Angela, one of our newest customers, called in with a problem.
She’d started using Lucid to organize and run her meetings, and had her team log in too. She felt more organized, and was happy with the automated records she got afterwards, but she wasn’t getting the kind of engagement from the rest of the group she’d hoped for.
Meetings bring a group together to quickly discover answers and ideas that no one person can find by themselves.
Whether we’re working to negotiate the details of a new project, finding a way to tackle a challenging problem, or seeking to define our strategic vision, the pattern is the same; someone poses a question, and the group starts brainstorming answers.
Effective brainstorming is essential to nearly every type of business meeting.
Unfortunately, not all questions are created equally.
Sometimes the questions asked in a meeting don’t invite meaningful answers. Asking “Everyone good with that?” after dictating a decision isn’t an effective way to surface real concerns or get real commitments.
Some questions are too vague, making it unclear what kind of answer to give. Questions like “Do you have any feedback?” result in either polite non-replies (e.g., “Nope, I’m good.”) or long-winded side discussions that don’t necessarily get to the answers the group needs.
Getting great ideas from a group during a meeting can be hard, and for many participants, traditional brainstorming can feel like a painful waste of time.
First, despite the popularity of brainstorming sessions, we have some evidence that meetings aren’t always the best place to birth new ideas. Ideal or not, however, sometimes a meeting is the only real opportunity we have to explore ideas as a group, so we’d better make it work.
Some people don’t seem to understand the difference between a group meeting and a personal consultation, taking it upon themselves to dominate the meeting by answering all the questions first, loudly, and in great detail.
Return Leverage, one of Lucid’s Enterprise clients, found our downloadable meeting notes to be less helpful than they’d hoped. Toby Lucich from Return Leverage asked if we could improve the exports to help make it easier for busy professionals to read the meeting notes. We’re thrilled to have had the opportunity to learn from his experience and improve the exports.
Since we made these changes in collaboration with Return Leverage, we asked Toby if he’d be willing to share more about why this format works, and how his company uses it to drive meeting results with clients. Happily, he agreed.
Toby Explains Why Formatting Can’t Suck
As an entrepreneur and management consultant, I’ve now worked with hundreds of business leaders in organizations big and small, for-profit and non-profit, both founder-led and professionally managed. I’ve worked with organizational leaders at all levels that have been charismatic, visionary, thought-provoking, strategic, detail-oriented; some have also been distracted, impatient, disengaged, incompetent, or simply apathetic. Leaders come in all shapes and sizes.
The common challenges I’ve seen all leaders face are the overly-packed calendar, shifting expectations, soft commitments, impending deadlines, and never enough time to get it all done.
Regardless of the client or their culture, our first obligation is fundamentally about effective communication. We believe that every single client deserves our best effort to capture and communicate the most critical ideas and actions that will efficiently and effectively turn ideas into actions, and actions into successful business results.
How this information is presented is a critical first step.
A clean, easy-to-read format is a powerful first impression in shifting the value from meeting notes toward meeting agreements or records for your stakeholders.You never know which meeting is going to change the course of the company.
We’ve recently collaborated with Lucid to redesign the exported report. Here's some of the design thinking that went into the new format.
But sometimes when you get running really fast, it’s easy to lose people along the way. When a group rushes through updates and decisions, anyone who comes to the meeting distracted, unfamiliar with the topic, or who maybe just needs a bit more time to process new information is going to miss something.
Leave No One Behind
When we go too fast for the whole group to participate, our desire to be efficient and end on time can sabotage the meeting’s purpose. Every meeting is a kind of journey, taking a group from what they knew and felt before the meeting, to a place with new answers, decisions and shared commitments to keep. If you get to the end of the journey without all your people onboard, you’ve literally wasted everyone’s time, and will have to go back and bring all those people forward again in yet another meeting.
As you work to run faster and more efficient meetings, use these 7 checkpoints to make sure everyone arrives at the same destination together.
Most people think online sales meetings only last for an hour or so. They join at the beginning, and an hour later it’s over.
However, these are usually the people that attend meetings, not the ones who plan them.
Great salespeople know that much more is involved in making meetings successful: they are actually a series of carefully orchestrated events over the course of a sale.
At any given time you are scheduling, planning, meeting, getting agreement on the next meeting, or following up - then repeating over and over until a sale is closed.
First Get the Meeting on Their Schedule
Find a meeting time that works for everyone. If a decision maker (of any kind) cannot attend, try not to have the meeting. If there is an influencer that wants to meet without a decision maker, you’ll need to consider that you will likely have to meet again. This person may not convey information correctly to their colleague, and/or they may not have even told them about your product or service yet.
Your time is just as valuable as your prospect’s. If you must meet without the proper people, make sure to get their email addresses. Be candid with the rest of the team that you will be following up with notes and action items to everyone, including those who could not attend.
Imagine yourself sitting in yet another mind numbing, time-wasting meeting. And then imagine that instead of thinking about all the other things you have to do when the meeting finally ends, you ask yourself “How did we get into this situation?”
Bad meetings do not just happen. They are not a curse cast upon all who dare to try to work together in groups. The root cause of boring, unproductive meetings is that those responsible for calling a meeting make this mistake: we schedule the session and then fail to plan how the group’s time will be used.
Here are some examples of convening but not planning a meeting:
Calling a meeting on a pre-established day and time without questioning the need or purpose for bringing the group together.
Inviting the same people to every meeting, regardless of the topics on the agenda.
Making a “laundry list” of topics and calling it an agenda.
Failing to share even this haphazard list with the invited participants in advance of the meeting.
Not considering whether the items on the agenda are relevant to everyone on the invitation list.
Not assigning specific time limits for each agenda item.
Not defining an expected outcome for each agenda item.
These common practices result in meetings that are boring, pointless, and a colossal waste of time and resources. So why are they so widespread?
A typical response from the overworked meeting convener is, “I do not have time to plan meetings. The best I can do is bring the group together and hope that we will be able to sort things out as we go.”
As someone who convenes meetings myself, I recognize that time pressure is a real constraint. I also suspect that many of these intelligent, well-meaning colleagues fail to plan effective meetings because they do not know how.
Do you have the skills you need to effectively plan a meeting?
No one ever taught them that productive meetings must include effective planning of how the group’s time will be used. Conveners have not been given the tools they need to be able to:
Define the purpose of each meeting.
Invite only those who can make a useful contribution to the conversation.
Prioritize the issues under discussion.
Design processes that will give everyone present the satisfaction of having contributed to a useful outcome.
Engage others on the team in the planning process.
Meetings are a time for people to come together to exchange ideas, discuss issues, communicate and make decisions.
And while there are many components to effective meetings, one factor that isn’t always necessary is talking.
To be engaged in a meeting doesn’t necessarily mean you are talking. In a world of overwhelming noise, silence is a powerful force that can help us cultivate relationships, encourage reflection and improve our overall communication ability.
As a facilitator though, this wasn’t always easy for me to understand. In meetings, I wanted people to share their ideas. I wanted energy and momentum and synergy. And when I didn’t get that, my first thought was that they were disinterested, disengaged and not listening.
Many years ago I was asked to represent my company on a national committee. I had to fly from Portland, Oregon to Washington D.C. for the meeting, find my way around the city wearing an actual business suit and heels, then walk into this room and make a good impression.
I was prepared for the content of the meeting - I knew my stuff - but I was far from comfortable. The 30 or so other members of the committee came from Microsoft, the Department of Defense, and a host of big organizations; I worked for a 20-person web software vendor no one had ever heard of. Most of the committee members were much older than I was, and there were very few women.
Soon enough, the gavel pounded and the chair began the meeting. After a brief greeting, he said:
“Go around the room and tell the group a bit about yourself, starting with Don here.”
Tell them about me? What am I supposed to say in this room of dour-looking, experienced people?
I knew that if I wanted any shot of making an impact in the meeting, the other people in the room had to take me seriously, and this introduction was my chance to make that oh-so-important good first impression. But what could I say that would impress this room? I felt like I was at an awful interview, and I began to sweat.
In this case, I needn’t have sweated the introductions (or my blouse) so much. Don stood up and calmly stated his name and the organization he represented, then sat back down. Simple. As it went around the room, each person followed this short pattern, and I began to relax.
My name and where I work? That’s it? Those are questions I can answer easily! Why hadn’t the chair been clearer about what he wanted people to say?
Early in my career, my supervisor did me a big favor, although it didn’t feel like it at the time.
Kurt put me on probation for not speaking during meetings. He stated it very simply—Paul, if you don’t speak, you don’t add value.
I had lots of ways to justify my lack of speaking: I was the newest member of the group, I didn’t have much experience, other people seemed to have more to say, I wasn’t sure I had anything of value to add, and, of course, the blockbuster of all: I was shy.
Fortunately, my supervisor wasn’t into explanations or excuses—just results. And suddenly not speaking wasn’t an option for me.
Now, many years later, during training programs on personal effectiveness and coaching with individual managers, I am working to broaden the amount of participation in meetings and to deepen the level of conversation in group settings.
Two key ideas are at the heart of this issue:
First, participants need to embrace this perspective: If you are invited to speak, you are obligated to respond even if it is simply to acknowledge being asked and saying that you don’t have anything to express that hasn’t already been said. Part of being an effective member of any group is to always be self-expressed.
Second, when leading meetings, you need to call on people directly because you simply can not count on people speaking up on their own.