Tick tock, tick tock ... We've all been guilty at some point of watching the slow progress of the clock as we sit through yet another meeting that would have been better handled through a group message or email. While we often fixate on "meetings gone wrong," there are also those amazing meetings that truly made an impact -- where a team had a critical inspiration that unlocked success, closed a crucial deal or had a breakthrough in forging a relationship with a boss, employee or client. It is these powerful impacts that make meetings such an important part of our professional lives. The question is, how do we break the cycle of bad meetings that leave us dreading the next one and wondering when we'll get to the real work of our day?
Related: Why Elon Musk Hates Meetings
I have found that in nearly every meeting, no matter how long, there are only about four minutes of "meeting gold" -- instances when all participants react strongly to an idea, and engagement and information-sharing are at their highest. If you can capitalize on these moments, you can unlock your team and drive dramatic acceleration in delivering on your most critical objectives. The challenge lies in being able to identify and capitalize on these instances to maximize engagement and productivity between and during future meetings.
Here are a few tips for recognizing -- and capitalizing on -- the golden moments in your next meeting:
Learn to identify nonverbal cues.
It makes sense that the most direct indicators of people's attention and engagement come from their verbal responses -- "great idea" and "tell me more" vs. "I'm not sure that will work" or "I don't understand" -- but human beings do not communicate exclusively through language. People use a variety of nonverbal cues (both consciously and unconsciously) to express their interest, often conveying more of their opinion nonverbally than they do verbally.
When meeting participants are interested and engaged, their full attention is on the speaker and presentation. Even if they remain silent, they've stopped texting, sending emails or robotically taking notes. They are present and alert, in many instances nodding or even physically leaning in toward the speaker to demonstrate their interest. It is particularly important to watch out for these cues with remote workers, and why it is so important to leverage video conferencing solutions when hosting a meeting with remote team members. While these non-verbal cues will vary person to person, they are powerful signs that you've struck meeting gold, and are your first clue that the focus of the discussion holds real value to your employees and to the business.
Share personal insights and experiences.
When multiple meeting participants voice their opinions or add insight from their own experiences (especially those who typically remain more reserved during meetings) that's another sign that you've hit upon an important subject. When people feel passionately about a topic of discussion, they are far more inclined to voice their individual thoughts and opinions -- and more sources of input provides a greater opportunity to gather valuable insights.
While general enthusiasm and participation are often indicators of meeting gold, it is the speaker's responsibility to determine the underlying cause. There are two reasons for this: first, to better understand the topic or presentation style which prompted such enthusiasm to apply that knowledge to future meetings, and second, to objectively determine if the topic merits further discussion. For instance, is this subject something that contributes value to the business and employees genuinely care about, or is participation being motivated by outside factors such as the attendance of a company executive? The first instance reveals true meeting gold, while the second can be tossed aside as "fool's gold."
Mine the gold.
Once you've struck a vein, you need to ensure you can capitalize on it. Don't let the opportunity pass you by.
Two key tips to ensuring you get the most out of these key moments:
Pull in the audience. When you see the signs of meeting gold, it is the perfect time to pull in your audience, particularly those who are often silent. Look for those who are leaning in and engaged, and ensure you solicit their perspectives and opinions.
Be willing to abandon the agenda. As meeting hosts, we often have a list of topics we "need" to get through. Because inspiration can be fleeting, we need to be willing to set the agenda aside and spend the time to take advantage of key moments. Push something to next week, shorten a later item, but don't diminish the impact of these moments by being slavishly tied to your agenda.
Understand actions and immediate next steps.
The last tip to maximize the value of your meeting gold is to ensure you capture it in a way that will have impact well beyond the meeting itself. Inspiration can be fleeting. Make certain that you capture the critical notes, the critical slides and the critical next steps for the team to be able to take that moment and make it one that endures.
By capturing these moments, you can address one of the key sources of meeting frustration -- that they seem to end without purpose, action or direction. In these instances, employees are simply going through the motions, holding the meeting because the workplace requires it, rather than because it holds genuine value.
I've found that in moments of meeting gold, participants are able to quickly and explicitly define their immediate next steps following a discussion. These actions can be listed by the speaker or any number of meeting attendees, but in every case, there is a clear understanding and consensus on the outcome and what actions each individual must take to achieve that goal. The key is to have the discipline to be specific in these moments, get individuals to identify specific actions that are needed, identify and task specific owners, and be clear on the timeframe for their actions.
Meetings can be long, inefficient and often #couldhavebeenanemail -- but they aren't going anywhere. If done right, they are an incredibly valuable way to build relationships, share ideas and drive business forward. By equipping employees with the knowledge to better identify the minutes of gold in their meetings, we can help ensure the most effective outcomes for those meetings, and in turn apply those insights to help shape more efficient, engaging and even more enjoyable interactions in the future.