The 6 best words that can be strung together in the business world (besides “Holy shit we just made a ton of money!”) are “Now THAT was a good meeting!” I heard that magical phrase yesterday from a client, and it felt good.
When you work for a decade+ on something, you hope someone notices. And I’ve been deep in the mud theorizing/practicing/failing to create effective meetings.
An effective meeting is one where:
- The meeting goal was important and clear.
- We didn’t waste time on related/side/tangential/bullshit conversations.
- The meeting ended at or before the prescribed end time (and not a second later!).
- People feel more-empowered and have a clearer path to crushing their to-dos.
- Everyone comes to a better-understanding of why we’re doing our jobs.
- Work gets prioritized, and we drop to-dos that are no longer important.
- Create a meeting agenda and share it with the attendees prior to the meeting. (See my customized EOS L10 meeting agenda templates)
- Define the goal of the meeting in writing, at the top of the agenda document. For example, at my weekly digital strategy meeting, my goal is, “Hold us accountable to our promises & empower us to crush it.” Anything that deviates from that goal doesn’t belong in this meeting.
- Set a time limit. No weekly meeting should require more than an hour. My weekly leadership meeting with the CEO, COO, CMO, CTO, and Customer Service Director of a company I work with sometimes requires less than 30 minutes. If I’ve done my job, everyone leaves feeling empowered to crush their to-do list.
- Force people to promise important deliverables and hold them accountable to them next week at the start of your meeting. You hold them accountable simply by asking, “Is this thing done?” This is basic project management, but it’s a skill I learned the hard way 5 years into my freelancing career! A lightbulb moment for me, taught in the heat of battle by Kyle in the midst of a project I had turned into a shitshow. (Still sorry for that, Kyle!) I know seasoned entrepreneurs who still have not mastered or even started to learn this important skill. I promise you, once you learn this skill of holding teammates accountable, your entrepreneurial skills & earning potential will more than triple!
- Create a list of what you are going to talk about and prioritize that list. Then make sure people don’t deviate. Set the groundrules verbally before the meeting and when your CEO starts sharing her vision for the voice of the company when we’ve all agreed that we are trying to help me understand why emails weren’t sent to customers, wrangle the cats back to the gameplan.
- You won’t get to everything in your list – don’t worry about it. You talked about the most important thing and maybe the 2nd-most-important thing and maybe the 3rd. That’s why we prioritize, why we created the agenda in the first place.
- At the end of the meeting, ask everyone to rate the meeting on a scale of 1-10, and ask why they rated it that way. I’ve learned some of my most-important business insights in the last 1 minute of meetings when people are rating the meeting. It’s when unexpected things come up in an interesting way. “I give it a 6, because my power was out all last night, and I couldn’t focus.” Great to know – I need to pull some extra weight at our pitch later today. “It seems like we didn’t talk about the most important thing.” Thank you – what is that thing?
Most people suck at leading meetings. That’s because:
- It’s a skill, and skills require intensive practice, curiosity, and uncomfortable moments to learn correctly.
- It’s a team sport where usually the worst leader of meetings is the coach (a.k.a. boss).
- Even if you spent 10,000 hours in meetings, you probably have experienced very few effective meetings.
I’m going to gloss over the formidable hurdle of how to gain influence in an organization (start your reading at Company of One or The 4 Hour Workweek). Freelancers can start leading effective meetings today! It’s a learnable skill that’ll save you thousands of hours and earn you thousands of dollars that you wouldn’t have otherwise earned. Who knows, maybe it’ll improve your marriage, too.
Plus, running effective meetings will help get you further along the path to becoming a more calm and more profitable company. (Side note: Sounds stupid, but I actually needed to learn what business profit actually is: Read Simple Numbers for a quick primer on profit and take your profit first.)
Let me know if you have questions or ideas for improvement.