3 Tips for Taming the “Meeting Monsters”

Today there will be up to 41 million meetings across the USA and many people count them as a waste of time. Creating an effective meeting is possible, but it requires taming the “meeting monsters” that make people dread meetings! It is so simple that most leaders miss it! A Gallup study shows that highly engaged employees thrive with regular meetings – but only if the meetings are worthwhile. According to a Harvard University survey, 71% of people say the vast majority of meetings are unproductive! Since engaged employees are catalysts for higher morale, productivity and profits, it is worth your time to rethink how you plan for and structure your meetings.

A Gallup study shows unproductive meetings cost U.S. businesses $37 billion a year!

CREATING ENGAGING MEETINGS

Recently our team was conducting leadership training and you could hear the groans when we told them engaged employees prefer regular meetings. They assumed employees hated meetings and would frown on the notion of scheduling more. Harvard’s study says it is true that many employees rate meetings as unproductive and a waste of their time. But, with just three tweaks you can turn dreaded meetings into something worthwhile. You may even move disengaged employees into the “engaged” column!

Unproductive meetings cost businesses in morale, productivity and profits.

Step # 1 – Create Focused Game Plans!

Too many meetings are scheduled with minimal preparation. Amazon Chief Jeff Bezos has a rule that people must prepare a six-page report that everyone reads once they assemble for the meeting. While you do not have to go to Amazon’s extreme, you can easily create a brief meeting game plan. Then, everyone will know exactly what will be covered and be more mentally prepared and focused. You should start by clearly identifying the main meeting goal and secondary goals. Also, lay out who will speak and what they will contribute. Identify key decisions that will be made and let participants know the expected outcomes. Last but not least, tell employees how the meeting ties into bigger organizational goals, so they know “why” the meeting is important!

Step # 2 – Maximize Employee Engagement

Be explicit in what you expect from employees during the meeting! They should know how they can contribute. There may be a range of options, including the following:

  • Informational. Do you simply want employees to learn new or additional information about an ongoing project? If so, tell them you want them to gather new information. Are you also expecting them to take action during or after the meeting? If so, tell them!
  • Brainstorming. Do you want meeting participants to assess the meeting information and provide feedback? Are you expecting their feedback during the meeting or afterwards? Should they expect to participate in breakout groups to brainstorm ideas? Do you prefer the feedback be written, verbal or shared during a future meeting?
  • Motivational. Is your goal more motivational in nature? Are you going to share exciting news with meeting participants to gain their buy-in for a new initiative or project?
  • Sounding Boards. Would you like meeting participants to act as sounding boards? Will you ask them to receive new information and then challenge the presenters to help identify gaps or shortcomings in their ideas or proposals? 

The bottom line is – be specific about what you want from employees during or after the meeting! This will help them be focused and help to keep the meeting on track.

Step # 3 – Create a Compelling Meeting Environment

The first two recommendations are “task” based – clarity of meeting goals and employee involvement expectations. The third recommendation is more about the “process” of creating engaging meetings that are worthwhile experiences.

  • The effective use of time can greatly add to a good meeting experience. Verify that you are giving employees enough time to absorb the information they are hearing from each presenter. If a meeting feels too rushed, participants may feel uneasy or even stressed. Allow presenters enough time to engage with the participants. If you include break-out sessions, ensure you build in adequate time for those sessions, as well.
  • Tailor meetings to accommodate different learning styles and convincer strategies. Keep in mind that some people must have visual stimulation to comprehend new information. Others are convinced by auditory cues; they must “hear” to be convinced. Some people must “read” in order to fully comprehend new data. (This might give you some insight into Amazon’s Jeff Bezos and why he discounts PowerPoint (visual) and insists on six-page written reports prior to meetings.) There is another segment of your employee population that prefers a “kinesthetic experience” to comprehend new ideas and data. This may be tactile like taking notes or it can also be emotion-based, which calls for storytelling or similar tools to connect at a deeper level.
  • Last, but not least, think about creating a pleasing olfactory buzz for your next meeting! Humans have about 6 million olfactory receptors in their noses. (This pales in comparison to dogs, who have 300 million, by the way.) The human brain’s decision-making capacity is deeply tied to the sense of smell, yet most workplace meeting spaces are sterile and absent of pleasing olfactory stimuli. Realtors know the fastest way to sell a home is to bake some chocolate chip cookies or burn a vanilla candle during home tours. Movie theatre owners smell more profits when movie-goers smell buttery popcorn wafting across the lobby. Smell is the strongest of the five senses because it is most closely linked to memory. This is because olfactory bulbs are part of your limbic system and they are directly connected to the parts of your brain responsible for emotions and learning. Thus, smell has the power to enhance human moods because it triggers memories and motivates your thinking.  A computational neuroscientist at the University of Pennsylvania is currently pursuing research to show how understanding the brain’s olfactory system can improve future coding strategies to improve AI and machine learning. There are a range of scents like peppermint, orange and lemon that trigger positive neurological responses, so check them out to discover what matches your meeting goals.

Simply put, your meetings should have a vibrant mix of visuals, auditory, kinesthetic and olfactory stimuli. You can present interesting data, but how your people experience the meeting impacts their buy-in and motivation.

TAMING THE MEETING MONSTERS

The “meeting monsters” have given meetings a bad name for much too long! But, you can tame them by taking a fresh look at your meeting preparation and structure. First, invest more time in the planning stage. Second, give employees a clear picture of what is expected of them during meetings and third, make it a pleasing experience! 

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ABOUT GAIL & BENCHMARK COMMUNICATIONS

Gail lives on a Texas ranch with her family, five talented horses, one very cute donkey and an entertaining pack of dogs, cats and chickens! We support a horse therapy program for people with disabilities, as well as local animal shelters that rescue abandoned dogs and cats.

Benchmark has consulted with and coached leaders and associates from all 50 USA states and more than 25 countries. The Benchmark team provides award-winning leadership and communication strategies to Fortune 500 groups so they can achieve their business goals. We provide consulting, training and coaching services in: leadership development, storytelling / presentations, reputation management, crisis response, media skills, stakeholder engagement, effective communications, public speaking and soft skills training.

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