Mister Joshua Cohen asked me to talk about how I go about running meetings effectively. Josh and his business partner, Jamison Tilsner, run Tilzy TV, an Internet TV startup. I knew right away that there’s some effectiveness advice I could give that would also include examples of using social media and Internet tools effectively at the same time.
Three Types of Meetings
First, realize that for most businesses, there are essentially three types of meetings:
- Announcement meeting
- Status meeting
- Brainstorm meeting
These are in order of how fast they should run, and/or how interactive they should be.
An ANNOUNCEMENT meeting should be super fast, and is reserved for announcements that you want to make in person to the team. You might use this to announce funding, to announce the addition of a new key employee (and at a startup, EVERY employee is key), or to announce a major shift in direction. It should have one speaker (two max), and doesn’t require much in the way of social media, except that you might consider videotaping the announcement (either for future use in documenting the company’s experiences, or as potential YouTube press release material).
A STATUS meeting should be reasonably quick, and it’s a chance for all teams to be heard from. However, it’s not for discussion. Instead, the project manager calling the meeting (and at a startup, lots of people get to play project manager) should have gone around ahead of the meeting to get the status. Get all the conversation out of people by hearing them fully OUTSIDE the meeting.
Then, at the meeting, the person who gathered status merely announces that she’ll be running down the current status. Mention the department or person, give their very brief status message, and move on to the next person. It’s not a time for discussion. If someone wants to open up a discussion, interrupt as politely but as quickly as possible, and state that we can talk after the meeting, but the first and foremost part of the meeting is to run down a status.
Social media and Internet tools that are useful in meetings include a wiki for simple note taking, or perhaps an internal blog might be the better tool for that job. (What do YOU think?) You might use a tool like Utterz to record the status meeting, and team members can listen to the status directly after the fact.
A BRAINSTORMING meeting is probably the most open-ended and least simple to run. In these meetings, you’re asking people together to discuss open-ended futures. This should be clearly announced at the beginning of the meeting (as well as in the invite), so that people know it’s going to be a conversation and not a quick in-and-out.
Some things to make a meeting like this run better: lay out the goals and end-points so that people know what they’re aiming towards. When discussions get too tangential, help people back towards the goals and endpoints. Another tip would be to have one person outside the brainstorming flow with an eye on the time, and also a notion of the goals, so that he or she can guide people back onto the targets at hand.
Social media tools that are useful at brainstorming sessions are a mindmapping tool like Mindmeister, which captures free form ideas in a visual way, and can be later shared in a variety of methods. Other tools for brainstorming could be a shared tumbleblog on Tumblr, where people can clip in various bits of information to share what their vision of a project can be. Need visuals? Don’t forget Flickr for finding photos to use internally for the discussion (be mindful of their Creative Commons status).
Tips for ALL Meetings
The purpose of meetings is to get more than one person into informational alignment. In some cases, that’s asking for information. In lots of cases, that’s doling out status. Here are some tips for every type of meeting you hold:
- Brevity is your friend. Meetings over 1/2 hour are evil.
- Start on time. Finish on time. Meetings that wait for late people get later each time.
- The boss isn’t the boss of the meeting. If it’s your meeting, be firm, polite, and firm.
- Copious notes aren’t a virtue. Understanding next actions are a virtue.
- Every idea needs an owner. If you come up with what has to come next, the NEXT thing you do is find out who owns it, and when, roughly, they will accomplish their task.
- Some meetings are just well-worded email messages and an updated project plan, meaning NO meeting necessary. Trim where you can. People loathe meetings, and the people who love them usually have something wrong with them.
Brief Note for Participants
If you are a PARTICIPANT in meetings, most of what I’ve told you can’t help. However, pointing the person who runs meetings to a post like this one, or several posts over at Lifehack.org is certainly one way to get people thinking about how they run their meetings.
What are some of your ways for coping in meetings? How have you used social media combined with meetings? Have you ever shown a podcast or a videoblog as part of your presentation materials at a business meeting?
Give us your status!
The Social Media 100 is a project by Chris Brogan dedicated to writing 100 useful blog posts in a row about the tools, techniques, and strategies behind using social media for your business, your organization, or your own personal interests. Swing by [chrisbrogan.com] for more posts in the series, and if you have topic ideas, feel free to share them, as this is a group project, and your opinion matters.
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Photo credit, flgr