February 3, 2022

By Allison Iantosca

Let’s take a minute to talk about meetings.  

Yup, we all have them, like it or not, come-out-come-out-wherever-you-are, we can’t hide from them, they are both a beautiful and brutal way to do business. And as leaders of any organization or group of people, well run meetings give us the chance to impact decisions, people, direction, and outcomes. They are a petri dish of human experience.

What’s not to love?

But meetings can suck the life out of even the most hydrated extrovert. Simple enough to gather everyone into a conference room to let ideas fly and see what happens…but that’s exactly the problem; we just wait to see what happens. We often don’t actually create much of a framework and it all falls apart before the coffee gets cold.

Here’s a simple suggestion: Take a step back and think of yourself as being in a situation like a dinner party.  Think of yourself not as the leader, but as the Host.  Don’t forget: a meeting, like a party at your home, is a social interaction.  Bringing that perspective to bear might create a better outcome for everyone.

Here are some ideas for hosting:

  1. Set the tone. If it’s a strategy meeting perhaps you opt out of chit chat at the start and instead find a way to get people connected to their thinking capabilities. If it’s a staff meeting you might want some early banter to be sure people are connecting to each other and are happy to work together.
  • Give people the meeting road map and the rules to follow it.  If you do nothing else, make a summary statement at the start of the meeting so everyone knows what this meeting is about: why we are here, what we hope to accomplish, and how we will go about doing that. Indeed, what are our planned outcomes?
  • Start and end on time. Period. Don’t make people feel they have lost control of their time.

A few important side notes on this one:

One, know how to handle a late-arrival. Most likely they were doing something to make your business better so don’t call them out. See them, welcome them and provide a quick summary of where you are so they can quickly become a contributor. If it’s a chronic problem address it outside the meeting.

Two, if you are going to go over on time, stop five minutes before the end of the meeting and ask everyone if it’s okay to stay longer. This gives people the chance to say what they need and to know you aren’t off in La La Land never to return them to their “real” work.

Three, if someone tells you they have a hard stop or even need to leave early, use your position as host to let them go gracefully. “Sarah, I know you had a hard stop at 3:50. You can head on out if you need to.” This lets everyone know that Sarah isn’t just ducking out because of something that was said and that she has your permission to go without feeling awkward.

  • Pay attention to who is not talking. People think and process differently. Help create space for everyone to participate. Invite someone who hasn’t said much if they would like to add something and hold the space for them to do so.  It might even help to ask someone who has been talking freely (or even too much) to pause to listen and observe to gain new ideas.
  • Lean In and Lean Out. As the host, you are most likely trying to solve for something or make something happen. You likely have ideas cooked up that will move the conversation forward. If you are here to tell, sell, and yell? Cancel the meeting. If you want genuine input be aware of when you lean in to offer your perspective and when you lean back to hear new ideas and potential outcomes. Speak only if it improves the conversation; and no, you aren’t the sole person who can make an improvement (see number 4).

Here’s the deal; we seek to gather groups of competent people to make good decisions together. Like a dinner party, we want dialogue to flow.

But if your guests at the party don’t feel comfortable, eventually they will RSVP with regrets.

If they bring caviar to a kegger in the back yard, they will never feel a sense of inclusion. If there are too many me-monsters at the dinner table, they will tune out and eventually opt out. And most definitely if the party is all about you they will eventually take their party hats off and go home.

In other words, your great ideas may not be your greatest asset when it comes to leading a meeting but your ability to host your colleagues so they feel they have the space and permission to be impactful to the work at hand?

That just might be the best bash around.

Allison Iantosca is a Gestalt International Study Center (GISC) trained coach with extensive leadership and management experience. She is an ICF-certified Executive Coach and is the Owner and President of Boston based FH Perry Builder.

Photo courtesy husna-miskandar

Get a Free 30-minute Consultation

We'd love to hear from you. Feel free to reach out for a free 30-minute phone consultation, to see how executive coaching can help you and your orgniaztion.

Get a FREE Consultation