Meetings – a survival guide
We have all, at some time, endured them, led them, organised them, maybe even enjoyed them! Everyone probably has their own idea of how they should be run and what they should be for. And at our recent event, I think we must have heard just about every possible point of view on bad practice in meetings and how to deal with it.
As an icebreaker, our ‘Meetings bingo’ worked well. We each had a list of meeting ‘roles’, such as ‘asked for a pay rise’, ‘interviewed someone’, ‘introduced a speaker’, and the challenge was to talk to different people and discover examples of what might have gone wrong for them in each of these situations. AWiSE members rarely need much excuse to get chatting but this exercise certainly helped!
As a group, we discussed some of the issues arising from these conversations. An amazing array of experiences was revealed, along with some equally interesting and creative suggestions for dealing with some of the awkward and difficult situations being described. Many appear to be common sense, but it’s surprising just how often seemingly obvious courtesies and meeting preparation are overlooked. Here are some of my favourites:
- Your contributions are overlooked, while others receive recognition for your ideas? How about a card to hold up saying, “I just said that!” There were several other great suggestions for the use of flashcards, including one to signal ‘Jargon!!’ and another to signal ‘Rabbithole!!’ when a discussion is going unhelpfully into ever narrower and narrower territory.
- Why are we here? Why am I here? What is this meeting for? Good preparation is essential. Cirulate an agenda in advance so people can make an informed decision as to whether they really need to attend. If slides are to be used, advanced view of these also means that people can concentrate on the issues during the meeting rather than having to absorb totally new ideas or material.
- What if a meeting is badly chaired, and therefore not sticking to schedule, or there are side discussions going on? You could say, “Could we/you take this discussion offline?” or “Can I check, are we going to cover xxx in this meeting?”, to try to steer it back on track.
- Negotiating a pay rise, or something else? Do your research – have your case ready, and be aware that everyone asks for things, it’s not just you. Practise on things that don’t matter so much, so you are more ready and comfortable with negotiating when it is important. Find out their criteria for making decisions, and work within those confines. Put yourself in their shoes! (You can read more about negotiation tips here.)
- Webex and telephone conferences have their own particular issues. Make sure the technology is working. Some people may feel nervous if a meeting is being recorded – in this situation, be very sure about your facts. It’s very important that introductions are made in non-face-to-face meetings, so that people have some chance of knowing who is saying what. Don’t be afraid to ask if you need to know who just spoke, either because you are taking minutes or because you need to follow up with that person afterwards.
- What if someone is downright rude to you? The example we heard arose in a job interview, and was completely unacceptable. You could give them the benefit of the doubt, and ask them to rephrase their question or statement. If they say it in more acceptable terms, then hopefully it was a one-off error of judgement, but if not, then perhaps it is time to leave.
Our group discussion was followed by a spot of small group meetings role-play, in which we each took one of five (secret) roles – Chair, Minute-taker, Constructive Member (positive feedback, helpful ideas), Interrupter, Inappropriate Non-verbal Cues (posture, eye contact etc). Our task was to come up with two ideas for a future AWiSE event, whilst playing our roles and dealing with the consequences! This was great fun and, of course, helped the Steering Group no end by producing a range of ideas for next year’s event calendar!
The strawberries, cream and scones which followed were well-earned by all present. This was one of the best AWiSE meetings I have attended, for sheer wealth of experience in the room and excellent tips gathered. A fantastic end to our 2014-15 programme.
(Thoughts were captured on these flipcharts – just click to enlarge and read)