Meeting Breaks

Take a break!

If your meeting will be longer than 90 minutes, you need to plan a break. If you do not, you run a high risk of participants getting fatigued and tuning out. Or even disappearing entirely.  If nothing else, they need a biological break!

When to schedule breaks and for how long?

Look at the amount of time you will need for your meeting.  Consider your agenda.  Anecdotally, I have found that people need a “bio break” more often when the content of the meeting is dull or one-way (someone talking at them) rather than in an interesting discussion.  Your experience may differ.  Also, will your agenda permit a break between topics or can you combine two or three, if short, to allow a good breaking point?

Keep breaks to a maximum of 15 minutes. A lot of time can be lost while people run “for a minute” to get coffee or a soda or worse, a phone call. Sages say,
“There is no such thing as a 5-minute break.”  Before anyone leaves the room, tell them how long the break will be so they can police themselves.  If necessary, ask for a volunteer to round up attendees two to three minutes before the end of the break and then herd them back to your meeting.

An alternate “break” can be simply allowing people to move around the room to keep the blood flowing.  For example, having the group stretch or interact briefly with people sitting near them is a good  technique.  I often pair people up for short thinking exercises at key points to boost the energy.

Consider having refreshments in the meeting room so participants stay put and breaks do not stretch beyond the allotted time.

If you have an additional way you use or plan for breaks, please share it in the comments section.

Shorter Meetings Are Better Meetings

Ways to Shorten Your Meetings

One of the most common complaints I hear from clients is that meetings run too long.  Often, this is because agendas are too full or discussions wander.  You can handle these problems in the meeting (and you’ll see other posts in this blog about this also).  Here are five strategies to shorten your meetings:

1.  Determine the average salary of people in the room and then project the amount of money being spent during the meeting on a laptop or projector somewhere in the room.  People become aware of the cost of going off-topic or unproductive discussion and manage their input to be more concise and focused.

2.  Eliminate distractions. At the start of meetings, ask attendees to turn off phones, laptops, etc. during the meeting.  Hold them to this.  If someone is sneaking a peek at their email, point out the behavior.  Consider confiscating the devices at the start of the meeting or when people ignore the guideline.  Close the blinds on the windows facing into the larger office.  Turn off the phone in the conference room.

3.  Set clear guidelines for behavior. Include items such as “share airtime” to prevent people from dominating conversation.  Another item might be “stay focused on the agenda item” and when people  wander away from that topic, point out that the guideline is to keep on-topic.

4.  Make the planned time shorter than usual.  Remind attendees that this meeting will be fast and efficient and they will be done sooner if they operate within the time limit.

5.  Have fewer agenda items. Rather than cram everything into one meeting, hold two shorter meetings a week apart and address only one or three topics instead of five or six.

Try these out and let me know how they work for you (in the comments section below or just email me).  Also, feel free to share additional methods you have used to shorten your meetings.


Gap Analysis Technique in Meetings

Meeting Technique for Getting From Here to There

Have you been in a meeting intended to figure out how to get from where you or the organization are to where you want to be?  One way to achieve your objective is to do a Gap Analysis. Businesses often use this technique to compare actual performance with potential performance.  The analysis provides insight into areas that can be improved to achieve a goal.

What is a Gap Analysis? It’s a way to identify the obstacles preventing achievement of a desired goal.

What does it do? Gap Analysis encourages exploration of the gap, or obstacles or blocks that are in the way of your objective.  It forces a realistic look at where you are at present and helps identify the specific actions needed to be taken in order to be successful

How does it work? Gap Analysis creates alignment among team members through discussion of each obstacle because people begin to understand what steps are open to them and make decisions given that shared understanding.

Steps of Gap Analysis:

1.  Identify the desired objective. You might do some visioning on this or imagine magazine articles detailing the achievement or use any approach that captures a mental picture of where the group wants to be in future.  Post the picture or phrases on a flipchart and place it on the wall.

2.  Identify the present situation. Create a detailed picture of what exists today.  If possible, see what the elements identified in Step 1 look like today.  Again, write this on flipchart paper and post it on the wall.

3.  Focus on the gap between what is now and what is desired.  Identify the gaps/barriers.  Is anything missing that is necessary to bridge the two mental pictures?  (This can be done in small groups so that you move forward quickly.)

4.  If the group was broken into sub-groups, come together into one group and share the identified gaps/blocks/obstacles.  Again, write these up on a flipchart and post them.

5.  Have the group review all the gaps and reach a rough agreement on the key problem ingredients.

6.  Divide the group into smaller groups and have each sub-group focus on a gap and generate ideas to address it.

7.  Come back together as a single group and share recommendations and action plans.  Get new ideas from the full group on what they hear.

8.  Create an overall action plan that will move the group forward to addressing the gap between where they are now and where they want to be.

A Silent Meeting?

Should you worry about silence in your meetings?

Many people, especially Americans as those familiar with several cultures tell me, are uncomfortable with silence in a meeting.  Oftentimes, a silence tempts you to start talking – to fill the silence.  Resist this temptation.

Silences may have different causes and meanings. The group may be considering a point that was made.  The group may be tired, confused, bored, or hungry.  Their biorhythms may be kicking in – you know, as with the mid-afternoon sluggishness.

What should you do?  Ask the group what is happening. You might say, “It’s quiet – are you all thinking or just wondering what to say?”  If you are comfortable with humor, you might say, “Usually, our problem is that we all speak at once!  Now what’s going on?”  Then wait for an answer.  Again, you will be tempted to keep talking.  Don’t.  Let people tell you what’s happening.

If the silence continues, you might give the group several options.  “Well, we could review what we’ve already covered on this topic and see what makes sense as a next step.  On the other hand, we could go around the table and have each person offer their point of view on the subject.  Alternatively, we could take a break, get some caffeine, and come back and start up again.  Which course of action seems most appropriate to you?”

If you are a moderator or chairperson of the meeting, you may be very sensitive to the silence. Nevertheless, frequently, the participants are feeling very busy thinking about the discussion, so they do not experience the silence with the same intensity that you do.  Be patient.  Train yourself to wait. The words will begin again!

Add Energy and Drama to Your Meetings

Make Your Meetings Energetic

Patrick Lencioni, author of Death By Meeting, recommends that you add energy and drama to your meetings.  How might you add make your meetings more energetic and dramatic?

He recommends learning from movies that are interactive and engaging:

1.  Set a “plot” at the beginning of the meeting.  Lencioni suggests that participants need to be “jolted a little” during the first ten minutes of a meeting so they understand what is at stake.  So, you might highlight a competitive threat.  Emphasize the danger of making a wrong decision.  Appeal to the larger mission. Describe the impact on all stakeholders.

2.  Give participants a reason to CARE about the meeting and its consequences. Further, Lencioni points out that disagreements are natural and resolving them is what makes meetings productive, engaging, and fun.

Now that you know this new approach, ask yourself, “What, specifically, can I do to add energy and drama to my meetings?

Meeting Preparation

What to do BEFORE the meeting?

Here’s a short list of things to do:

  1. Identify the purpose

  2. Meet (in person or on phone) with agenda “champions” or sponsors to discuss the topics and agenda items

  3. Identify and invite participants

  4. Schedule meeting room and arrange for appropriate equipment (computers? display projector? extension cord?)

  5. Prepare agenda and send it to participants

  6. Design the process for the meeting – that is, think about HOW you will facilitate or manage the meeting;  consider issues that might arise, conflict that may emerge, etc. and then how you will handle them

  7. Consider if an icebreaker is needed and if so, what one you will use

What have I forgotten?  What else do you do to prepare for a meeting?

Meeting Room Arrangement

Does your meeting room help or hinder your meeting?

When you are arranging a meeting, give thought to what size room is necessary for the full group.  Also, how should the furniture be arranged to support the meeting topic and set the tone you desire?  Is a boardroom style better than a U-shape arrangement?  Would a casual, living room-style setup be more appropriate?

Make sure the chairs are comfortable if you’re asking people to stay for more than an hour.

Also, decide if the meeting is best held on-site or off-site.  Off-site locations tend to be best for creative problem solving or brainstorming because the new environment and fewer interruptions enhance focus and creative thinking.

Alternative to Taking Meeting Minutes

Meeting Minutes Alternative

I’ve always hated taking meeting minutes.  No one reads them and it takes forever to write them.  Plus you lose the input of the person in the meeting who has to take notes. So, unless you need minutes for legal purposes or to keep a thorough record of the history of a committee, consider this alternative to meeting minutes.

What do people want to know? People care about any decisions made in the meeting and what will happen next.

Therefore, I recommend groups create a “Decision Board.”

What you do is capture on a flipchart any decisions made on the agenda or even off-agenda.  So you might have something that looks like:

Agenda item #1: Identify the appropriate target audience for this product and schedule three focus groups with them.  Show prototype.  Must be finished by 60 days from now.  Peg will spearhead this effort.

A Decision Board also can include a decision to put off making a final decision until the next meeting.

Agenda item #2: No decision made. Everyone to review their estimated expenditures through year-end and report back this number in the next meeting on November 1.

The value of a Decision Board is that it will remind the group of what was decided and provides members with a focused set of instant minutes.  I recommend the Decision Board be typed up and sent out after the meeting as a reminder of what was accomplished.

So, creating a Decision Board as an alternative to meeting minutes will enhance participation and create more effective meetings!

Maximize Meetings Without Taking Minutes

Some time ago, Success Magazine queried online, “How To: Maximize Meetings?”

I responded with one important tip and it was selected as the Editors’ Favorite!   My suggestion was printed in Success Magazine in the Letters to the Editor section.  I was rewarded with a free copy of the magazine publisher’s (Darren Hardy) book  The Compound Effect.  Below is the tip that won the prize!

One recommendation I make to my clients on improving their meetings is to institute a Decision Board (often replaces meeting minutes).  This captures on a flipchart what decisions were made on each agenda item along with the appropriate next steps.  These become the meeting minutes and, when reviewed at the end of the meeting, remind people of what has been achieved and their commitments going forward.

I describe this technique in my blog post entitled Alternative to Meeting Minutes.