27 June 2019
Having the right narrative and appropriate key message is essential to ensure the success of any meeting. Credit:
Having the right narrative and appropriate key message is essential to ensure the success of any meeting. Credit:

Six ways to get the most out of meetings

Was anyone really surprised that the talks held in October between the representatives of the Hong Kong government and the student leaders of the protest movement have ended in an impasse?

There was much excitement at the time that there was some progress, or at least a hint of engagement between the two sides. Now, it is sad to see the latest developments with regard to the Occupy campaign, and the strong images from the frontline, as an acceptable solution is nowhere near.

The October meeting was well covered in the media and highlighted the lack of opportunity for progress. Two matched teams, sitting on different sides of the room repeating messages that had been shared before, and neither side appearing willing to demonstrate any flexibility.

Face-to-face meetings can be an invaluable opportunity to gain instant feedback, be an open forum for thought and idea-sharing; and for the more empathetic leader, a chance to gauge inter-relations of different individuals.

They can also be a colossal waste of time.

Do not misunderstand me, the meeting between the government and protest leaders was an important step but it led to no real conclusions and I’m struggling to identify any concrete follow-ups.

The suggestion of more such dialogue seems to have been lost in the breeze with both sides resorting to tried and tested one-way communication channels rather than something more constructive.

At the time of writing, a group has embarked on a hunger strike to try and bring everyone back to the table but I fear, perhaps through a lens of realism, that this may not yield the results that these individuals seek.

Political meetings are definitely not the only instances where this communication channel is poorly managed. In the regular workplace, I’m sure that many readers will be able to recognize the situation where you are sitting in a room listening to topics that don’t seem to concern you, while your fellow meeting participants check emails and message people filling the seats in other meeting rooms. This is time that you are never going to get back.

Calling meetings just to give the impression of progress on projects and the unfortunate habit of inviting everyone they can think of for fear of missing out are some usual problems why meetings fail their purpose. I’d suggest that large organizations are by their very nature even more prone to this.

I can hear the ruffled feathers and knowing looks of those who are regular meeting holders that this can be solved with a good agenda and able facilitation. I agree that is a start, but making sure that you have your list of items with someone responsible for an update remains as nothing more than a start.

Poorly managed meetings that you chair will reflect on you, your brand and are part of your positioning as an individual and what you portray to those who work with you. In my opening example there were individuals such as Yvonne Leung who was rightly praised for her debating prowess that put some of the politicians to shame. But the fact is that this turned into a debate rather than a constructive meeting

In a crusade to improve productivity and communication, I have gathered a few items of wisdom from meeting veterans which may be worth considering. These are listed in no particular order of preference or effectiveness:

Think about how you are going to communicate. This is one of your best platforms for passing on information and getting messages across. You will be meeting with an important stakeholder group, so make sure that you have the right narrative and appropriate key messages.

Be creative. Look for new ideas, new ways of presenting things or new topics. This creates energy and means more comes out of what could become a box ticking exercise if you aren’t careful.

Know what you are trying to achieve. It is frustrating for everyone to walk away unsure of conclusions or action points. Make sure that everyone is well briefed and knows what you are discussing. One respondee to my questioning suggested that unless you walk away from a meeting with an action point, there is no point attending.

Don’t be afraid of the clock. Meeting times tend to by default be an hour. Don’t feel that you need to use this. If you have achieved what you want to in 10 minutes, call it and give everyone back their time.

Blackberry and iPhone ban. Unless they are expecting news on the birth of a child, keeping devices out of the room is important. If they have somewhere else to be and they need to be checking emails, suggest they leave.

Put a cost on your time. Having a soft dollar cost to inviting you to a meeting will focus the mind of the organizers as to who it is really important to have for any meeting.

Meetings remain one of the most important communications channels available. In a world that is increasingly dominated by electronic devices and messaging, a period of human interaction should be treasured and managed well. It seems a shame to give them such a bad name by wasting them.

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A business trend observer, Tim Nicholls is Director at Paradigm Consulting and formerly Regional Communications Head at HSBC in Asia.

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