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Help Yourself to Better Meetings

By Cristofer Munson

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Raise your hand if you’ve ever led a meeting that fell flat. Raise your other hand if you’ve ever participated in a meeting that was boring and a waste of your time. Now lower your hands because, wherever you are, people are staring at you and probably think you’re being robbed.

And aren’t we all being robbed (in a way) when we are forced to sit through meetings that don’t live up to their potential? We’re being robbed of our time and our talent—perhaps two of our most valuable human resources.

There are treasure troves of books and articles that can help you plan and execute a successful meeting. When I search for the phrase “how to have a successful meeting,” I get 79,300,000 hits. You’ve no doubt read at least some of them. I’ve read more than my fair share, and it is not my intention to repeat the “top tips for meeting management” here. Even if I did, they wouldn’t necessarily be of help to you because we don’t always get to plan and lead every meeting we attend and we are, it seems, at the mercy of the person in charge. So, I wanted to share some thoughts on how you can help yourself in any meeting situation.

To improve the quality of any meeting, I recommend the following:

"Manage the energy, not the meeting.”

To do this, the first thing you have to recognize is that every meeting has a certain energy—that sense of engagement with, and interest in, the topic at hand. You can have the best objectives, the best agenda, the best content, the best facility, the best tools…the best of the best. But if you’re not mindful of the energy flowing (or not flowing) during the course of a meeting, you run the risk of robbing everyone of their time and talent.

To be clear, I’m not suggesting that a meeting has to be all “rah-rah” and fun-filled to be effective. In fact, some of the best meetings are serious and intense, especially when the stakes are high and the consequences significant. What I am suggesting, however, is that you can be aware of the energy level and empower yourself to make a positive impact on a moment-to-moment basis. This is true regardless if you are leading the meeting or “just” participating in it. Here are some simple ways you can help yourself to a better meeting.


Ways to heighten your energy awareness

  • Surrender to this truth. Every meeting has energy. The trick is to have it be the energy you want. What energy do you want to create and experience?
  • Observe the pulse of the energy in the meeting. Is there one?
  • Observe yourself. Are you interested and engaged? If not, why? What can you do to become so right now?
  • Observe others. Are they interested and engaged? What can you do to engage others right now?

This last question is the most critical to helping yourself to a better meeting: “What can you do to engage others (and yourself) right now?” The best and simplest way that I have found to achieve that objective is to do this:

Focus on what you can contribute to the meeting—not on what you’re getting out of it.

Seriously. Try it. This simple change in attitude (i.e., “how can I contribute”) can dramatically change your experience in any meeting. For example, if you are sitting in a meeting and you sense everyone has gone down a “rabbit hole,” be the one that speaks up and says so. If you have the sense that others in the room may have a question that they’re not asking, ask it—even if you know the answer (that’s a great way of making sure that others have the same information you have without coming off as a “know-it-all”). If you think of something (appropriately) funny, say it. Humor is a great way to inject pure energy into a meeting.


Summary

I’m purposely not offering suggestions on how to improve meetings through better planning, preparation, execution, etc. As noted earlier, there are already 79 million iterations of great ideas out there. And those rules, tips, and tricks don’t work universally well for everyone. Even if they did, they can’t give you the power to improve your own experience in the moment. The best way to achieve that, in my experience, is by being aware of the meeting energy and focusing on what you can give more than on what you can get in any moment.

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