Are you scared when a business meeting starts and you are the one running it? Do you sometimes have a sinking feeling in your gut, or a sense of being threatened as you brace yourself for blows? Do you wonder at those times how did your career come to this and why you? If you feel this way, then you are not alone.
Many people have this experience to such a degree that they avoid meetings whenever possible. Or, when a meeting has to happen, they want to pass it off to someone else, anyone else, often to the detriment of the purpose the meeting was to serve. The ability to conduct an effective business meeting and lead teams in a successful group process, nonetheless, remains a cornerstone of productive leadership. People that can do this are often highly compensated, either in their leadership roles or in the results they create for their own companies. Here are some tips for taking care of yourself, creating high quality team dynamics, and leading great meetings that get to where you want them to go.
How to run a successful business meeting
For anyone dealing with this kind of anxiety, I recommend a proven process for handling meetings. Increasing your knowledge of what steps produce quality meeting outcomes, and getting comfortable taking those steps, generates a foundation for confidence in meeting leadership. By taking the following steps, my clients have been able to lead successful meetings in businesses of all kinds and sizes:
- Start with the end in mind: Clarify for yourself the meeting’s desired outcomes.
- Set Priorities: Are reports needed from team members to be presented at meeting?
- Set an agenda with agenda items, assignments, and time frame for each item. Send it out ahead of the meeting.
- Create alignment ahead of the meeting; clarify the role each team member is to play during meeting. Request/Expect their cooperation.
Opening a meeting
- Take care of yourself first. Ahead of the meeting, do positive affirmations, such as: “I am calm and relaxed while conducting this meeting”. “I easily access all of my intelligence for problem solving”. “I am a clear and effective communicator”. “I listen effectively and support a healthy group process”. “I am encouraging and supportive of all team members”.
- When everyone is in their seats, open the meeting by saying, “It is really important that each of us show up fully so that our time together can be meaningful.”
- Optionally, you many want to offer members an opportunity to let go of any obstacles to fully showing up by giving the exercise of each group member sharing “What is in the way of you fully being here at this meeting?” You then model this yourself by beginning. An example might be: “There was an accident ahead of me on the way in this morning, and I have been running behind all morning. I can take a deep breath now, let that tension go, and be fully here now. How about each of you? “Take the time to go around and let everyone take his/her turn. You will feel better knowing everyone is more present to support you and the meeting process.
- Say “Thanks for being here. Now, let’s review the ground rules for effective communication for our meeting”.
State the ground rules for effective communication
Setting a few ground rules for effective communication will help reduce everyone’s stress in the present, and will proactively prevent needless tension from arising as you move through the meeting. All these points need to be expressed in writing, verbally, or both.
- Do not interrupt another while they are speaking. Listen effectively.
- Allow a pause before the next person speaks.
- Treat everyone with respect: no blaming, shaming, judging or labeling.
- Each member commits to focusing more on solving problems than on identifying or complaining about them. As much as possible, bring a solution when identifying a problem.
- Each member is given the opportunity to help create the best result for the good of one and all. We are in this together.
- Assign a person to take minutes. This person is to record all delegations in minutes, including description of item, actions to be taken, and results expected, person assigned and timeline for completion.
Note to leader: Create buy-in
For problem identification and solution generation, systems and methods development, use brainstorming techniques. Solicit responses from team members and write them on the board while validating all participants. Buy-in is created through participation and validation. As a group dynamic structure, if you can align everyone, both conceptually and emotionally, around being in this together – dealing with this problem, generating this solution, and committing to implement this strategy – then you become a really effective leader. When you leverage the knowledge and decision-making of the group members to get effective results, you earn their respect as a leader. They buy in to the decisions because they co-created them.
Move through agenda items on a timeline
A meeting should go no longer than an hour. Longer than that gets uncomfortable for all involved. Move items as needed to accommodate priorities. You may ask to schedule a special meeting, to table discussion on the topics for further data to be gathered, etc. in order to keep meeting to an hour or less, thereby reducing resistance to future meetings. Items that remain incomplete can remain on the agenda for the next meeting, and special meetings can be scheduled ahead of the next regular meeting, etc.
Debrief the business meeting as needed
Get with someone you trust to be honest with you and get feedback on how the meeting went. Reflect and ask yourself and the others how it can be improved and re-set accordingly for the next meeting opportunity.
If you follow this methodology and practice it piece by piece, you will become increasingly confident and effective as a leader of business meetings and a leader of teams.
BTW, perfection is not the goal. Accept what the results are, and keep on keeping on. Say to yourself, “I am learning from this experience and I am getting better and better.”