How to make your meetings not suck

Techniques I’ve learned from a looooooot of meetings.
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Intro section!

After 30 years of meetings, I think I’ve cracked the code:

  • 7 principles for making meetings great

I made a video on this topic, too — watch it here!

I’ve gone to a lot of meetings. Like, 15,000+.

So I know that most of them suck.

But after 30 years of trying to make them better, I think I’ve landed on the perfect set of principles that make meetings productive, engaging… even fun.

It all comes down to setting the right expectations upfront. Getting those right makes everybody’s life a little more pleasant. 

My 7 Principles for Great Meetings

I use the same slide at the beginning of every board meeting across my companies. Here’s the one for Girdley Media:

Here’s why I think they work so well.

1. The board should make everyone, including [business name], better

This is about getting everyone in the right mindset. We’re looking for win-wins between the company and the people.

Everyone should be working together to make the company the best it can be. That’s why they’re employed, after all.

But it’s not just about the company. This is about making the people better too: you want to encourage feedback, insights, and debate. 

It also means you do not expect individuals to sacrifice too much for the company. (That wouldn’t be win-win.)

A good meeting leaves everyone, including the company, better than how they started.

2. Be direct but kind.

People often end up on one side or the other of this equation. 

Some are direct but unkind — we’ve all dealt with people like that, who think they’re being “productive” but are just mean.

Other people are too nice and don’t speak their mind. When people aren’t telling each other the truth, things don’t get done and don’t get better. It turns into a whole Kabuki theater of BS.

Encourage people to be direct with each other but with a level of mutual trust and respect. 

3. No formality unless necessary.

I’ve seen plenty of meetings—boards or otherwise—get lost in being overly formal, doing a bunch of fluff that isn’t essential.

Sometimes, there is required formality. A lot of times, boards are legal constructs with requirements like keeping minutes. So do that, of course, but we don’t need pomp and circumstance.

The goal is to get things done quickly so everyone leaves a winner.

4. The team will do its part to have info out 72 hours ahead of time

5. We all come prepared

These two are agreements between the organizers and the people attending. 

You don’t want to spend the whole meeting reading slides together. That’s the boring part. You want to be discussing and solving problems. 

I use 72 hours as a benchmark for board meetings, but you can adjust this depending on the meeting. All the stakeholders must have the information they need early.

The other half of the agreement is that everybody reads that material beforehand.

This allows people to think ahead of time about what problems need solving so their subconscious can start reflecting on the meeting.

6. Be 100% present

I love this core value for a big meeting. 

It’s so easy for people to be on their phones, on Twitter, off in the clouds mentally. 

But “Be 100% present” sets an expectation of mutual respect: respect for the organizer, the person who put the materials together, and everybody who prepared ahead of time.

Meetings cost a company a ton of money — paying everyone’s hourly rate to have 3, 5 or 7 people in a room adds up fast. 

So the best way to make the most of them is to have everyone 100% present.

7. This should be fun

Many people get it wrong that business has to be all business.

That doesn’t mean it will be bouncy houses and roller coasters. But you can make work enjoyable. 

There’s room for levity, jokes, smiling, asking about each other’s lives. We’re all human beings and should take any opportunity to make work as delightful as possible.

So there you have it! My 7 principles to make any meeting great.

Try these in your next meeting. It’s a great way to put people in the right headspace for productivity and teamwork. 

And let me know how it goes!

(If you want to watch this as a video, it’s right here!)