As a business leader, you may spend up to 80 percent of your day in meetings. If you're like most of your peers, you learned how to meet on the job. Meeting skills, like so many critical leadership skills, aren't taught in school.
Once a month, my three children help prepare a meal for company. This is another set of critical skills that aren't taught at school. Many of the skills that go into running a successful group dinner translate to running a successful meeting.
When they're challenged to entertain 15 people, with six on some new fad diet, 5 who don't get along, and all 15 expecting a good time, it takes planning and skill to pull off. They can't learn these skills by simply showing up as a guest at someone else's house. They have to learn to manage all those details themselves.
In meetings, you dish out work assignments and financial statements rather than potatoes and gravy, but the people at your meetings come with just as many challenges and expectations. They've all got special needs and they all want to have the time they spend meeting with you rewarded. You need meeting skills and practice to get good results.
Unfortunately, most business leaders don't get training on how to make meetings work, and while your friends may forgive a disastrous dinner party, it can be a lot harder to try out new meeting skills with a team that isn't expecting it.
Here are three safe, simple ways you can develop these critical skills on your own.
1. Engage in cultural anthropology.
Go into your workplace and imagine you are a researcher visiting a foreign land. Watch what happens in your team's meetings and consider:
- What do you see in the physical workplace and what does it tell you about this culture? Are these people fun? Intense? How is the environment impacting the meetings?
- What do the interactions between people show you about their relationships?
- What does this group value? What do they spend the most time and energy talking about?
- When meetings seem to go well, what's happening? Who spoke? What did they do? What about when meetings go poorly?
Why? Because successful meetings always take into account the context they're in. Just like a vegan feast works differently than a paleo party, a critical board meeting works differently than an anything-goes marketing brainstorm.
This cultural anthropology exercise improves your meeting skills by building your awareness. Now when you run across a list of meeting tips, you'll be able to evaluate these tips to see if they apply for your team's specific needs.
2. Practice creating useful meeting notes.
Good meetings get results-the kind of results you can pin down in writing.
Useful meeting notes summarize decisions, next steps, and key points. Useful notes don't try to capture everything; just the highlights.
You want notes people can skim to quickly learn what they missed (or forgot!). Bullet points are your friend.
Volunteer to write notes for the group. The act of translating all that talk into a succinct, usable recap forces you to get specific. It also helps you find the value in the meeting--what good it produced--and get better at recognizing when a meeting isn't worthwhile.
Not sure what the decision was or who committed to what?
Ask the group to help you clarify. If you don't know what to write down, there's a good chance other people don't either, and you've just saved everyone a bunch of confusion later.
3. Attend Toastmasters.
Toastmasters provides a wonderfully welcoming environment for both observing and practicing good meeting habits. With over 16,000 clubs around the world, you can probably find one near you.
While many people attend Toastmasters to improve their public speaking skills, club meetings also demonstrate how to structure an agenda, how to respectfully keep a discussion running on time, and how to share constructive feedback. It's free to attend as an observer and a great safe environment for practicing skills you can bring back to your meetings.
Put these together, and you'll have the skills to lead great meetings--meetings where all your team's special talents and quirks get channeled into a useful, documented result--in no time.
Then, consider heading out for dinner to celebrate. You've done enough hosting for the day.