LESSON 7 - HOW TO GET YOUR POINT ACROSS THROUGH THE ART OF BUSINESS COMMUNICATION
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Part of being a manager is holding meetings. One thing that is for certain, you need to be prepared. The meetings can be anything from a quick follow up with a couple of employees, to a formal PowerPoint presentation to upper management. Meetings can be very productive, but they can also be a waste of time. You need to make the right decision when and when not to hold a meeting. You may find that you can accomplish the meeting goals with just an e-mail or quick conference call.
Even though meetings are extremely important, ineffective meetings not only stops normal everyday workflow for little gain, it also affects employee morale. You need to know what to do before, during, and after a meeting to produce results.
If you are holding a meeting, here are 17 fundamental techniques to follow:
Send out a meeting request. This is normally done through Outlook or whatever e-mail exchange server you are using. Think about who needs to attend, and who might want to attend (you can cc those people). If some key players are not able to make the requested time, set up another time that works best for everyone. You should create your own group contacts so you do not have to enter in everyone’s name, if it is a meeting with more than just a few people. For example, you should have a Tier 1 contact list that contains only the Tier 1 technicians and their supervisor. Here are three items that should be on each meeting request:
State the purpose. Put the reason for the meeting in the message heading. For example, “This meeting is to review the new product release.” People want to be able to see at a glance just what the meeting is all about and why they should be there.
Prepare an agenda. Don’t just wing it. You need to put the topics you want to talk about in bullet point format. Make sure you thought each topic through, and have done the groundwork to determine the facts, issues, and the presentation possibilities. Make sure to have the topics and goals clearly written out so that the participants know what will be discussed, and are well prepared to review. You also need to be 100% ready to discuss any issues surrounding the meeting along with all the needed material.
Set a timeframe. Most meetings should run from ½ hour to 1 hour. You might also want to set a timeframe around each item on the agenda.
Send out any meeting material at least two days prior to the meeting. This includes documents, PowerPoint’s, charts, graphs, and any other reading material. This will give people a heads up on what will be reviewed, and give them time to be well prepared for the meeting. If possible, send out this material at the same time you send out the meeting request.
Make copies for everyone. You should print out enough copies of the agenda and meeting materials, and have them ready to pass out before the meeting even starts. Be sure to make use of this material. This should be the same material as what you previously sent out for pre-review.
Begin the meeting on time. Do not be late to your own meeting, and if you are waiting on participants, wait no longer than 5 minutes. They will get the point and be early for the next meeting. If you always wait for all participants, then there will always be delays.
Set up the ground rules (also known as “Norms”). One of the biggest problems in meetings is the use of laptops to check e-mail, getting calls on cell phones, conflict between employees when discussing a certain topic, people who want to take over the meeting, and people who just want to do the time and get out as soon as possible. Politely let everyone know that you will need their full-undivided attention, and that they should turn off all electronic gadgets. You should also state that you expect everyone to act professionally, and that you expect everyone to participate equally.
Get to the point. The purpose of the meeting is to achieve a result of some sort, whether it is informational, discussing new goals, or going over a new process, etc. After the usual two or three minute pleasantries, it’s time to get down to business. Don’t be embarrassed by stopping the chitchat and get straight to item one. You will show strong leadership skills if you use your time effectively. It will generate more enthusiasm and a feeling of accomplishment. Be an effective facilitator by keeping the participants on track to accomplish the goals of the meeting.
Make sure you prioritize the meeting subjects. If you have ten topics to discuss, do not put the most important ones at the bottom of the list.
Follow the agenda and check off each item once discussed. This will show everyone that you are serious about each topic, when it is time to move on, and that you are in full control.
Take notes throughout the meeting. Be sure you have a pen and notepad by your side and take plenty of notes. This will not only ensure you will cover all the important points, it shows others how serious you are, which will give them confidence that their points are well taken. If possible, try to have someone in the group take notes for you, especially if you are in more of a presentation type of mode.
It's easy to get off topic. Try to stay focused and stick to the meeting agenda. Sometimes it’s all right to go off topic if it relates to the subject at hand, but in most cases, even though the topic being discussed is interesting, it does not relate to the meeting agenda. You should offer to set up another meeting to discuss the other topic if it is important, but turn everyone’s attention back to your meeting as soon as possible. A common phrase to use when you want to steer the meeting back to the agenda is, “We can take that off-line if you would like to discuss further.” If there are too many conversations going on at once, find the one that is the most important and ask them to share the information being discussed, it might be very interesting and everyone should be aware of the topic. You can also calmly let the people who are in other conversations to please rejoin the group discussion. You can say to the participants, “With too many conversations going at once, some very good ideas might be lost.”
Get the quiet people to talk more, and the dominant people to talk less. More often than not, you will have one or two individuals who will continually share their views over each and every statement you make. Sometimes people are afraid to say a word because the dominant person, who might have more knowledge and certainly more confidence, intimidates them. You will always have the monopolizers, avid talkers, devil’s advocates, cynics, yes men, chicken-little's, joker's, and angry people. Do your best to bring everyone into the conversation and keep it on an even playing field. Carefully interrupt the dominant person and ask someone else in the room for their opinion on the subject. The more you know the characters in your company, the better prepared you will be able to handle them.
Get them to listen without saying a word. Sometimes just the right look will get people to pay attention to you. Things like raising your eyebrows, giving them a steady stare, or even just stop talking in mid sentence will help get their attention and focus back onto you. This usually happens when there are too many conversations going on at once.
Look for signs of when you’ve talked long enough. You will be able to tell when the group is starting to fidget, look at their watches or clock, or when it is obvious someone else wants to speak. You want to be known as a person who gives a good meeting, and not a meeting hog.
Know when to end the meeting. If the meeting topics end before the allotted time, and if there is nothing more to discuss on the matter, then go ahead and finish the meeting. If it is running late, try and wrap it up as soon as possible. Quite often people have other meetings scheduled, or will take their lunch between your meeting and the next meeting they have scheduled. So do your best to not go over the allotted time.
Before you end the meeting,make sure you have covered the important points. Make sure all of the important items have been discussed, go over the action items, and make sure no one leaves confused. Ask if anyone has any questions, and if so, repeat the question asked so that the person feels good that you understood what was being said, and that you shared it with everyone in case they did not hear it.
Send out an overview after the meeting. Depending on the importance of the meeting, it is a good idea to send out a brief review or “Minutes” soon after the meeting to not only the attendees, but to all you think might be interested. This should be done within a few hours of the meeting to keep up the enthusiasm. People will address action items better and faster when it is still fresh in their memory. The minutes should record who attended, what was discussed, any agreements that were reached, and any action items that were assigned. Distributing the minutes informs those not at the meeting of the progress that was made, and reminds everyone of their action items.
Create an action list and schedule a follow up meeting. You will find that it is quite common to set up a follow-up meeting. If so, set up the next meeting as soon as possible to keep up the enthusiasm. This also gives true purpose to the original meeting. This is why it is so important that everyone understood what the meeting was all about. There should be no confusion on their given tasks. Create a list of what is expected from either the group or individual, and send it out to the participants with the follow up meeting request, which is usually one week out. You should include:
The specific task.
The name of the person who committed to “owning” the task.
The due date of the task.
An agreement about what constitutes completion of the task.
True accountability for the task, and the expected deadline. You need to make sure that they know you expect this.
Meetings, when done right and deemed necessary, are keys to department and company success. A good idea is to have a regularly set meeting, even if they last only a few minutes. That way people will be use to the routine and it won’t feel like all you do is set up meetings. Here are a couple of ideas for regularly set meetings:
Have a scheduled daily meeting, preferably in the morning around 9:00am or 10:00am, with key individuals such as SME’s, supervisors or leads of your department. Keep it to around 15 minutes. Set up a daily calendar event and send out an e-mail invite. There should be no agenda, just basic open conversation. These quick daily meetings help keep everyone on the same page. You can discuss progress on projects, review assigned tasks, make sure any outstanding problems are resolved or being worked on, and cover the events and happenings within the company. Your supervisors and/or leads can then relay pertinent information to the rest of the team. If you were only managing a few people, then you would want to meet with the whole staff.
Have a scheduled monthly meeting with the entire staff of your department. Always adhere to the schedule or it will not be taken seriously. This would also be a perfect time to buy pizza, or sub sandwiches for the whole team. You can make it a “lunch and learn” if desired. Always stress the importance of communication and keep an open mind to all questions asked. If you do not know the answer, don’t just make one up, let them know you will look into it and get back to them. The important thing however is that you do indeed get back to them as soon as possible. That builds respect and trust. It also builds character and lets them know you truly do listen and care, even if you give them an answer that they do not like.
Have people want to go to your meetings. Start it off with a joke or some topical humor. Ask a non-work related question to get them relaxed and talking. Keep the small talk to no more than one or two minutes. This will help break the ice and create a comfortable atmosphere. Also, do not make your meetings boring and predictable. Break them up by sometimes using presentations or hand outs, sometimes just make it a verbal meeting, sometimes draw it up yourself on the whiteboard, sometimes have someone else run most of the meeting, sometimes change the location, sometimes bring in food, and sometimes bring in bottles of water or soda. The goal is to be known as a person who really knows how to give a good meeting in everyway.