The 6 best words that can be strung together in the business world besides “We just made lots 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 for years theorizing/practicing/failing to create effective meetings.
What is an effective meeting?
An effective meeting is one where:
- The meeting’s primary goal is important and written down.
- Time is not wasted talking about the weather or your colleague’s kids.
- The meeting ends at or before the scheduled end time.
- Afterwards, people feel like it was a necessary meeting.
- The meeting prioritizes the work, and causes us to quit working on to-dos that are no longer important.
How to lead an effective meeting?
- 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 multi-million dollar fast-growing startup you’ve heard of sometimes requires less than 30 minutes.
- Force people to promise important deliverables for next week’s meeting and hold old them accountable to their promises at the start of next week’s meeting. You hold them accountable simply by asking, “Is this thing done?”.
- Create an ordered list of what you are going to talk about at the meeting – put the most-important item on top, second-most important item second, etc. Make sure people don’t deviate. Set the groundrules verbally before the meeting so that when your CEO deviates, you can politely interrupt & point to the ground rules to steer the conversation back on track.
- 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. Oftentimes I find that some things never get addressed week-after-week – This means they aren’t important, and you can remove them from your to-do list entirely!
- 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?
Leading Effective Meetings is a Learned Skill
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.
- Your CEO is probably the worst at leading meetings.
- Even if you spent 10,000 hours in meetings, you probably have experienced very few effective meetings.
Running effective meetings will help get you further along the path to becoming a more calm and more profitable company. (Side note on building profit: 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.
Published April 9, 2019.
Revised April 20, 2022.