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  • Matthew Jenkins

Four ways to change your meetings for the better

Following a recent spell of what felt like days and days of back-to-back meetings (admit it, we've all been there), I've recently  found myself reflecting back on a book I read a few years ago in David Pearl's 'Will There Be Donuts'. I have to admit that at the original time of reading it was the word ‘donut’ that grabbed my attention but my recent reflections drew on four things drawn out in the book that help shape and define better meetings. 

I'm pretty sure we’ve all attended meetings in the past, the ones where you politely sit there wondering why you were invited in the first place or the ones where the meeting appears to aimlessly amble on with no clear purpose or actionable outputs. but the question always remains, why do we do it?


If you get time, and have the interest its worth reading the whole book but four gems I've found of particular use are:


1. Think about meetings the way cavemen would have done

It might sound strange, but cavemen would have held regular meetings too. It wouldn’t have been in a windowless room like many offices suffer from today, but nevertheless there would have been occasions when fellow cavemen (and women) would have gathered round the fire to come to an agreement on something important. But as David Pearl points out, life back then would have been much more simple without various technologies to distract from the meeting focus. Getting to the point of who was going to slay the next meal, who was going to cook etc. would have been much more of an important meeting agenda item. Hence we should think like cavemen too, focus on precisely what your meeting is for, is it for exchanging information? Is it for selling? Is it for creating ideas? Make this the sole purpose of your meeting and cast aside all other items, only that way will you get true results from your meeting.


2. Don’t be a meeting stereotype

We’ve all been in a lot of meetings over the years and sat in disbelief at the person opposite who cannot leave their phone alone, or just has to send that last email on their laptop. Or nudged the person sat next to us who has fallen asleep, or spent the entire meeting self-promoting themselves (which wasn’t even on the agenda in the first place). Needless to say, make your prime objective to be present at your meeting, whether you are hosting the meeting, leading the meeting, contributing, taking notes or whatever…. Be present! Bring something to the table other than donuts (although it is always nice to bring a gift) otherwise don’t attend. If you have nothing to contribute, you are simply wasting your time, time that could be spent elsewhere on something more productive, on something that matters.


3. Think outside the meeting room

It’s an incredibly simple idea but if you want people to be creative why invite them to a room with grey walls, grey carpets, no windows and fuel them with average quality coffee and biscuits. If you want people to generate ideas, don’t be afraid to mix it up a bit. Be creative with your meeting location, send them to a coffee shop, send them to a park, a museum or anywhere where the everyday stereotypes of the office environment are non-existent and just watch the ideas flow. Statistics have proven that creativity blossoms more in noisy coffee shops than most other places. 


4. What if the world was watching your meeting take place?

If we’re honest with ourselves, meetings can generally be a boring affair (not always of course). We sit and listen to people drone on about various points whilst someone sits trying to keep us on track with the meeting agenda, cutting things short and eventually calling a second meeting to address everything ‘we never got round to covering’. Consider this for a second though, what if all your key stakeholders were sat watching your meeting. All the customers that the meeting impacted on, the departments that may be affected, your loved ones who decisions may affect, all watching from glass walls like they have around squash courts these days. THEN the meeting would be different, then there would be focus – there would most definitely be decisions too! 'Will There Be Donuts' suggests approaching the start of every meeting this exact way, taking time to know who the meeting may impact on in wider terms and making sure you are not only present at the meeting, but contributing too, for the sake of others not able to be present at the meeting.

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