“Let’s book a meeting to talk about it.”

Did you just groan? Chances are you don’t typically leap for joy when you hear you need to attend a meeting. How do you, or your team, respond when you hear the request to attend yet another meeting in your workplace?

Precious time, energy, and attention gets sucked into the black hole that is the dreaded “meeting.” The lack of productivity and results people experience in a workplace rife with meetings is evidenced by the well-worn and often used phrase, “I’m sorry, I can’t. I’m stuck in meetings all day.”  We feel “stuck” in meetings when, given the demands of our work, we need to feel inspired, clear, and engaged.

According to some estimates, senior managers attend almost 23 hours of meetings a week!

A survey conduced by Steven Rogelberg of the University of North Carolina of 182 senior managers over a variety of industries found some discouraging results:

  • 65% felt meetings keep them from completing their own work
  • 71% found meetings to be unproductive
  • 64% said meetings come at the expense of deep thinking
  • 62% reported that meetings miss opportunities to bring the team closer together

When you think of all the hours spent in meetings, and the time-value of those attending them, having unproductive meetings isn’t just frustrating, it can be very costly!

Meetings don’t have to suck. They don’t have to feel like a chore or an obstacle to getting decisions made and real work done. Meetings, when done right, can be a great way to foster collaboration, creativity, and engagement.

Here are 3 tips to help ensure your next meeting doesn’t suck:

Make Meetings Visual

Verbal conversation as the dominant mode of problem solving and decision-making bogs down meetings quite easily. Ideas, decision, priorities, and strategies stay in an abstract and intellectual realm. When the primary mode of a meeting is auditory input, it’s hard for the brain to process and make meaningful connections and conclusions. When you factor in the countless distractions available to us at every moment—email notifications, instant messages, social media, even fact-checking information in real time on our phones—it’s no wonder meeting organizers are fighting an uphill battle to get the focus, best input, and meaningful results from their teams.

As a visual facilitator, I work with my clients to design engaging meetings and capture the key issues graphically in real time during important meetings or conferences. This helps to move the discussion from the abstract to the concrete, and from the intellectual to the experiential.

Without fail, making conversations visual in some way adds an element of interest, curiosity, and engagement that a pre-baked, PowerPoint presentation simply cannot. The problem with PowerPoint is that it is a one-way conversation—from the presenter to the participants. The deck is static, prepared in advance, and the ability to radically change what’s there or discover unexpected synergies or gaps is limited.

Incorporating visual elements into a meeting—whether it’s through graphic recording, flipcharts, customized visual templates—means you are literally getting everyone on the same page. Your team can see where there are strengths, gaps, and connections that might be overlooked when viewed solely from the lens of their departmental silos.

Making meetings visual adds energy and a powerful experiential element. As one of my clients told me, “These visual maps provide a way to connect people’s minds and hearts in such a profound way that people feel excited and connected to the actions they take. They get the purpose of what we’re doing, and how they fit into the big picture.” When you increase people’s engagement in the process, you build buy-in and commitment to implementing the decisions you make in the meeting.


Have Real Conversations

In the hectic pace of the workplace, the importance of having real, meaningful conversations with your co-workers can get left by the wayside. There’s a plethora of ways to communicate virtually, so we can text, email, Slack, Jabber, Skype, and more to our heart’s content instead of having a face-to-face conversation, and assume that we are communicating.

As George Bernard Shaw is often quoted as saying, “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”

Meetings are a great litmus test for the culture of an organization and how it engages its people to solve problems and work together. Nothing kills the energy in a room faster than having a meeting dominated by a few outspoken people, or where the discussion wanders all over the map and you forget why you are meeting in the first place. The stakes of speaking your mind, particularly if you hold a different view than others, can feel risky.

With studies showing that 67% of the workforce is either not engaged or actively disengaged, the need to connect people to one another, and to the purpose of the organization they are a part of, is clearly there.

Creating a regular cadence of team meetings to discuss current challenges and opportunities offers a natural way to build better relationships. Each conversation creates opportunities for the team to think and work together to address real-time issues in the workplace. As part of the discussion, when participants also reveal some of their personal preferences and experiences, it helps people get to know one another as human beings. This common experience forges trust, strengthens our atrophying communication skills, and helps align people with a common purpose.

Focus on What Will Be Different Tomorrow

Is there anything more frustrating than investing a lot of time, energy, and resources into making a decision, and then a few weeks later nothing has changed? All talk and no action is costly and causes change fatigue. This makes the likelihood of your next change initiative or new project being successful that much smaller. In fact, according to a 2013 Strategy& survey on culture and change management, only 54% of major change initiatives are successful.

To make a meeting matter, keep focused on the question “What’s going to be different tomorrow?” By tomorrow morning, how will people and processes be different and address the decisions made together? Having clear next steps articulated keeps the focus and momentum going.

Visual assets created in a meeting, particularly graphic recordings and graphic templates, can serve as an ongoing roadmap to next steps and measuring progress. Bring them out to subsequent meetings to check and confirm alignment. You can see whether you’re on course, or where you need to recalibrate and adjust.

Meetings don’t have to suck. Apply some of these tips to help make your meetings come to life!

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Editor’s Note: For more great tips to improve your next meeting, check out Morning Meeting Activities: 31 Ways To Run Engaged Meetings, from our friends at Time Doctor.