Top 5 Tips for Smarter Meetings (Times 12!)

Jun 9, 2020 by Elise Keith in behind the scenes, fun with meetings, tips & techniques (9 minute read)

Recently we hosted two online parties where we invited folks to join us in creating a big list of Tip-Top Top Tips for Smarter Meetings. The whole event was an experiment. We wondered:

  • Would it work to combine all these different meeting techniques?
  • How much real value could a group of random strangers create within an hour?
  • Would anyone find this interesting enough to show up?

Much to my great surprise, we were joined by nearly 80 people over the two sessions. The techniques we practiced worked better the second time through, which is a testament to the value of practice. And it turns out that interested, engaged people can quickly create a lot of value when given the opportunity and structure.

Screenshot from the top-tips parties
Screenshots from the top-tips parties, showing some of our brilliant participants

During the sessions, we worked in small teams. Each team had five minutes to introduce themselves and select a topic for their list. Then, they spent 5 minutes individually reflecting on the topic. Finally, the came back together and spent 10 minutes creating a Top 5 Tips list.

Put it together, and each group had 20 minutes to go from complete strangers facing a blank slate to a team presenting a finished product. And they did!

About These Top Tips Lists

Each group selected a meeting-related topic they wanted to explore. I've grouped these lists into related themes and made some minor edits for clarity and consistency. Otherwise, the tips below come straight from the breakout groups. Most of these ideas are pretty great - and it's an amazing list given the time constraints.  

Makes you wonder what you might create with your teams if you were to do something like this in your business, doesn't it?

You'll also see the names and links for some of our participants below. These people volunteered to share their information here with each other and all of you. Thanks, everyone! It's been so fabulous to meet you all!

Tips for Managing Meeting Time

Time is Precious

 

5 Tips for Meeting Prep People Will Actually Do

A list by Diana Larsen (Agile Fluency Project), Kathleen Oweegon (Bridges of Peace), Jason Schreuder (Inspired Iterations), and John Skelton (Salem Symphonic Winds).

  1. Run check-ins or icebreakers with relevant topics that also create social connections.
  2. Use polls.
  3. Consider the long game...do things in your current meeting that will prompt prep for next time.
  4. Demonstrate WIIFM (what’s in it for me) ahead of the meeting.
  5. Create tools in advance (e.g., worksheets) to make preparation easier.

 

4 Tips for Before and After the Meeting

A list by Alexandre Beauchet (Draft.io), John Reynolds (Trules), Kim S., Nick P., and Paul Nunesdea (Co.Lab Architecting Collaboration).

  1. Set the meeting's desired outcomes explicitly. After setting the meeting outcome ask yourself: Is this really a meeting or is it a presentation?
  2. Set the meeting rules and explain why they matter.
  3. Why are people invited? Ensure you invite the right people (and not the wrong people)
  4. Give people explicit follow-up assignments.

 

5 Tips for What to Do When You’ve Run Out of Time

A list by Megan Moore (LinkedIn), Simon Earl (LinkedIn), Tammy Adams (Chaosity), and Toni.

  1. Give homework based on items you didn’t get to cover.
  2. If you go over time allotted, ask the group what items could be removed from the agenda or whether further time to discuss is important. Give the decision back to the group.
  3. Call a timeout and ask what’s one thing that’s working well in the conversation and what could we do differently?
  4. Establish a clear “closure” to the meeting. Don’t just let it end awkwardly.
  5. Build flexibility into the agenda points. Don’t become too rigid or restrictive.

 

Tips for Leading Engaging Meetings

Jumping for joy

 

5 Tips for Getting Input From Everyone In the Meeting

A list by Anna Zaremba (Akademia Facylitacji), Catarina Moreno (Ignite Management) , Mark Rickmeier (Meetings Done Right),  Matej G., and Richard D.

Meeting inclusion cards or video backgrounds
  1. Provide silent time for people to brainstorm, and then get them to share.
  2. Break people into small groups.
  3. Use Inclusion Meeting cards
  4. Ask randomly a few chosen “So, John, what is your opinion about that …”
  5. Mute someone who goes on too long, thank them, and ask to hear from someone else.

 

5 Tips for Increasing Engagement Using Conferencing Tools

A list by Afzan M., Dev B.,  Rona Roberts (Roberts & Kay), and Sue H.

  1. Use music to energize and perhaps as a timer, chosing a song that matches the group.
  2. Preparation: Get people engaged BEFORE the meeting! Test your tools and make sure you as the facilitator are prepared.
  3. Go to extreme measures to engage people that are actually doing the work and invite them to participate. Make sure you have the right people in the meeting.
  4. Use Miro or Google Jamboard for online collaboration.
  5. Hold up physical “stop” or “go” signs. Make your own or use these Collaboration Superpower Super Cards.

 

5 Tips for How To Get Input from Everyone

A list by Miriam, Tom, Michael, and Stefan.

  1. Learn more information in advance about participants (e.g., are they introverted or outgoing?)
  2. Create meeting agreements, asking the group what rules should we agree upon.
  3. Address everyone directly at beginning so that everyone talks already once.
  4. Establish a ground rule that we hear from everyone.
  5. Add or remove a symbol when somebody speaks on a sheet you use to keep track of who's had a chance to speak.

 

5 Tips for Fostering Engagement in Large Groups Remotely

A list by Diana T., Greg W., Kathleen Doyle-White (Pathfinders Coaching), and Sam P. 

  1. Define large group: 25 - 30 people, 50 - 75 people - then limit the number in each meeting to 25.
  2. Structure slides and prep work up front. Create the ability for participants to vote.
  3. Break the meeting up into structured blocks of time, with specific instructions.
  4. Limit the number of participants in a break out room to 8 or fewer.
  5. Max 90 minutes for a session.

 

5 Tips for Recovering When Energy Dips

A list by Cyndy, Kathy F,  and Nancy Settle-Murphy (Guided Insights).

  1. Have a list of discussion topics to turn to.
  2. Give people something to do to keep their fingers busy.
  3. Have people stand up and stretch.
  4. Have a list of close-ended, stimulating questions to shift energy.
  5. Call an end to the meeting.

 

Tips for Participating in Meeting

The Best Gift is You

 

4 Tips for How To Be A Good Virtual Meeting Attendee

A list by Diana Larsen (Agile Fluency Project), Gordon M, Lori B, and Marsh Makstein (eSlide).

  1. Over-exaggerate facial and head expressions. Maintain eye contact, nod, and respond with “uh huh.”
  2. Turn on your camera. Get leadership buy-in to create this as a company standard. Many people’s problem is seeing themselves, show them how to turn their self-view off.
  3. Be prepared to fully participate in meeting “check in” time at the beginning with genuine self-reflective information (e.g. How’s your state of mind today: mad, sad, glad, afraid...be ready to answer)
  4. Remove background noise so you aren’t worried about staying unmuted (use Krisp, find a quiet space, etc.)

 

5 Tips for Sharing the Load

A list by Chris Fox (Chris C. Fox Consulting), Martin, Jan Migchels (CPOE), and Susan W.

  1. Get someone else to take ownership of sharing the document/screen.
  2. Allocate/assign roles: chair, notetaker, document manager
  3. Have fun. Make fun!
  4. Use breakouts for larger groups.
  5. Identify maximum number of members (no more than 6, 4 for brainstorming) for the meeting.

 

Tips for Tackling Important, Challenging Conversations

Let's have that discussion

 

5 Tips for Encouraging Healthy Conflict

A list by Barbara R., Neil M., Shafraaz Kaba (Ask for a Better World), and Sue Tinnish (Vistage Chair profile).

  1. Pre-planning the steps you'll follow during the meeting.
  2. Set the rules of engagement.
  3. Use art, such as a blank canvas, inviting people to draw out their ideas.
  4. Weave in meditative techniques to get centered (breathing, calming).
  5. Use the Crucial Conversations framework.

 

5 Tips for Helping a Group Go Deep

A list by Barbara,Owen, Robin, and Rosie.

What does it mean to go deep? Getting to the next level down, under the surface; addressing interpersonal aspects; topics the group may be avoiding.

  1. Transparency: explain why the group should go deep.
  2. Use Liberating Structures app/website/methods.
  3. Use Mural and other tools that allow for group collaboration.
  4. Conduct a Pre-mortem, incorporating methods such as TRIZ and Min Specs.
  5. Break into small groups to brainstorm, discuss, and strategize.

 

A Marvelous Magnification of Energy

The gift of energy freely given

 

As you can see, there are a lot of great tips in here. If you struggle with any of these meeting challenges, you should find at least one tip here that will make a significant, positive difference for your team.

To get this result, I invested around 11.5 hours over the course of four days, with 3.5 hours spent during sessions and 8 hours of preparation. Participants invested between 60 and 90 minutes, depending on how much time they spent preparing and how long they stuck around to network afterwards.

From this one-time investment of energy, we created:

  1. A re-usable session design. The basic outline would work for any remote group that needs to quickly create a list of targeted ideas. I'll share the session design in a follow-up article, so you can build on that too.
  2. New connections. Many participants exchanged LinkedIn details and made plans to connect after the event.
  3. Fun! We had a good time in what was otherwise a pretty dark week.
  4. A big list of useful tips (see above).

Now, if every person who reads this article adopts just one useful tip and they use that tip to improve a meeting with 4 or 5 more people, the positive impact from this initial investment will ripple even farther.

Well-designed meetings provide an amazingly outsized return of energy, positivity, and useful results for the investment. That's why our company works to help teams run successful meetings every day.

For those of you who joined the Top Tips party, thank you so very, very much. Please share any comments below that you feel could further amplify the value you've created.

Images courtesy of Harry Sandhu, Val Vesa, Dakota Corbin, Antenna CW CJ, and Rampal Singh on Unsplash.



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