Monday, September 14, 2009

4 Ways to Make Meetings Better

If you look up the term "necessary evil," you'll probably find a photograph of a bunch of people in a meeting.

I don't know of anyone who loves meetings, but most everyone will say they're vital to getting work done. And yet, they seem to have gotten even more off-track these days, perhaps because many of us have taken over more job duties -- even though there are the same number of hours in a day.

Recently I looked into the issue of meetings, some pet peeves of those attending and how the whole "necessary evil" could be made well, less evil. Here's the column I wrote for Gannett on the subject:

In the last seven years, Phil Gerbyshak figures he has spent three to five hours a day every work day in a meeting. Of that time, he figures 25 percent of that time was well spent.

“Doing business face-to-face is so important, but we’re always waiting for people, or we start meetings late or there’s all this personal chat and sidebar conversations,” says Gerbyshak, vice president for a financial services company in Milwaukee. “I’m always sitting there thinking about all the things my team could be doing instead of wasting so much time.”

Meetings have always been the bane of any workplace, but with a leaner workforce now being asked to take on more tasks, the time spent in meetings is even more precious to time-strapped workers. At the same time, workers don’t want to miss the important “face time” with bosses that meetings can give them, especially when they need a strong connection to the boss to hang onto their jobs.

Bill Lampton, a motivational speaker and communications coach in Atlanta, says he gets “enraged” when a committee chair says the meeting attendees need to wait “for a couple of important members who are not here yet.”

“Strange, but I thought I was an important member myself,” Lampton says. “Imagine that twelve people wait ten minutes for the late arrivals. That's 120 minutes, or two hours totally wasted.”

Mike Song, a productivity speaker, says many meeting problems could be solved with a few tweaks.

“When you schedule meetings back to back, you’re going to have meeting dominoes. One runs late, and then that throws all of them off. Instead of scheduling them to last 60 minutes, you schedule them to last 50 minutes, and that gives you time to get to the next one,” he says.

Gerbyshak says meetings often bog down when agendas are misplaced, which Song says can be solved by sending agendas electronically so that it can be easily accessed via a laptop or Blackberry or iPhone when needed. “Now the agenda is strapped to your hip,” Song says. “No more waiting around.”

Lampton says he wishes more meeting chairs would stop meetings from stretching out to “ghastly limits” by allowing “motormouths” to ramble on and on. Song says he calls these people “Ted Tangents” who need to be put on the spot by the chair noting that the speaker has moved off topic.

“Then, he asks Ted Tangent, ‘Is this topic more urgent or important?’ than what is on the agenda?” Song says. “Nine out of 10 times it’s not more important, and Ted starts to realize he’s going off into la-la land.”

In a new book with Vicki Halsey and Tim Burress called “The Hamster Revolution for Meetings: How to Meet Less and Get More Done,” (Berrett-Koehler, $19.95), Song gives some other tips for meetings:

• Have a meeting objective. “This is what we call an ‘objenda’. You might say you want to increase sales 22 percent,” he says. “But you want it to be specific, and action-oriented.”
• Be early. “Five minutes early should be the new on time,” Song says. “If you try and be on time, something is always going to delay you like traffic or a phone call. Most people are late because they plan to be on time. Make being early part of your team brand.” He suggests making it clear that key information will be covered first, and tardiness is unacceptable.
• Use more mini-meetings. Sometimes a five- or 10-minute meeting is all that is needed. Hold it standing up to enforce the time limit.
• Nail it down. If a follow-up meeting is needed, don’t adjourn until a specific date and time is selected for it. This helps avoid endless telephone calls or e-mails at a later date trying to get participants to agree on a time.

While Gerbyshak is an avid social media user, he says he believes that the medium isn’t the “be all and end all” of communication. “You’ve still got to have face-to-face meetings to get business done,” he says. “Those discussions are critical.”


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Friday, August 14, 2009

Holding Your Own Against a Motormouth

If your strategy is to fly below the radar in meetings, secretly checking messages on your Blackberry or working the crossword puzzle, you may want to re-think your game plan.

Jennifer B. Kahnweiler, author of "The Introverted Leader," told me that meetings are important for your career because that's where "impressions are formed."

"If a boss is asked about you, he's going to think about the way he sees you behave, and that means how you behave in meetings. If you sit there quietly and never say anything, then his impression is going to be that you don't show initiative, that you don't speak up," she says.

Perhaps you get intimidated in meetings. Perhaps you get nervous, not sure what to say, or you feel overwhelmed by a "talker." If that's the case, Kahnweiler offers some tips on how to deal with meeting motormouths:

* Don't smile or nod your head in agreement. That only encourages the long-winded participant. Maintain a flat expression.

* Don't get into a shouting match out of frustration. Offer to discuss the topic offline or table the discussion until things cool down.

* Hold up your hand with the stop signal, especially if the talker is going on and on. Then say, "I would like to say something."

* If cut off, take a cue from the pundits on the news shows' split screens. In a strong voice say, "I am speaking and would like to finish my thought."

* Prepare and make your comments with confidence.

* If you miss your opportunity in the meeting, don't hesitate to talk to the person afterward.

How else can you make yourself heard in meetings?

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Friday, September 26, 2008

10 Things Everyone is Thinking About During a Meeting at Work

Go ahead, fess up: You think about a lot of things during a meeting at work, and it often has nothing to do with business. Sure, your mind may focus a bit on how how the issues being discussed will affect your job, but there's lot of other stuff that you think about.

Don't worry. You're not alone. We all do it. In fact, here's a list of what some of us are really thinking when that PowerPoint presentation seems to have our full attention:

1. I don't have time for this.
2. Is she ever going to shut up?
3. Did I turn off the coffeepot this morning?
4. That cannot be his real hair.
5. If he says "think outside the box" one more time, I'll barf. Or throw something at him. Maybe both.
6. Yeah, those pants do make her butt look big.
7. I really, really don't have time for this.
8. I'm starving. I wonder if I still have those leftover M&Ms in my drawer?

9. OK. Seriously? With different glasses and her hair up, she would look just like Sarah Palin.
10. I knew I should have called in sick today.

Time to admit it: What else do you think about during a meeting?


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