10 Tips for Leading Meetings That Matter

Concept of leadership.

Do you want your meetings to matter? Of course you do. But wanting and doing are two very separate things. And as I have often stated, I’m convinced that being an effective meeting leader is as much about your mindset as it is about your skillset.

Based on my experience and my research, if you approach your meetings (as either a formal leader or an active participant) with the following ten “Big Ideas” in mind, your meetings – and all your conversations at work (and elsewhere) – will be more productive, more engaging, and more meaningful.

  1. Assume that the group is far more intelligent and experienced than any single participant. Remember, no one individually is smarter than everyone together. And that includes you!
  2. Enter every conversation with an open and curious mind. You just never know what experiences and relevant knowledge the other participant(s) might bring to the conversation. Listen carefully before you respond to anyone.
  3. Suspend judgment. Hear people out and be sure you understand their ideas in sufficient depth before you decide (and certainly before you communicate) whether those ideas are useful and relevant, or a distraction.
  4. Respect (and leverage) individual differences. Remember that there is only one of you, and there is only one of everybody else in the world. It’s not only individual experiences and knowledge that are different; just as important are the distinctive talents, and the individual ways of processing information and responding to other people, that each person brings to the conversation.
  5. Presume that people can learn and grow. And that also includes you. Be open to learning from anyone about anything. Remember that you are already in a position of leadership; you don’t have to prove that you are smarter or better informed than the other participants. In fact, going out of your way to demonstrate how much you know is a sure way to lose the respect of everyone else in the meeting.
  6. Focus on broad goals that everyone agrees with. Start the conversation with common goals and seek win/win solutions whenever possible.
  7. Be mindful of others’ responsibilities, constraints, and needs. Unless you believe it is unavoidable, don’t ask the meeting participants to make commitments or agree with positions that will make their own lives more difficult. Respecting their individual circumstances includes avoiding putting them into difficult positions or endangering their personal and professional relationships.
  8. Reinforce constructive behaviors from others. When someone else offers thanks, or praise, thank them in turn. Reward behaviors that help move the conversation forward, and over time you will see more of them.
  9. Know where you are in the process, and let others know as well. Presumably you defined the meeting agenda, and told the other participants how you want the conversation to unfold. If you ignore that agenda, or go off topic, you are implicitly giving everyone else permission to do the same thing. That makes it much more difficult to rope someone else in when they’ve gone off on a tangent.
  10. Be authentic. Admit it when you don’t know an answer, or need help. Express the emotions you are experiencing; for example, if someone comes up with an exciting and innovative idea, thank them or praise them (but only if you genuinely mean it). Or if you are confused or can’t follow someone’s train of thought, say so (in a caring and respectful way, of course)

Which of these tips stand out for you as being particularly important? Are there other basic principles that have helped you be an effective meeting leader? I’d love to hear your stories and advice.

These ideas are described in more detail in Chapter Four of my most recent book, Making Meetings Matter: How Smart Leaders Orchestrate Powerful Conversations in the Digital Age. I am on a crusade to make every meeting matter. Life is too short to waste your time in unproductive, boring meetings that don’t matter.

Contact me today for a free 20-minute strategic conversation about how you can make all your meetings and other corporate conversations both productive and popular. To explore what is possible, please download this brief overview of my new service offering for making meetings matter.