You’ve spent weeks planning this meeting. Your 3 page agenda is perfectly structured, you’ve booked the biggest and brightest boardroom. Whiteboard markers are ready for brainstorming, your powerpoint slides are prepped, there’s even fresh cookies on the table.
As a meeting facilitator, this is your moment to shine. But somehow everything goes wrong.
Your team arrive and spend 15 minutes chatting about weekend plans. When you finally kickoff the session, your questions are met with silence. Feeling defeated by awkward gazes you move onto the next topic - but now two people dominate the conversation. The schedule goes off track with random chit chat, tangents and arguments.
Your meeting finally ends (half an hour late!) and you’ve only crossed one item off your agenda. As a facilitator you tried so incredibly hard… What went wrong?
Sometimes we put too much pressure on ourselves to host the perfect meeting. This results in over-preparation, a lack of flexibility, and a closed minded approach to meeting management.
Here are 7 ways perfectionism is ruining your meetings, and how to do better next time.
1 - You cram too much in
As a highly productive person, you want to get everything discussed, solved and ticked off. This makes it tempting to cram a month of topics into one meeting. But are you underestimating how much time your group needs?
One of the most important aspects of effective meeting management is allowing breathing space. You can’t make big business decisions within a 10 minute block, crammed between your introductions and xmas party planning. Each point always take longer than anticipated, especially if everyone is given a chance to contribute.
The bigger your group the more time you need. If a topic is large and complex, always dedicate a focused meeting to it, rather than forcing it into your weekly team agenda.
Keeping the agenda uncluttered makes it easier to start and finish on time. This helps you build a reputation as an organised and efficient meeting facilitator, who respects the time of others. It also means people are more likely to attend your future meetings with enthusiasm!
2 - Questions are met with silence
“A meeting consists of a group of people who have little to say - until after the meeting.”
You’re the kind of meeting facilitator who expects brilliant, insightful answers - and this frightens people. When you’re a perfectionist with high expectations other people can sense it.
That’s why silence descends when you ask a question. Suddenly everyone is staring at their smartphones, shifting awkwardly in their seats, or pondering the ceiling texture. No-one wants to give the wrong answer. How do you create a less intimidating environment?
Effective meeting management always starts with a warm up. This could be a quick quiz, a fast paced icebreaker, or even a team stretch and high five. Launch into something fun straight away and you’ll earn their immediate attention.
Following this, explain the meeting conduct rules. Stress the principles of non-judgment and non-interruption. There should be no such thing as a wrong question, answer or comment - except those putting down others. These rules help to create a safe space where everyone feels comfortable contributing.
3 - You’re afraid to ‘park’ topics
“A meeting is an event at which the minutes are kept and the hours are lost.”
As a perfectionist you want to get brilliant results from each meeting. You feel the need to debate every idea that comes up, in case it leads to something great.
But it’s crucial you acknowledge ideas in the right way. If someone brings up an excellent point that doesn’t align with the agenda, it needs to be tabled for later. The best way of doing this is the ‘parking lot’ method. This involves creating a fictional ‘parking lot’ where off-topic good ideas are stored for later, helping you steer the meeting back on track.
The parking lot method is one of the most important aspects of effective meeting management. It works best when you have a drawn up a chart already, either on your whiteboard or the meeting agenda. Write the parked ideas down in real-time as they happen, rather than retrospectively. A tool like MeetingKing is great for this.
Always be sure to return to those ideas later (either at the end of the meeting, in your post-meeting notes or a separate discussion). Otherwise you risk losing credibility.
4 - You’re choosing sides
Being a great meeting facilitator is like being a sports referee. You must stay neutral to hold an effective discussion, or risk the wrath of both sides. If you’re seen favouring certain people you’ll instantly lose credibility. We’ve all been in a meeting where the ‘teacher’s pet’ was picked to answer every question - this creates resentment and jeopardises the group decision making.
Instead, try to give all members equal speaking time and consideration. Having an open mind and listening to different points of view is a crucial part of effective meeting management. Leave your emotions at the door, as they will hinder your ability to hold a fair debate.
If you’re too engaged or concerned with the meeting outcome, ask someone else to facilitate. Then you’re free to offer opinions and add value to the conversation yourself.
5 - You’re frantically typing
As a perfectionist, it’s tempting to sit there typing every word uttered during a meeting. You don’t want to miss any precious information.
But if you’re occupied with typing notes you can’t be an effective meeting facilitator. Worse still, it can seem to others that you’re distracted. The group may think you’re checking emails (or browsing Facebook) instead of listening to their ideas.
Instead of frantically typing everything you hear, try a group note taking app like Minute. This clever software is designed for effective meeting management, capturing all your information in one place. It can even sync with your calendar, distribute notes to attendees and delegate tasks.
If capturing every detail is really important, record the meeting audio and transcribe it later using cutting edge software like Trint. Technology is here to make your life easier!
6 - You spend days on the agenda
“I was working on the proof of one of my poems all the morning, and took out a comma. In the afternoon I put it back again.”
- Oscar Wilde
Planning a meeting shouldn’t take longer than the meeting itself. If you’ve agonised over details all week, something is wrong. Stop obsessing, take a step back and ask yourself if you’re really adding value to the project deliverables.
Better yet, speed up your process by using the right tools for the job. A tool like Lucid Meetings can help you increase productivity with pre-designed agenda templates, action points, real-time minute taking and notifications.
You can even build a searchable database of previous meeting records, saving you hours of time on future meeting preparations.
7 - You’re not having fun
If you finish the meeting feeling stressed and frustrated, chances are your team feel the same.
A meeting isn’t just an opportunity for problem solving and decisions. It should light a fire under your team - making them feel energised, inspired and empowered. If you don’t bring a positive attitude to the room this can’t happen.
So put on your optimist’s hat, bring a smile, and tackle your agenda with unbridled enthusiasm. You’ll be surprised at how contagious a positive attitude is.
Bonus tips for effective meetings:
- Match your room size to the number of participants. If the room is too small you’ll feel cramped. If it’s big and empty, it becomes an intimidating echo chamber.
- Make it comfortable. Arrive to the room 5 minutes early to adjust your aircon. Get fresh air flowing through windows if possible. Check the lighting and temperature.
- Have your tools ready. Running out of the room to grab a new whiteboard marker can ruin your focus and momentum. Be over prepared with stationary!
- Distribute a written agenda in advance. This gives every team member a chance to gather their thoughts, prepare, and bring their best ideas to the table.
- Summarise the discussion. Repeat all of your main talking points at the end of the meeting, to help solidify it in everyone’s memories.
- Finish with delegated action points. Everyone should know what is expected of them, and what to do next. This ends your meeting with a sense of purpose, and keeps project momentum going.
There are good meetings and bad meetings. The worst ones seem to last forever, making your back ache and eyelids droop. The best meetings leave you feeling energised and excited to tackle projects head on. What are your best tips for running an effective meeting? We’d love to hear about your own facilitation experiences.