Turn Time-Sink Pow-Wows Into Agents Of Your Ambition With These Hacks To Boss Your Meetings

‘Practise being the last to speak,’ says Simon Sinek, author, motivational speaker and marketing consultant. According to Sinek it’s a key skill to master if you want to get the most out of any meeting. ‘It sounds easy. It’s not.’ It’s not the only skill either.

Being ‘The Don’ in every meeting, without just looking like a dick, requires a fine blend of tact, authority, diplomacy and time-management, say those experts charged with making companies more effective and meetings more dynamic. Simply entering the room and telling everyone what you think, then going around the table to gauge the thoughts of others won’t win you much influence in the long run. Instead, follow RISING’s recommended route to getting everyone onboard with your way of doing things...

Decide The Outcome Before Your Meeting Has Begun

Setting an agenda with a clear purpose and highlighting what you want to get out of it will focus the minds of those involved on a specific task. If you’re the one calling the meeting and you want it to be truly effective, then there’s only one way to guarantee that it’s productive.

In his report on Why Meetings Kill Productivity for the publication Psychology Today, Ray Williams, an executive business coach and author of Eye of the Storm: How Mindful Leaders Transform Chaotic Workplaces insists that those who call a meeting need to have ownership of it to attain their goal: ‘Meet only to support a decision that has already been made. Don’t allow individuals to hijack or dominate meetings by frequent and endless conversation – it’s your responsibility as the meeting leader to control this.’

Host The Firm’s Most Productive Meeting

How to achieve this? Well, before you’ve even called it to order there’s a skill to setting a meeting in such a way as to ensure you’re already onto a winner. ‘Play the numbers game,’ Alan Redman, director of Criterion Partnership and a chartered psychologist specialising in business and people, tells RISING. ‘Between six and eight people in a meeting is manageable, comfortable and about the right dynamic to make effective decisions.’ And schedule it for Tuesday at 3pm. ‘Mondays and Fridays aren’t good days for meetings, especially with more and more people working flexibly and extending their weekends,’ says Redman. ‘Immediately after lunch is just biologically bad, it’s when us humans experience a physical slump that affects brain power too.’ But a survey of 100,000 meeting invitations by online scheduling service WhenIsGood found that 3pm on a Tuesday is the optimum time to get the people you want to attend.

Outflank The Saboteurs Before They Mobilise

‘Before the meeting begins you should agree a set of ground rules,’ says Redman. ‘Agree a timeframe and set a deadline for when the meeting will end’. Redman says research shows the human cognitive capacity for focus lasts around 45 minutes, after which point you call a break or an end. Studies published in the journal Organizational Behavior and Human Performance on how meeting groups solved problems found that they communicated at a faster rate and used more autocratic decision-making processes under high time pressure than they did when time pressure was low. So being the man holding the stopwatch will ensure you make that meeting doubly effective. But let the stopwatch be the only device on the table…

There’s Nothing Smart About A Phone In A Meeting

‘A mobile phone at a meeting says to the rest of the people in the room that they’re not the most important people in the room,’ insists Sinek. ‘And turning your phone upside down is not more polite.’ In order to agree ground rules such ‘No Phones’ as the head of the get-together, you should enter the room with a spirit of giving; offer suggestions of what you feel will make your meeting run the way you want it to, but in a way that makes others feel they have ownership of the decisions. Set out with this approach and use it throughout the meeting.

Stop The Meeting Early To Win Your Point

‘End meetings early,’ says Williams. ‘People will be more positive about participating as a result.’ Setting a cut-off time for a meeting is great, but sticking to it can be much more challenging. ‘If you have an agenda then allocate a specific amount of time to each item,’ suggests Redman. If you can see that discussions are taking longer than allotted, either speed things up or suggest cutting back on the items to hit your deadline. The key to an effective meeting outcome is not letting it wander off course. University of Minnesota psychologist Kathleen Vohs found that workers in meetings have limited executive or effective decision-making resources. Spending too much time going over the same topic leads us to start making bad decisions or rash, rushed choices.

Practise Being The Last To Speak

Sinek’s mantra regarding the role of a great leader and their listening skills has two rewards – firstly it gives everyone else the feeling that they have contributed and secondly it gives you the benefit of knowing what everyone else thinks before putting forward your idea. Basically people like knowing that their opinions are being taking into consideration – it can help raise their commitment to the outcome you’re looking to achieve. ‘Never follow someone else’s suggestion with the word “but”,’ warns Redman. ‘Instead use “and” – it builds the conversation and doesn’t put people off. Also mention other contributions by name when putting forward your own proposition having gone around the table – it’s a powerful ploy that makes people feel they’ve helped you reach your executive decision.’

Prepare To Shift Ground And Offer Ground Coffee

‘It pays to retain a sense of detachment too,’ advises Redman. ‘You may have strong feelings about a particular issue you’re trying to force home, but don’t get too attached to it, keep your mind open and prepare to be swayed.’ Shifting the meeting venue away from the stuffiness of the boardroom will lead to decisions being made in your favour too. ‘If you’re looking to encourage more creative ideas then moving the meeting to a more inspirational, fresher setting can help nurture thinking from outside of the box.’

Supplying some scran for attendees off the bat can further benefit you. A study of 3,000 UK office workers carried out by OnePoll found that morning breakfast meetings are more productive than lunchtime ones. Of the 67% of workers who claimed to pay more attention at breakfast meetings than any others, a further 36% insist it’s also easier to pin people down to attend a meal-based meeting at the start of the day than halfway through it.

Keep Everyone On Their Feet

‘Not every employee is suited to a morning meeting, whilst others can’t focus during an afternoon one,’ says Redman. The chronotypes of your colleagues – whether they’re night owls or larks – will be about as memorable to you as their star signs. So instead why not cut out the need for personality analysis, lengthy debate or even chairs and just boss the meeting standing up.

‘For short update meetings or urgent, one-topic brainstorming sessions holding a meeting standing up has a number of benefits,’ says Redman. ‘For starters it gives energy to those taking part as they’re not slumped in chairs restricting their breathing and reducing the oxygen flowing to the brain.’ And a standing ‘huddle’ helps secure a unified decision more quickly, as a study from the Olin Business School at Washington University discovered. Researchers comparing the effects of seated and standing meetings found that those who conducted discussions upright recorded greater physiological arousal, were more open to sharing ideas and judged the meetings more efficient and purposeful than those who remained seated.

WHAT NEXT? Put an immediate stop to back-and-forth e-mailing or telephone tennis just to set a meeting date everyone can attend. Seize the initiative with a meeting scheduling software solution – such as the baked-in Google or Outlook calendars. Then add bullet points for attendees to consider beforehand, cutting down meeting time before it’s even begun.