the ramifications of an old technology start with the downsides of the status quo and work towards the solution.

Make sure you know what your goal is because this provides a key metric for success and you can then objectively measure when the meeting is over.

Tip #3 – Have an agenda out ahead of time

This is another facet of the above, never go into a meeting without an agenda, even if its informal. You need to know in your mind how the meeting will run, and keep things focused on the goals you identified above.

Whenever possible, send out that agenda to let the attendees know exactly what will be covered. This is important not just because they know how it will flow, but it can help your attendees to identify people who they should include to make the meeting productive.

Tip #4 – Don’t skip small talk

This is the most common mistake I’ve seen with people, they are too focused on the immediate. Small talk before the meeting begins is important, this is how you build a relationship and re pore with your customer. If you don’t take time to build the relationship and help them see you as a person, it will hurt your credibility in the long run.

Now its important to know when to cut this off, and keep things light, butt having small talk before a meeting helps to make people comfortable. The more you can get to know people and reference things they’ve said in future meetings drives home that you respect them and care about them as a person.

Tip #5 – Be respectful of their time

Start on time. Period. This is not hard people, do not start late if you can avoid it. This shows that you have no respect for their time which as I previously said is the most important thing they have to give.

Also, if it looks like you might run over, make sure to give them an out, something like “I want to be respectful of your time, and we have 3 minutes…” and start to wrap it up. If they want to go long, they will allow you too. But this gives them an out and shows you care.

Tip #6 – Do introductions

If its a larger meeting, make sure you encourage introductions, and not just you and your team, but make sure everyone on the call or at the table introduces themselves. This shows each person in the room you see them and care about them, and want to hear their voice. This helps to be inclusive in making sure everyone feels comfortable.

Also resist the urge to introduce other people, let them introduce themselves, and what I mean by this is say something like “and given this topic, I wanted to bring Claire to this conversation…Claire, can you introduce yourself.”

Tip #7 – Never leave without confirming actions

Always make sure at the end of the meeting that you summarize the action items, take 5 minutes at the end to say that “These are the items I heard that have follow-up involved…” and make sure you say a name of a person with each item to drive home who is responsible. Also ask the customer for confirmation. This makes sure each person is aware of actions and expectations before they leave. This will make it easier to engage after the meeting.

Tip #8 – Your agenda should not be iron clad…be flexible

Another common mistake I see a lot, is people get too attached to their agenda. They say well we are supposed to cover that last, so “you customer have to wait”. This is a mistake, as I said before its their time, so if they want to restructure things, you should allow it. Now I say this with a couple of rules:

  • It has to be on topic with the intent of the meeting.
  • There needs to be agreement from the team for the change of direction.
  • And all appropriate people need to be at the table.
  • If the order matters and you can address it very soon.

This is a fine line, but ultimately it goes back to tip 1, which is remember this is their time, and your agenda is not important than their time.

Tip #9 – Don’t get derailed

During any meeting, some times you get someone who will try to derail the meeting to meet their own needs, never dismiss these concerns but if you have to push them off as out of scope, but give them the validation around when you will address the topic. Something like “That’s a little out of scope, but see me after and we can address those concerns.”

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