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Webinar report: Effective and productive meetings

“In the UK we typically spend between 13 and 23 days a year in meetings.”

Mid July saw the third event of our four-part Positive Relationships webinar series.

In what was the most sweltering day of the year so far, our series host, Joanna Gaudoin guided us through the hot topic of making our meetings more effective and productive.
With experience in marketing and consultancy in large corporates, Joanna understands the challenges of building great working relationships. In 2011, she established Inside Out Image, a consultancy firm specialising in skills rarely taught in formal educational settings. Joanna’s clients include HSBC, Forsters LLP, Willis Towers Watson, Joelson Law, AAT and Mastercard.

What’s the problem with meetings?

In short, there are too many of them taking up too much time and achieving too little.

Joanna began the session with some recent pieces of research into meetings. These found that:

  • 28% of people feel there’s not enough meaningful participation in meetings;
  • 17% say meetings too often overrun and disrupt their working day;
  • 25% say meetings lose their value due to a lack of agreed follow-up; and 
  • 30% say that poor minute-taking means there’s no clarity about what’s even been discussed.

Perhaps most concerning of all is that amongst 182 senior decision makers, 71% said that too many meetings are simply unproductive and inefficient.

Compounding these problems is the rise of online meetings. These can be problematic for a range of reasons. Firstly, even when participants are on screen, body language – which accounts for 60-70% of communication in real life meetings – is hard to read. Secondly, meetings on Zoom, Teams, Google Hangouts, etc don’t allow for the informal, yet valuable, one-to-one interactions that routinely arise in physical meeting rooms. Then there’s the technology itself. It may not happen often, but when the meeting app crashes, when people have difficulty using it or when internet connections drop out, precious time is lost. It is also too easy to invite even more people and achieve meeting ‘bloat’.

Making the meeting mean more

A great starting point for improving the outcome of a meeting is to define its objective. For example, are you looking to:

  • Sound someone out?
  • Share or review information?
  • Update people on progress?
  • Solve a problem?
  • Meet or interview someone? or
  • Make a decision?

Deciding what exactly you want the meeting to achieve will help you decide on other aspects, such as where to hold it and who to invite. Remember, your choice of venue will set people’s expectations of how formal the meeting will be. 

Another consideration is the different types of people who will be there. For example, while some people are relationship focused, others are more task driven. Some are extroverts and need no encouragement to contribute at meetings, others are introvert and may need a little coaxing to speak up. As the leader of the meeting, it’s your job to draw that contribution out while preventing the extroverts from becoming too dominant.If someone is at a meeting, it’s because they have something to offer. Or at least they should do, if the meeting organiser has thought this through and participants have asked for clarity if they are not sure why they have been invited. 

In his book, Surrounded by Idiots, communications expert Thomas Erikson explores these personality types and offers techniques for working effectively with them. If your role involves leading meetings regularly, it’s well worth a read.

And, as the stats above allude to, avoid the common meeting pitfalls. As well as defining your expectations, set a time limit, tell people what it is and stick to it. Decide at the meeting what follow-up activity is required, who will do it and by when. And if it’s a formal meeting, ensure accurate minutes are taken and circulated in good time.

Your chance to shine

Even if you’re not leading a meeting, being in attendance is a great opportunity to raise your profile and improve your colleagues’ perception of you.
This matters because, according to management consultant, Harvey J. Coleman, exposure of your achievements outweighs the combined value of your performance and image when it comes to getting promoted. Coleman’s PIE theory suggests that:

  • Performance – how well you do your job and what you achieve accounts for just 10% in terms of career success;
  • Image – everything from your appearance and communication style to your attitude make up a further 30%; and
  • Exposure – making sure that the people who matter know about your performance and image is where the magic is for your career prospects.

With this in mind, it’s worth making a conscious effort to consider how you’ll come across at meetings. Will you, for example, be making a presentation? Are you there to ask questions or to guide others with information and advice? Either way, your social skills will be vital because 58% of your effectiveness in your role which can then be extrapolated to meetings is attributable to emotional intelligence.

Preparation before you go into a meeting will stand you in good stead. That said, remain flexible in the face of new information or unexpected responses to your contributions.

Similarly, never be afraid to say, ‘I don’t know’. If you don’t have the answer to a question, promise to go away and find it. When you get back with an actionable response within the promised timeframe, you’ll have deployed a proven relationship building technique.

By the same token, if you don’t understand something being discussed at a meeting, always ask. Better to leave the room (or the call) crystal clear on everything covered than to have wasted valuable time as a passive bystander.

Our fourth and final webinar in this series looks at ways of Managing up and sideways. It’s on 17 October and you can register here.

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