Written By Lauren Green | MeetingMakers

There are many reasons why most meetings suck:

  • No clear outcomes or agenda
  • Dominating personalities
  • No follow-up accountability
  • Information overload
  • Conflict or conflict avoidance

What if we told you that each of those issues is avoidable and that you could fix it? The answer is meeting skills.

Everyone has to meet, but, for some reason, we’re not taught meeting skills in school. I want to change this—to bring meeting skills to the masses and put these tools out there for all professionals to access and benefit from.

To help kick-start your meeting skills transformation, here are 10 tips from a professional facilitator to improve the way you meet.

Tip 1: Cultivate the Right Mindset

In the world of meeting etiquette, mindset is where it all begins. As we step into those conference rooms or virtual spaces, we often carry an individual agenda, eager to accomplish our own goals. But the mark of a great meeting participant lies in the ability to transcend personal objectives and embrace a broader perspective to accomplish what the group needs.

Tip 2: Be Present

What happens when you’re not present in meetings? If you’re checking your email, social media or getting other work done, you’re going to miss valuable information. First, stop scheduling your meetings back to back, so you’re not constantly running into meetings late, unprepared and distracted. I’m a big fan of the 25 or 55 minute meeting, to give yourself a few minutes between meetings to write down your actions, grab a quick drink of water, stand up and stretch, respond to urgent messages, or think about what questions you have for the next call. Then turn your phone over, close your email, turn your camera on for the sake of your online meetings and put a smile on your face!

Tip 3: Turn On Your Camera

According to Albert Mehrabian, 55 percent of meaning is relayed through the body. If you don’t have your camera on, it’s sort of like allowing yourself to be misunderstood. If you model the behavior by consistently turning your own camera on, it gives others permission and encouragement to do the same. However, don’t require camera’s on. If you say, “Everyone must turn on their camera,” it sets a tone of authority that can limit constructive conversation. This one takes time, so give it a few meetings and maybe a few months, but you can change this behavior in your team through modeling the behavior.

Tip 4: Address Dominating Behavior

I get this one all the time—what can I do as a participant when I see someone dominating the conversation, talking over someone and interrupting a lot? Don’t say, “Hey Bob! You’re being a jerk to Taylor! She’s trying to speak.” Instead of focusing on Bob, use a redirect by saying “Taylor, it sounded like you had something else to add,” or find someone you haven’t heard from in a while and ask them if they have any thoughts.

Tip 6: Play Dumb

Meetings are supposed to be collaborative, and you can’t collaborate without curiosity about what others are thinking. This involves asking questions. A really easy way to start is by putting on your best Columbo impression. You know… Columbo?… The popular American television detective series. In short—Columbo is super smart but he has no ego, so he’s totally cool with asking the dumb question because he knows that asking the dumb question will help reveal key details and build understanding.

Here are some classic Columbo-style questions you can try:
I noticed something you said earlier. Could you explain that again?
Oh, by the way, I was wondering if you could tell me more about what you meant by…
I couldn’t help but notice that…
Could you please explain to me again what you meant by…

Tip 7: Recognizing Meeting Stages

The Open Refine Close model, also known as the Diverge Converge model from Sam Kaner’s book, A Facilitator’s Guide to Participatory Decision-Making, explains that meetings go through three phases: opening to generate ideas, closing to make decisions, and refining between the two to build understanding. If the group is in the opening phase, open-ended questions are encouraged, while in the closing phase, closed-ended questions are more suitable to reach a decision. During the refining phase, it’s helpful to ask questions, make observations, and use visual aids to connect ideas. Recognizing that we all have a preference for open, refine or closed types of discussions and being able to flex into your non-dominant preference can help improve your meeting contributions.

Tip 8: Chat with Care

If you’re someone who tends to do a lot of private messaging to colleagues during the meeting, try to tone that down. When you message people privately it creates a hidden element of the meeting that doesn’t support group collaboration; it’s like passing notes in class. Ask yourself what is the reason you might be private messaging someone? Many times, we’re afraid to speak up, so we use private chats instead. Chances are, if you’re sending private messages, something about what you have to say is important to the larger group but you need to figure out a way to voice that constructively.

Tip 9: Buddy Up

Don’t try to improve your meetings alone. Everyone needs a friend at work, and especially in dysfunctional cultures, having a buddy to try some of these behaviors with, either as practice or in the actual meetings, will help you stay accountable to modeling good meeting etiquette for others. If you don’t have a buddy to do this with, then tell the team, “Hey everyone, I’m going to be trying out a few new techniques to try and improve the quality of our meetings.”

Tip 10: Practice Where it’s Safe

If you’re nervous about trying some new behaviors, start in a low stakes meeting where you can get some feedback from your boss or a colleague. It may feel silly, but at the very least, you can try some of these conversation techniques when you’re out to dinner with a group of friends, but let them know what you’re doing before you start directing the conversation.

If you’re looking for more tips and tools to help improve your meetings, check out the This Meeting Sucks podcast and playbooks. Season 3—A Participants Guide to Un-sucking Your Meetings—premieres December 2023. Check out MeetingMakers Academy for more detailed workshops, and join the MeetingMakers Community on Facebook to join the conversation and ask questions.

About the Author:

Lauren Green (she/her) is the owner and executive director of MeetingMakers, a close-knit team of experienced facilitators, trainers and meeting coaches who partner with clients to facilitate meetings with tangible outcomes and lasting impact. She believes facilitation should be a core competency for all professionals and is on a mission to make this a reality. She is recognized for her high energy and ability to fuel creativity and engagement in meetings. Lauren earned a master’s degree in Organization Development and Knowledge Management from George Mason University, where she now teaches facilitation as an adjunct professor. Lauren is an International Coach Federation certified coach and an MBTI® and EQi (emotional intelligence) Practitioner. Lauren works across all industries, with particular expertise and interest in supporting healthcare organizations.

Check out the This Meeting Sucks Podcast for more tips on improving your meetings.