How to keep meetings from eating into your bottom line

Sharon Florentine

Shift the Perception
What does it look like when a meeting's "done right"? The first order of business is to change the way meetings are perceived; from a necessary evil that generates a lot of hot air and accomplishes little to a group conversation aimed at solving a problem, says Axtell.

"If you must have meetings, start by shifting the way you talk about them. Instead of the usual dread, fear and boredom, emphasize that meetings are, at their core, a way for multiple people to have a conversation and communicate about solving a problem. That way you are honoring the time and energy your talent invests by focusing on what you can do to support them and their efforts," says Axtell.

Teach Communication and Speaking Skills
One of the biggest stumbling blocks to productive meetings is the fact that, for most attendees, communication isn't their strong suit, according to Axtell, especially in the IT industry, which is dominated by engineers, analysts and technical folk, not public speakers and communications-savvy workers.

To overcome this obstacle, it might be worthwhile to invest in some training and professional development courses aimed at teaching these basic communication skills so workers feel more confident expressing themselves and can do so much more concisely and effectively.

"After their core discipline, your people need to be proficient at conversation, and most workers aren't giving any thought to working on core skills - 'how do I start a conversation, make my point, wrap up, be effective and efficient at delivering a message?" Axtell says.

"Listening, too, is a skill that is almost universally missing from the workforce, but it can be learned and honed," says Axtell.

Keep It Small and Intimate
To better facilitate effective communication and ensure every attendee has the chance to speak and be heard, try and keep meeting size small, says Axtell. A group of four or five people will necessarily feel more intimate and personal, and will not only have more time to connect with each other, listen and suggest solutions, but any disagreement will be handled more gently and tactfully, he says.

"When I talk to clients, they almost always tell me they find it easier to be authentic, open and honest in groups of four or five. When they're forced to be in large group meetings, there's not enough intimacy for them to feel secure, and the chance that good ideas or innovative solutions will get drowned out increases," Axtell says.

In addition, notes Axtell, in groups of four or five, it's much more likely that core issues and problems will be addressed and resolved, and that unrelated topics will be left for another time.

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