Better Meetings

10th June, 2015 No Comments Blog , Cornell Tech , CoVenture , Fundraising

Meetings seem to have more champions than does e-mail.  Meetings enable you to “look ‘em in the eye” and are personal.  These sentiments get to the heart of the main – perhaps the only – advantage of a meeting over other forms of communication:  body language makes a meeting a much richer form of communication than any other mode.

This major benefit to an in-person conversation is counterbalanced by some real drawbacks:

  • Logistics:  because a meeting requires the contemporaneous gathering of at least two people, it requires more logistical effort than any other form of communication.
  • Inefficiency:  meetings always involve an exchange of pleasantries which take time.  Also, most people read and write faster than they talk, and they edit less when speaking than when writing.  So communicating the same information orally generally takes more time than doing it in writing.
  • Spontaneity:  the improvisational nature of a live conversation can lead to miscommunication and outright blunders.  One cannot review everything one says before saying it the way e-mail can be edited before it is sent.

These drawbacks can be problematic, but there are times when the rich communication that a meeting affords is necessary.  If you are not trying to accomplish one of these things, consider an e-mail exchange instead:

  • Generate ideas with a group.
  • Develop rapport with a person or team.
  • Assess someone.  This assessment might be a formal interview, or simply an attempt to ensure understanding or agreement.
  • You need a series fast exchanges, as in a negotiation.

Some general guidelines, then, for getting the most out of your meetings.  You have probably seen many or all of these before, but if you are like most people, you still don’t practice them all.  Try to make a habit of these and you’ll be surprised how much more productive your meetings are:

  • Agree on the meeting purpose before you agree to meet.
  • Send a good calendar invitation.  See below for guidelines on these.
  • If you called the meeting, arrive early and complete any necessary setup before the meeting begins.
  • Start and end on time.  If you start late, end on time.
  • Have an agenda with times allotted for each topic.  Stick to it.
  • Tackle the most important topics first.  You never know when a meeting will be cut short unexpectedly.
  • Strive for efficiency.  Save the chit-chat until the end or for another time.
  • Send any materials ahead of time.   If you expect the attendees to review the materials, send them at least 24 hours ahead.  Better yet, send them before the weekend preceding your meeting; (only) if you accomplish this, you can run the meeting assuming all participants have reviewed the materials.
  • Do not use meeting time to review materials if you have sent them sufficiently in advance.  Reviewing is an individual activity; doing it in a group means at least one person is wasting her time.
  • Do not use meeting time to write or edit.  These are also individual activities and can be done more efficiently asynchronously.
  • Have a conversation.  If only one person is talking, the meeting should have been an e-mail or video monologue (because you could have avoided meeting logistics).
  • Ask questions.
  • Answer questions directly and succinctly.  Don’t take more than 5 or 10 seconds to answer a question.  People will ask follow-up questions if they want to learn more.
  • Say “I don’t know” if you don’t know, then commit to finding the answer.  Find and e-mail the answer ASAP after the meeting.
  • Send a thank you if you asked for the meeting.  Some people think paper thank-you cards are a nice touch; I would argue that e-mail works well and doesn’t require energy to make the card (even if it is recycled paper) and to mail it.
  • When appropriate, also follow-up right away with an e-mail outlining any next steps and clarifying the party responsible for each of those.

Pitch, or sales, meetings are common and important.  Some guidelines for pitching:

  • Still have a conversation.  Don’t sell at someone; sell to them.
  • Focus on benefits, not features.
  • Ask for the order.   Always be closing.
  • Be authentic.  Think of the target as a potential friend.  If you are uncomfortable, you will hurt your chances of a sale.
  • Listen.  Try to learn something.  It will help you sell, and will provide you with value whether or not the sale closes.

Finally, some tips on calendar invitations.  Make sure you:

  • Write a meeting subject/title that makes sense to all invitees.  If you are meeting with Jane and you invite her to the calendar item, don’t call the event “Meeting with Jane;” that will look odd on Jane’s calendar.
  • Schedule the meeting for an appropriate length.  Don’t simply go with the default provided by your calendar application.
  • Put an actual address in the location.  Doing so will enable Google to create a map link so that all parties can easily find the meeting place.
  • Put a meeting room number, floor, or other location details aside from the address in the notes field.
  • Include attachments and/or the agenda in the notes or via link.
  • Don’t send a calendar invitation if you are not willing to take the time to do all the above.  Better to simply confirm a time and location by e-mail and let the recipient create his or her own calendar item.

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