10 Tips for Leading Meetings That Matter

May 23, 2016

Concept of leadership

Do you want your meetings to matter? Of course you do. But wanting and doing are two very separate things. And as I have often stated, I’m convinced that being an effective meeting leader is as much about your mindset as it is about your skillset.

Based on my experience and my research, if you approach your meetings (as either a formal leader or an active participant) with the following ten “Big Ideas” in mind, your meetings – and all your conversations at work (and elsewhere) – will be more productive, more engaging, and more meaningful.

  1. Assume that the group is far more intelligent and experienced than any single participant. Remember, no one individually is smarter than everyone together. And that includes you!
  2. Enter every conversation with an open and curious mind. You just never know what experiences and relevant knowledge the other participant(s) might bring to the conversation. Listen carefully before you respond to anyone.
  3. Suspend judgment. Hear people out and be sure you understand their ideas in sufficient depth before you decide (and certainly before you communicate) whether those ideas are useful and relevant, or a distraction.
  4. Respect (and leverage) individual differences. Remember that there is only one of you, and there is only one of everybody else in the world. It’s not only individual experiences and knowledge that are different; just as important are the distinctive talents, and the individual ways of processing information and responding to other people, that each person brings to the conversation.
  5. Presume that people can learn and grow. And that also includes you. Be open to learning from anyone about anything. Remember that you are already in a position of leadership; you don’t have to prove that you are smarter or better informed than the other participants. In fact, going out of your way to demonstrate how much you know is a sure way to lose the respect of everyone else in the meeting.
  6. Focus on broad goals that everyone agrees with. Start the conversation with common goals and seek win/win solutions whenever possible.
  7. Be mindful of others’ responsibilities, constraints, and needs. Unless you believe it is unavoidable, don’t ask the meeting participants to make commitments or agree with positions that will make their own lives more difficult. Respecting their individual circumstances includes avoiding putting them into difficult positions or endangering their personal and professional relationships.
  8. Reinforce constructive behaviors from others. When someone else offers thanks, or praise, thank them in turn. Reward behaviors that help move the conversation forward, and over time you will see more of them.
  9. Know where you are in the process, and let others know as well. Presumably you defined the meeting agenda, and told the other participants how you want the conversation to unfold. If you ignore that agenda, or go off topic, you are implicitly giving everyone else permission to do the same thing. That makes it much more difficult to rope someone else in when they’ve gone off on a tangent.
  10. Be authentic. Admit it when you don’t know an answer, or need help. Express the emotions you are experiencing; for example, if someone comes up with an exciting and innovative idea, thank them or praise them (but only if you genuinely mean it). Or if you are confused or can’t follow someone’s train of thought, say so (in a caring and respectful way, of course)

Which of these tips stand out for you as being particularly important? Are there other basic principles that have helped you be an effective meeting leader? I’d love to hear your stories and advice.

These ideas are described in more detail in Chapter Four of my most recent book, Making Meetings Matter: How Smart Leaders Orchestrate Powerful Conversations in the Digital Age. I am on a crusade to make every meeting matter. Life is too short to waste your time in unproductive, boring meetings that don’t matter.

Contact me today for a free 20-minute strategic conversation about how you can make all your meetings and other corporate conversations both productive and popular. To explore what is possible, please download this brief overview of my new service offering for making meetings matter.


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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Bob Leek May 25, 2016 at 8:07 am

Good, easy list of tips to follow. I’d also encourage a Top 10 list focused on meeting participants. Those in leadership positions should know better than to CREATE a bad meeting, but invitees need to be empowered to not SUFFER or TOLERATE poor meetings. Do that, and everyone gets involved in creating great, purposeful meetings. Here’s a start:

No agenda, don’t attend – vote with your right to know what the meeting is for, and if the basic of having an agenda isn’t even met, decline the invite.

No role, don’t attend – if you are invited, but it is unclear why you are going, decline the invite. No one should be held accountable for avoiding wasted time; in fact, it should be celebrated when waste is avoided.

Invited but can’t / didn’t attend, expect a summary – as an invitee, someone thought you should be there; but, if you didn’t attend, you should expect a summary so you can keep up, and if you don’t get one, you should ask for one.

Poor execution, speak up – if a meeting isn’t going well, declare a Point of Order, state the situation that you see, and get the meeting on track. Suffering a poor meeting is as much on the participant as on the leader.

Still not better, close the meeting – if a meeting doesn’t improve after an attempted intervention, declare a Move to Adjourn; if others agree, they’ll welcome an opportunity to agree to adjourn and reset to a later date.

Didn’t like the meeting, talk to the organizer – after a meeting, if it didn’t meet expectations, participants have an obligation to contact the organizer; suffering for the same issues meeting after meeting means the participant is part of the problem.

Celebrate meeting improvements – take a few minutes at the beginning of a meeting to celebrate any improvements made from previous meetings, especially if they are repeating / standing meetings; people feel better if they are part of making improvements, and who doesn’t mind getting a kudo or two?

There are probably many more. Leadership includes creating the environment and support to improve meetings together. It is not just on the leader of the meeting alone. Try it, be humble, and it may get you, as a leader, a thank you.


James Ware May 26, 2016 at 3:41 pm

Bob, this is a great list – thank you!

I cannot agree more that meeting participants must feel empowered to demand accountability from meeting leaders, and to take actions that make the meetings more meaningful.

I would add that at the end of any meeting participants should offer congratulations if it went well, ask for a summary of what comes next, and make public commitments about what they will do differently as a result of the meeting. That’s probably too many ideas for one additional “rule” – I’ll break them up and address each of them in the next iteration.

Thanks again!


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