How to run an effective meeting

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What do you think of most business meetings? The majority of business meetings are not fully effective, or worse! When did you last hear anybody say “Oh a meeting, yippee”? Research shows most problems are linked to a lack of engagement, often through misunderstanding introverts.

It is possible to improve meetings getting positive contributions and engagement from the whole team, including the introverts. This page is full of ideas to help you run a great meeting, which are based  “Running meetings that make things happen.”

Running Meetings that make things happen

I wrote this book to improve the outcomes from business meetings. It’s available on Amazon and Kindle and was cited in The Economist. It will help you engage your whole team, introverts and extroverts, in the meetings you run. Click here for more information.

What is an effective meeting?

  • the whole team engage – both introvert and extroverts
  • the whole team are committed to the outcome of the meeting
  • the whole team take the relevant actions as a result of the meeting
  • the whole team are “singing from the same hymn sheet”
  • decisions taken are stronger, more resilient and take into account all your team’s knowledge, not just the louder people.

What’s going wrong in most meetings?

Whether you get this list from the internet, your experience or (in my case) by asking 200 people, you’ll come to similar conclusions about what’s going wrong in meetings.

  • The meeting has no clear purpose, far too many meetings are held for vague or even forgotten reasons.
  • The meeting isn’t structured to deliver on the purpose
  • The meeting alienates a third to a half of the people in the room (normally the introverts)
  • There’s no clear action and if there’s no action what was the point of meeting?
  • Many people realise that their actions won’t get followed up.

What would you add to this list and more importantly – what will you do to ensure it doesn’t happen to you?

A camel is a horse designed by committee – Sir Alec Issigonis

A camel is a horse designed by committee

How to run a good meeting and how to engage introverts in meetings

  1. Understand what’s going wrong in most meetings, and change it.
  2. Purpose: Have a clear purpose to all your meetings ( “catching up” isn’t a good enough reason). Remove everything from the agenda that doesn’t support that one purpose. This is even more relevant with hybrid meetings, where more but shorter meetings work well.
  3. Preparation: Sending details out before the meeting (in time for people to read them) allows introverts (and extroverts) to process the information and be prepared (very important to introverts). Clearly show the meeting’s purpose and why the team should discuss and learn from the issues. The details should include what you want people to think about and discuss, don’t just introduce charts and detailed reports in the meeting.
  4. Control the pace. Some people like to move very quickly from one issue to another, others need longer to look in detail. Before moving on, ask (especially the introverts) what the discussion has missed and make it clear that the introvert doesn’t have to answer immediately. Change the pace by summarising the discussion, then checking everybody is ready to move on. Using the introverts in your team for these summaries is a good tactic, as they are good listeners and will give good balanced summaries. This will engage them and the extroverts will know they’ve been heard.
  5. Stick to the agenda. Jumping from one subject, to another unplanned one will reduce input from introverts (if not others). If needed, you might leave the agenda, but first summarise where you were and get agreement to introduce something new. Many people need to understand the structure, or they disengage.
  6. Loudest is not best. It’s easy to hear the loudest people, that doesn’t make their contributions the most thought through. Manage the meeting to encourage more people to join in, using writing or thinking time to help here. Simply changing the pace can help (it doesn’t all have to be about meetings being slow!). Asking somebody to contribute can work, but give them time to think and express their thoughts. Introverts are good listeners, you could use them to summarise the discussion so far and then add their thoughts.
  7. Writing not just speaking: Use techniques to avoid simply getting delegates to “shout out”. 3 minutes of writing thoughts, answers or issues (whichever is most relevant) onto “Post It” notes,  then all quietly putting them on the wall and grouping them, allows everybody to contribute. Introverts are more likely to then discuss things. Writing techniques like this create more ideas and information than normal discussion.
  8. Facilitate: Actively manage the meeting, or better still get somebody else to run the meeting (that way you can concentrate on the content, not the process). Introverts often make good facilitators, using them helps you, helps them and makes the meeting more effective.
  9. Check you’re engaging your whole team, introverts and extroverts. Most meetings disengage a third of the team. How are you helping the quieter team members to speak up over the louder ones? Download and review the STEP communications checklist.
  10. Actions: Get everybody to repeat back their actions from the meeting before it ends,
  11. Follow up: State how you will follow up to check on the actions.
  12. Actually follow up in the way you stated, report back on the actions including yours.

What’s the purpose of the meeting?

There may be several reasons for a meeting. First consider why you’re asking people to come to a meeting, that shapes what you need to do to make the meeting less onerous. Is the meeting to:

  • tell people something so they get a common message? Chinese whispers are one of the worst things a business can suffer from, with different members of staff hearing different things. Passing a message through other people will create this problem, telling everybody one will reduce it. BUT, if the only purpose is to tell everybody the same thing – you don’t need everybody to all meet up! Save time, send an email, or a video.
  • ensure people all understand what you’re saying? Simply hearing the same message doesn’t mean that everybody interprets it in the same way, thus leading back to Chinese whispers. If you need everybody to have a shared understanding you need people to engage differently. But you may still be best not having a meeting, a simple message broadcast may still be more effective.
  • discuss an issue(s) in order to improve the way you resolve the issue? Now we move to a good reason for having a meeting, engaging people, sharing understanding and doing something differently as a result. Sharing understanding and doing something differently are key here, read on for more about sharing understanding. If your intent is to take the same action regardless, do you need the meeting?
  • all learn as a team? This sounds good and is basically the same as the point above. Read on for sharing understanding and learning together.
  • bring you together as a team? You want to move to team nirvana, where the whole team act as a team and use the meeting as part of this journey? Good idea, your business could be better off as a result and your business (as opposed to just individuals learning). Again sharing understanding and acting differently in future are key here.

Be honest with yourself first. If the reason is about you feeling important, you bending the team’s will to your own, or similar, then a meeting is not the best option.

A third of many teams are alienated.

You may be thinking that’s a bold statement? It comes from asking many people about meetings they attend. Most meetings are run and designed (unknowingly) for extroverts, so exclude, or at least disincentivise, the 30-50% of the team who are introverts. Some thoughts about introverts in meetings:

  • Introverts process information differently (internal processing v external processing).
  • Introverts don’t tend to like small talk and prefer more important and relevant discussion with fewer, closer, people. That implies they’re less likely to see meetings as relevant and certainly want to understand the importance of the meeting – before it begins. What can you send/ email/ explain beforehand? If they’re “onboard” before the meeting begins you have a new set of allies, the deep-thinking ones.
  • Introverts are unlikely to bother speaking up over others who keep talking, unless they feel incredibly strongly about the issue.
  • Introverts are de-energised by social gatherings, where extroverts are energised.

Unless you do something to keep the introverts “in the meeting”, you will miss out on their different perspective on issues and (normally) more detailed approach to solutions.

How to run a virtual meeting

Virtual meetings, remote meetings, zoom meetings or (even worse) hybrid meetings have similar issues to face to face meetings, PLUS issues caused by technology, they’re more tiring (harder to concentrate for long) and there’s more distractions available (you can’t see what your delegates are doing).

To run an effective zoom meeting (or teams etc.), is much more that mastering the technology. The root of the cause is human, which is what needs fixing. Firstly you need to have the normal meeting tips in place and then try the following tips.

  • Agenda: A structure for the meeting becomes more important as it’s easier to lose concentration. Use the agenda and link back to it as you move through the meeting.
  • Multi modal: Use the chat box to quickly get opinions, use word clouds (on mentimeter) or polls (quick decision making, or understanding check).
  • Breaks: Announce when breaks will be and have more of them that you would if you were all “in the room”.
  • Overtalking: Manage the meeting more actively than face to face so that you cut out overtalking and ensure everybody gets heard.


Why are hybrid meetings more of a problem?

Hybrid meetings are becoming more common where some of the team are in the office and some are in remote locations. These are becoming more common as firms have less office space and allow more working from home. 

Hybrid meetings are more of a problem as it’s easy to have the downsides of both face to face and remote meetings, PLUS the group in the office are able to communicate more easily with each other than the remote group.

Consider having extra help to run the meeting, where one person concentrate on ensuring the remote group are able to get into the discussion where they need to. You may like to download your hybrid meeting checklist to help.


Running Meetings that make things happen

This book is available on Amazon and Kindle. It’s written to help you engage your whole team, introverts and extroverts, in the meetings you run. Click here for more information


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