Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Better Meetings in Less Time

Better Meetings in Less Time

Stuart R. Levine
Stuart Levine & Associates LLC

Meetings can be big time wasters. Whether it's a meeting of family members, work colleagues or a volunteer group, here's how to get more out of a meeting in less time...

Define an end time. Setting a firm end time keeps a meeting on track. When the pace lags, remind those present how much time is left. "Let's move along -- we have only 30 minutes left."

If you're not in charge of the meeting, tell the person who is in charge that you have to leave at a certain time and then alert him/her when you have, say, 30 minutes left.

Match the message to the audience. Don't explain things the way you would want them explained -- explain them the way your listeners need to hear them. Consider your audience's priorities, level of expertise and familiarity with industry jargon before you speak.

Example: A client probably doesn't want a long-winded explanation about why his delivery is late -- he just wants to know when his order will arrive. Add the explanation only if one is requested.

Forget consensus. If you wait for everyone in a group to agree on a course of action, you might be waiting forever. Before you ask for opinions, explain how the decision will be made. Will you move forward when there's a majority? Or will you consider all input but pick whatever direction you think best?

Opt out when you're not needed. Does a two-hour meeting involve you only peripherally? Ask another participant to call you when you're needed. In the meantime, do something more productive nearby.

Use a story to illustrate a point. Busy people often omit anecdotes to speed things along, but most listeners understand and remember stories better than they do instructions, facts or figures. Just make sure the story is engrossing, focused and relevant.

A good time to use a story is to show a human face when you are presenting a lot of data.

Example: If you are explaining the importance of quality outcomes in a hospital setting, it would be helpful to tell the story of a specific patient who benefited from increased quality of care.

Say "I got it" when you've heard enough. If you ask a question, as soon as you understand the answer, tell the speaker "Thanks, I got it," so he/she knows to move on. Ask those you deal with regularly to do the same with you. This saves time and keeps everyone's mind sharp. When we sit through explanations of things we already understand, we tune out and lose our mental edge.

Don't get bogged down in details when negotiating. One of the secrets of negotiation is to know when to stop. Unless you're negotiating an international peace treaty, once you get past the two or three most important issues, the rest is just details that can be worked out at a different time. If you continue to debate these minor points, you'll waste time -- and you might put big issues at risk for the sake of small ones.

Debrief yourself after meetings, presentations and events. Your personal two-to-five-minute debriefing session immediately after a meeting can save hours later. While events are still fresh in your mind, ask yourself...

What did I/we do right?

What did I/we do wrong?

What's the next step I/we need to take? Schedule another meeting? Send a memo? Do a particular task?

Have a good day, be well and take care

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