If you work in any industry, chances are you spend a fair amount of time in meetings. Some of these sessions are highly productive and lead to great results. Others–far too commonly–are time-stealers, and the chief villains include the meeting facilitators, presenters, and participants. In other words, everyone involved unintentionally conspires to rob each other of efficiency and productivity.

Thankfully, “villains” can easily be transformed into ‘heroes” through a few shifts in thinking and behaviors, empowered by practice. Here’s how to optimize any meeting environment and likely, as a side benefit, create the need for fewer future meetings:

Heroic meeting facilitators:
  • Develop and employ clear outcomes for a meeting
  • Create and accept agenda items that drive those outcomes
  • Professionally engage the team throughout the meeting with prompts and feedback that keep the meeting on track
  • Start and end meetings on time!
  • Prepare technology ahead of time to mitigate any potential difficulties
  • Say things like, “Our purpose for the next hour is to develop a  strategy for engaging every regional manager in driving more surgical equipment sales.” “Please keep your agenda items to the time allotted. I’ll need to stop you when you’re at time, so that we can be sure to fully cover each item today.” “Very helpful presentation, Paul. Please be aware that you have one minute left, and then we’ll need to move to our next item.” “It sounds like we might be veering off topic. Let’s tackle those questions offline and continue with our agenda.” “We’ve had some great input from Jeff and Nancy so far. Bill or Jenny, what are your thoughts on the topic?”
Heroic meeting presenters:
  • Are concise and complete in their presentations
  • Demonstrate a strong grasp on the meeting’s purpose and the audience
  • Create professional-looking materials that are easy to read and follow
  • Engage meeting participants in dialogue and questions, both extroverts and introverts
  • Stay on track when people or circumstances attempt to derail them
  • Say things like, “The intent of my presentation is to offer strategies for increasing credit approvals in your stores.” “I’d like to help you by offering a new tool you can use to help frontline employees synthesize product knowledge in their sales pitches.” “Who wants to go first to offer some initial thoughts on this topic?’ “For those of you who’ve been processing our discussion for a few minutes, what are your ideas?” “That’s an interesting point. Let me follow-up with you after the meeting, so I can be sure to share everything I intended during my time slot.” “I appreciate the feedback, and I’m going to incorporate it as part of my action items from this meeting. I may reach out to you  for further insights if you don’t mind.”
Heroic meeting participants:
  • Are fully present mentally and physically
  • Ask questions and make comments that generate further insights and actions around the specific agenda items
  • Don’t interrupt others when they’re speaking
  • Are cognizant of time needs and keep their questions and comments concise and complete
  • Ask and say things like, “What are a couple of the big picture outcomes we’re seeking here?” “What specific contribution do you need from each of us?” “Here’s what I’m observing: There doesn’t seem to be a clear measurement process in place.” “One concern I have with the suggested approach is that we haven’t specified how to cascade communication.”

What I hope you’ll especially grasp here is that the burden for an effective meeting does not fall fully on the meeting’s facilitator or leader. Each person in the room has the obligation to make it an optimal experience. If you choose to gather with other people, in any setting for any purpose, be intentional going in that you will offer value.

Otherwise, don’t show up! The meeting will be more productive without you.