Recently I've been working with managers to run better meetings.
Meanwhile, in my private life, I've been trapped at several bad meetings—the kind where you squirm in your seat—with the dentist. (Luckily, the dentist wasn't actually in the seat.)
Is there a connection between good meetings and bad dentistry? Yes! It's about control.
Mistake #1: Too much control. You talk, but no one's engaged.
One day, I asked my dentist why he didn't have a spittoon. I like spittoons. They let you, the patient, sit up once in a while, spit, and take a break.
"I hate 'em," he muttered, almost to himself, "every single one of them." Was he talking about spittoons or patients? I couldn't tell.
Before I could offer any more advice, he put a suction hose in my mouth. Clearly, this man had a schedule, and there was no time for spitting.
Fine. But you certainly don't want dead silence at your meetings. If you're doing all the talking, that's less like a meeting, more like a bad dental experience.
Why are you talking so much, anyway?
Probably because you've got too much info, too little time. Well, why not send some of that info in advance?
Avoid using your meeting to dump data. Instead, use the meeting to discuss and debate so that you (and/or the group) can decide and act. .
Mistake #2: Too little control. Everyone talks, but nothing gets done.
I once had a dentist—or else it was someone pretending to be a dentist—ask me, "What are your goals for your teeth?"
I didn't really have any, other than to keep them. And I expected the dentist—or this person impersonating one—to provide a modicum of direction.
Same for the meeting leader. Without you steering, everyone may participate, but your meeting goes nowhere.
To maintain control, you don't need to dominate, but you do need to drive the structure. Begin with your purpose. What is it? And what decisions need to get made, and by whom? Be explicit.
Deputize a timekeeper—better if it's not you—to alert the group if the conversation goes off the rails.
And set some ground rules early to prevent trouble later. For example: no cell phones, no side conversations. And no spitting.
Tip: A good meeting is both efficient (uses time well) and engaging (uses people well).
To achieve both, flex control.
© Copyright 2013 Paul Hellman. All rights reserved.
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Patricia Hunt Sinacole is president of First Beacon Group LLC, a human resources consulting firm in Hopkinton. She works with clients across many industries including technology, biotech and medical devices, financial services, and healthcare, and has over 20 years of human resources experience.
Elaine Varelas is managing partner at Keystone Partners, a career management firm in Boston and serves on the board of Career Partners International.
Cindy Atoji Keene is a freelance journalist with more than 25 years experience. E-mail her directly here.
Peter Post is the author of "The Etiquette Advantage in Business." Email questions about business etiquette to him directly here.
Stu Coleman, a partner and general manager at WinterWyman, manages the firm's Financial Contracting division, and provides strategic staffing services to Boston-area organizations needing Accounting and Finance workforce solutions and contract talent.
Tracy Cashman is a partner and the general manager of the Information Technology search division at WinterWyman. She has 20 years of experience partnering with clients in the Boston area to conduct technology searches in a wide variety of industries and technology.
Paul Hellman is the founder of Express Potential, which specializes in executive communication skills. He consults and speaks internationally on how to capture attention & influence others. Email him directly here.