Morph into a Business Meeting Ninja – Part 1

Work in teamMeetings are an essential part of work life—yet, they are universally reviled. After all, how often do you hear people complain that they don’t have enough meetings? With too many meetings crowding your calendar, it can be hard to find time in between them to actually get anything done. It’s no surprise that a survey found that 47 percent of respondents considered meetings their number one time waster.

So many meetings are not run efficiently—not starting and ending on time, and without a clear goal and realistic agenda. You may sit there, stressed, knowing that your e-mail inbox is filling up, while you try to resist the urge to peek at your electronic device. (All of a sudden, checking your e-mail seems weirdly attractive!) If you’re an introvert, you may be even more frustrated because you don’t feel heard. You become drained after trying to get your points across over your extroverted counterparts’ commanding voices and constant chatter—not to mention those boisterous brainstorming sessions.

Reduce the pain in your workplace by taking the role of facilitator whenever possible. By applying some basic strategies, you can map out your meetings smartly and keep them on track. Below are 10 tips from a meeting facilitation workshop I recently created for one of my client organizations. Most of them apply whether you’re facilitating an in-person or virtual meeting, and some apply even if you’re attending as a garden-variety participant.

Connected to each tip, I’ve added a special angle for the introvert crowd. If you’re one of them, facilitating meetings is a great way to increase your visibility by showcasing your work (since you may hesitate to do that normally), making contributions with your well-honed listening skills, and ultimately, building relationships. Seize opportunities between meetings to solidify those relationships one person at a time, possibly over lunch.

iStock_000028547134XSmall PAID FOR1. Determine whether a meeting is necessary. Weigh the alternatives to the cost of bringing everyone together in real time—especially when your offices are geographically dispersed. If you absolutely must meet in person, invite only the necessary participants. Consider sweetening the deal by having snacks and beverages available.

INTROVERTS: Whenever possible, spare your colleagues by foregoing the meeting. At the thought of saving your own energy too, you might even do a happy dance (inside your head is fine). Use your preference for one-on-one interactions to lobby key individuals and get things done behind the scenes without the need for a meeting.

2. Establish an overall goal for a meeting. Better yet, put it in writing when inviting people—and reinforce it when you kick off the meeting. Without a goal, how do you know whether the meeting was successful? If you’re not the facilitator and the goal isn’t clear, you can still pipe up when appropriate.

INTROVERTS: Use your inclination to think things through by starting with the end of a meeting in mind. While you’re at it, if you’re detail oriented, dot those i’s and cross those t’s when crafting an e-mail to participants requesting that they come prepared with specific contributions. After the meeting, confirm the next steps by sending a follow-up e-mail; this will also help raise your visibility.

3. Set ground rules to make good use of everyone’s time. Determine the do’s and don’ts of engagement during a meeting: Can participants use their electronic devices? Do you welcome questions throughout? Are “side conversations” acceptable? If you’re not at the helm, look for ways to actively support the success of the meeting—even if there are a hundred other places you’d rather be.

INTROVERTS: Since you may be less inclined to multitask, it’s especially important to minimize distractions to help you focus on the business at hand.

Business Team Analyzing Graph4. Facilitate a collaborative, inclusive discussion. Doing so will fully engage participants. Whether they are in person or connected by phone or videoconference, remember to involve everyone. Listen actively to participants’ input. And consider that many people absorb information better when it is supported by a visual aid. But before you trot out an extensive PowerPoint deck, consider the cleanest, simplest way to visually support the discussion.

INTROVERTS: Think about your audience in advance. Find out as much as possible about their needs and inclinations to make the content of the meeting relevant to them. Whenever possible, give a head’s up to other introvert participants about key questions you may ask them so they don’t feel put on the spot. If you’re not leading the meeting, then plan some key points to help ensure your voice is heard.

5. Manage ramblers. As a facilitator, remember your responsibility to all of the participants. Letting blabbermouths dominate a meeting doesn’t serve anyone. Consider creating a “parking lot” to capture their ideas, enabling yourself to stick to your agenda. You can also use signals like leaning forward, putting up a hand, and looking straight at the rambler—and standing up if you really must. Interjecting in an assertive yet friendly voice to redirect the meeting.

INTROVERTS: Come prepared with a few phrases like: “Thank you for sharing that, Lee. May I have the next question?”; “In the interest of time, we’ll need to get to the next agenda item”; “Got it. What do other people think about Sydney’s suggestion?”; and “Let’s give Andy a chance to speak now.”

In the second part of this story, you’ll get five more tips for productive and enjoyable meetings. Then you can go back to just loathing your e-mail inbox!

Copyright © 2013 Nancy Ancowitz

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