Not enough coffee: 5 ways to rescue your meeting

Meeting facilitation

Meeting Tolerance Quiz:

1. Would you rather have a root canal than attend your weekly staff meeting?

2. Does the meeting drag on to where you are making excuses to leave before it’s over?

3. Do you feel like most meetings are a waste of time, boring, or just plain stupid?

4. Is there not enough coffee in the world to keep you awake til the end?

5. Do you wish for a great interruption, or for someone to just come in and rescue you?

If you answeed yes to any of these questions, you have been a victim of poor meeting management. A terrible fate for anyone trying to be productive, or at the very least stay awake.

There is a reason why some meetings are worse than others.  Actually there’s at least 5 reasons. Rather than list why bad meetings are bad, I’ll just tell you how to do them well, whether you are leading or a participant.

1.  Start and Stop on time.

This one is pretty easy to get: respect others and be on time. When people are allowed to regularly arrive late, a culture of “it doesn’t really matter” develops. Starting late is rude and says “your time is not important, so I’ll just waste it.”

If you are the meeting convener or organizer make sure people know the meeting will start and stop  on time and then do it. Even if everyone isn’t there, start the meeting. If you are a participant, be on time and ready to go.  Make sure the organizer knows that you need to leave on time and when the time is over – out you go. Soon you’ll see a more prompt meeting culture develop that respects everyone’s time.

2. Have an agenda.

Meetings that don’t have an agenda are doomed from the beginning.  People lose their focus within about 15 minutes and unrelated items will come into play.

The meeting organizer should have an agenda ahead of time — even if it’s just written on the white board in the front of the room.   This one change alone will make a huge difference in the success of your meeting.  If there is not meeting, as the convener to write one on the board. or flip chart.

3. Set expectations to move the agenda.

Keep the agenda moving. If someone gets off topic, ask them to hold that thought until that item is discussed or put on a future agenda. A “Parking Lot” flip chart can capture items that are off topic. Don’t let the agenda get derailed with sidebar conversations, tangents, or unrelated information.

State right up front what the expectations are for getting through the agenda: for example, “We’ll spend about 10 minutes on this item.  Susy will give an update and then we’ll take questions and feedback.”

4. Pay attention.

Multitasking is not only extremely rude and arrogant, but you’ll miss what’s going on. Our brain can’t focus on more than one thing at a time.  Set the ground rule that phones, texting, and web surfing need to wait.  This is challenging, but essential.

5. Listen first. Speak second.

It’s important to actively participate, but don’t hog the time and think about the relevance of what you have to contribute first.

Ask questions that clarify or emphasize important points. And, encourage participation from everyone.  Keep in mind that everyone has different communication styles – some need to process more than others.  Respect that. Don’t make people participate by calling on them, but keep the meeting open for input. When possible, give time for people to think about the topics ahead of time, or ask for follow-up after.

Bottom Line: Model the Behavior You Want to See

And, finally know that your meeting behavior – good, bad, or in-between will be noticed, whether you think so or not.  Most probably your boss, or future boss will notice or hear about it as well.   Model the behavior you would like to see at a productive meeting and be part of changing your office meeting culture way before the coffee pot runs out.


Betty Lochner is the Owner of Cornerstone Coaching & Training. She specializes in personal and organizational transformation and is the author of  Dancing with Strangers: Communication skills for transforming your life at work and at home, and 52 Communication Tips.

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