The Monotony of Meetings
Meetings have a reputation for being unnecessary and mundane, a place for people with authority to establish themselves and lay down their objectives. Most of us have been there—sitting in a meeting, imagining what else we could accomplish with our time, zoning in and out as one person talks at the front of the room.
Meetings like these are ineffective, pointless, and all too common. After all, there hasn’t been much innovation when it comes to meetings. Sure, the emergence of new technologies has led to different presenting techniques from the likes of PowerPoint and Prezi—but when the problem is in how the meeting is run, not even the most exciting presentation can rescue the experience.
How to Run a Productive Meeting
Back in the 1960s, George M. Prince studied hundreds of meetings via tape recordings to identify the factors that created an unproductive meeting environment. From his research, he developed a model that highlighted how to be a better meeting chairman. This model is at the heart of the Ideas To Go business model and supports every step of our process. Here are some ways to break out of the old meeting habits and foster a creative meeting environment.
Separate the content from the process.
The “chairman” of the meeting, or as we call them, Facilitators, should be leading the meeting and not participating. Their role is to design the meeting and then facilitate it so that the desired goals are met. George Prince found that the chairman of the meeting was usually the person with the most authority, or the boss. While it makes sense at the surface, this discourages others from contributing their own ideas because they are afraid of what their boss will think. Even worse, they don’t want to disagree with their boss. This authority figure can even nonconsciously favor their own ideas while shutting out others’.
The facilitator does not have to be the boss, and by only leading the process—not the content—does not run the risk of favoring their own opinions. Best practice for facilitating within your own company is to rotate who acts as the facilitator, deterring anyone from abusing their powers. The facilitator oversees the process, while everyone else is in control of the content.
Define the objective.
Let everyone know why the meeting is being held and how they are going to benefit from it. By aligning the objectives in the initial stages, everyone will know where the meeting is headed, keeping them engaged and on topic. This also ensures that only the necessary personnel are present, and no one’s time is misused.
Utilize all group members.
There is always that one person who attempts to control the meeting by continuously speaking. This person isn't overtly suppressing others from addressing the group, but everyone else is silenced as a byproduct of the extended talking. It is the facilitator’s job to (politely) interrupt the speaker and ask for more opinions from the group. Not only does it make room for others to talk, it encourages them to share because they were explicitly asked. All too often there are introverts who don’t speak up, when all it takes is to ask what they are thinking. Feel free to address individuals in the meeting, especially if they are keeping quiet.
Quick tip: When prompting the group for ideas, avoid eye contact with the person always sharing their thoughts. This is enough to hold them off for a couple seconds as someone else contributes.
Maintain a positive environment.
This is essential, especially in a creative environment when new ideas are being generated. If an idea is thrown out there and immediately receives negative feedback, the person who contributed the idea will be reluctant to share again. Even others in the meeting will be hesitant because they realize that if their idea isn’t good enough, it won’t be accepted. It’s not a satisfying feeling. A negative environment is the worst to have during ideation or any other meeting.
The phrase “Yes, but . . .” gets tossed around a lot in response to new concepts:
- “Yes, but we’ve already tried that.”
- “Yes, but it costs too much.”
- “Yes, but we would never do that.”
Here at Ideas To Go, we have banned the phrase “Yes, but” and even have stickers to symbolize the ban.
We have developed Forness® Thinking to maintain a positive environment. A Forness® response keeps the good alive in any idea by focusing on what we like, and activates a problem-solving mindset by asking what could be improved. It is the most effective way of eliminating the Negativity Bias from any meeting.
It is important to start with the positives—what you are "for"—in an idea, then switch to what you wish for. It keeps the meeting in a productive area that encourages new thoughts and ideas, which will increase the quality and quantity of the meeting's output.
Present the meeting notes for all to see.
If everyone can see what has been accomplished, no one will get lost during the meeting. This is done best by projecting the notes on a screen, or writing them on a whiteboard or easel paper. Everything achieved in the meeting is visible to all, reminding members where they are in the process. They can also refer to the objectives and see what has yet to be completed. In short, visible meeting notes help meetings run smoothly and efficiently.
Keep the energy level high.
Finally, maintaining a high energy level will keep the members of the meeting engaged and focused. Generating interest during meetings prevents people from mentally withdrawing. Studies show that a happy mind is a productive mind, so don’t underestimate this last step.
If you follow these steps and practice separating the content from the process, expect to see more efficient meetings in your workplace. Here at Ideas To Go, we have Expert Facilitators that guide all types of projects. Feel free to contact us to learn more about what we do!
Tyler Thompson is a Creative Process Designer and Facilitator at Ideas To Go, an innovation agency that works with Fortune 500 companies in ideation and concept development to incorporate the voice of the consumer.