Experts weigh in on how to run a successful meeting
Senator Susan Collins’ talking stick had a big part to play in ending America’s government shutdown.
During the recent US government shutdown, Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) employed an unorthodox method to keep a group of bipartisan senators from interrupting one another — a ceremonial African talking stick that the senators passed among themselves. Whoever had the stick at a given moment was the only one with speaking permission.
“[The stick] is beautifully beaded and it was given to me by my friend, Democratic Senator Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, and it is originally from Africa, and it is used to help control the debate in a meeting when you have a large number of loquacious people,” Collins told CNN’s Chris Cuomo this week. “And it was very helpful in making sure that everybody’s voice got heard when we were doing the discussions in my office, day after day after day.”
Collins faced a situation many of us have — meetings that get too frequently hijacked by a select few and thus drag on or go off topic. Indeed, nearly half (47%) of Americans say that they get annoyed by people who “dominate the conversation” in a meeting. And that may be a big reason that about half of us also find meetings to be unproductive, according to data published from marketing company HubSpot.
Want to prevent this from happening? These expert tips will help keep interruptions in a meeting to a minimum, and keep them running smoothly.
Set an agenda
Have a list of the topics that your meeting will address, says Jason Patel, founder of the college prep company Transizion. You should circulate this agenda through email or a shared Google document prior to the meeting, and ensure that each participant has familiarized themselves with it before starting the conversation. Refer to it often to remain on track.
Put someone in charge of the meeting
Choose a team leader to head up the meeting, says Rob Volpe, the CEO of consumer insights firm Ignite 360. The leader can ensure that the meeting moves from topic to topic on the communal agenda, and that the people speaking don’t ramble on forever.
“We use tools like egg timers and stopwatches to create an equal time policy that we can enforce in a lighthearted way,” he says.
Keeping people on their toes — literally — can help make meetings shorter, leadership consultant Nancy Halpern of KNH Associates adds. “It’s a lot tougher to be rude and ramble on endlessly when you can’t sit down,” she explains. “Run the meeting with no chairs — you’ll find people much more likely to reach consensus efficiently and gladly.”
Designate a ‘safe word’
This may sound bizarre but marketing consultant Greg Chambers, founder and president of Chambers Pivot Industries, says that choosing a code word for participants to invoke if something veers offtrack will keep meetings running smoothly. One of his go-to words is “Bentley.”
“In this meeting, you say, ‘We’re going to need a safe word, so what’s it going to be?’ The group will pick something, more fun ensues, and then [you] explain what it’s for: ‘This is the topic of the meeting and if we get off track, safe word. If things get heated, safe word. If you’re interrupted, safe word. If you’re lost, safe word.'”
Surrender your cell phone
Round up everyone’s cell phone, says Halpern. “At the start of every off-site [meeting] I deliver, we find a spot in the room to deposit all cell phones. This prevents participants from checking email or texts, and helps them stay focused on the content of the meeting as well as each other.”
Of course, this isn’t practical for every meeting, but if the entire team has assembled in one place, there may be less of a reason for employees to repeatedly check their phones anyway.
Bribe ‘em with candy
Use sugar as a reward, says Scott Amyx, an author and the managing partner of venture capital fund Amyx Ventures. “Give out points or candy to those who are most gracious and professional.”
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