Once upon a time, I worked for a woman who was known as a star meeting facilitator. CEOs would call left and right, asking her to organize strategy sessions and management off-sites, and she would prepare for these sessions meticulously and down to the last detail. Frequently, as I helped her prep for a meeting, she would remind me in an ominous voice, “Romy, if the room is too hot or too cold, people are going to blame you for it.”
While room temperature is sometimes tough to control, her broader point stands: if you’re going to lead a successful meeting (even if you’re not a natural-born leader), you have to think constantly about the participants. What’s going to make them feel good about the experience? How can you make sure everyone is engaged and heard? How do you make your participants a part of the meeting, instead of just an audience? Fortunately, there’s a process for that.
1. HAVE A CLEAR MEETING OBJECTIVE
Make sure everyone knows what you’re there to accomplish. If you can come in with a single item you want to achieve and then achieve it, everyone will leave feeling good about the meeting.
2. WRITE AN AGENDA – AND KEEP IT SIMPLE
Make sure everyone knows what you’re going to cover and in what order. It helps you keep the meeting on track, and gives your attendees a sense of inclusion in the process.
3. KEEP IT SHORT
Don’t bite off more than you can chew. Everyone has lots to do and a short attention span. The more you can keep the meeting brief, the more people will thank you. That means you need to keep the scope of the meeting highly focused
4. BOOK A COMFORTABLE ROOM
… with chairs at the table for everyone. Seriously. If people feel uncomfortable or are marginalized to “back row seats,” they’re not going to be receptive—and what they’ll remember later won’t be the great discussion, but how uncomfortable they felt.
5. CHOOSE THE RIGHT SEAT
If it’s a meeting that’s around a long table, as the leader, you should sit in the middle, not at the head. That way, you are closer to everyone, sending a message that says, “this is a discussion.”
6. BRING BRIBES—EHM, SNACKS
Everyone likes food. Especially not completely unhealthy food.
7. PHONES DOWN, HEADS UP
At the start, ask everyone if they wouldn’t mind setting aside their phones for the duration of the meeting so everyone can have a better experience.
8. MAKE SURE ALL KEY STAKEHOLDERS CAN AND WILL ATTEND
Nothing’s worse than assembling a group without a key decision-maker so then nothing gets decided. Confirm RSVPs for everyone, and send a meeting reminder the day before.
9. KEEP THE TONE PURPOSEFUL BUT LIGHT
Inject humor wherever possible. If you can find any way to make the meeting fun, people will thank you. But please, no dad jokes.
10. STAY ON TRACK
If someone tries to take the meeting in another direction (and they always do), say, “That’s a great thought. Let’s schedule a separate meeting to discuss it.”
11. MAKE SURE EVERYONE IS HEARD
Pay attention to people’s reactions to the discussion. Often you’ll spot someone trying to speak up but missing their shot. If someone is being drowned out, call attention to them and give them the floor.
12. ELICIT PARTICIPATION FROM EVERYONE
If someone seems quiet or thoughtful, ask them directly for their input. And if someone is not paying attention, call them out on it!
13. TAKE GROUP NOTES ON A WHITEBOARD
If you jot down people’s thoughts, it gives them weight—and it also helps bring participants along to a conclusion or solution with you.
14. BLATANTLY WRAP IT UP
Recap key findings and next steps. Reiterate how the group has successfully accomplished the task at hand. The mental “checking off the check-box” will make everyone feel good.
15. THANK EVERYONE FOR THEIR TIME
These days, time is the most precious commodity anyone has. Thank them for making time to join you.
16. END FIVE MINUTES EARLY
If you can wrap up the meeting 5 minutes before the scheduled time, people will LOVE you. These days so many people’s schedules are so booked, they will be forever grateful if you give them 5 extra minutes to catch up on email or—God forbid—take a bathroom break.
17. SEND A MEETING RECAP, NOTES, AND FOLLOW-UP
That day or the next day at the very latest. Make sure it is clear who is responsible for what follow-up and by when. And if you need a follow-up meeting, send the invite for it immediately. It gives people a sense that the project is progressing.
Ultimately, it’s all about anticipation. If you can think through the purpose and the flow of the meeting in advance, and map out the participants’ experience, you are sure to have a meeting that is no less than mind-blowing. And if all else fails, check the thermostat!