Making Peace with Meetings

Written By Patrick Sheffield
Posted on

Before getting on with the point of this post, I need to establish my meeting-hating bona fides. At my previous job, I developed a hard-earned reputation as a meeting hater. I made liberal use of the decline invitation button, didn't hesitate to ask if I was truly needed in a meeting, and regularly excused myself from meetings once it was clear I was no longer needed, or it had stopped being productive. While my anti-meeting stance is hardly unique, my profession means that meetings are table stakes for doing the job. Though I've always known that fact to be true to some extent, it's become clearer now that I'm on a 100% remote team. So if meetings are just part of the deal, how can we make the most of them? Here are a few tips for running effective meetings.

1. Keep Them Brief

Mark Twain said, "Don't use a five-dollar word when a fifty-cent word will do." That advice works for meetings too. There is no reason for an hour-long meeting if you can get it done in 30 minutes. And if you get through your agenda early, don't add more to it. Give everyone their time back and end the thing. They'll be happy you did.

2. Have a Schedule

I get it. Recurring meetings are a special type of awful. But I must admit that while I still don't love them, they can be useful. In a remote shop like Zaengle's where clients can't drop by the office for a face-to-face meeting, it's important to connect with the people who pay the bills regularly. Not only are recurring meetings great for showing off in-progress work, but they're critical for building rapport with people you may never meet in person. So suck it up and pick a set time everyone agrees to at the beginning of a project, instead of playing schedule Tetris for ad hoc meetings. It'll save a lot of time and hassle.

3. Someone Needs to Run It

Spoiler alert. If it's your meeting, you have to run it. I know that seems obvious but it's common to have a meeting called and nobody to lead it. These meetings result in a free-for-all that quickly get off track and leaves people wondering what it was about. As the meeting organizer, your job is to facilitate the conversation. Like a point guard on a basketball team, you need to pass the proverbial ball around and get people involved to discuss the topic at hand.

4. Prepare

Well duh. But if we're honest with ourselves, we know we've all skated into meetings at the last minute with only the slightest idea of what we're going to talk about. Save yourself the stress and spend a few minutes preparing for the meeting. You'll feel calmer and make better use of everyone's time. Here are three things to try:

  1. Draft a few talking points and practice them at least once.
  2. Come up with a list of questions you want to ask your client.
  3. Think about the toughest question your client may ask and think about how you'd answer.

5. Be Comfortable Saying "I don't know."

This one might sound counterintuitive but it was a game-changer for me. Our natural tendency when asked a question is to answer it. After all, our clients are paying us because we're so stinking smart, right? And we don't want them to think we're not smart, right? Wrong. Smart though we may be, we don't have answers to every possible question as soon as it's asked. And doing verbal gymnastics to offer some answer to a question we just heard can cause more harm than good. Instead, try saying "I don't know. Let me get back with you." Your client won't think less of you and they'll appreciate it more when you follow up with them.

There you have it. Putting these things into practice helped me make peace with meetings. And while I still prefer asynchronous communication, meetings don't have to be futile. Now go forth and run better meetings.