How to Make Your Next Meeting the Most Effective Ever

Do I Have To Go?

In every corporation and social enterprise, we find ourselves in meetings.  We dread going to them.  We love to complain about them.  We poke ourselves to stay awake in them.

Have you ever thought about how important meetings really are?

Ever consider that how you behave in a meeting may have more of an impact on your career?

What if there was a way to turn meetings into “remarkable conversations”?


Paul Axtell’s new book,  Meetings Matter: 8 Powerful Strategies for Remarkable Conversations, was a surprise.  Why a surprise?  Because I admit I have groaned about too many meetings, so the thought of reading a book about them was supposed to be my cure for insomnia.  Instead, I found myself reading and re-reading it.  If your calendar has you stuck in too many ineffective meetings, you will find numerous solutions to changing the game in Paul’s new book.

Paul Axtell has been a personal effectiveness consultant and corporate trainer for 35 years.  All of that experience is put too good use in a book packed with advice to be more effective.  Note: this book goes far, far beyond the meeting.


“It took me fifteen years to make it look easy.” –Fred Astaire


Meetings Matter

Everyone loves to complain about meetings. Too many, too long, too boring. But your new book says meetings matter. Why are meetings such an easy target?

Meetings Matter CoverFirst, the complaints are usually justified.  Our time in ineffective meetings far outweighs our time in powerful meetings.  People are genuinely concerned about being more productive and taking less work home, so time not well spent is galling.  Finally, no one is standing up for the value and leverage that meetings can provide to a project or organization.  We’ve drifted into this place where we complain and don’t even hear ourselves complaining.  Poorly run meetings also start at the top, and from below it can seem like an impossible problem to confront. 

Paul, you raise the stakes to say, “Meetings are at the heart of an effective organization.”

Yes, if we include one-on-ones, meetings compromise most of a supervisor’s or manager’s day.  Meetings are a place and situation where clarity can be achieved, decisions made, alignment garnered and actions identified – all of which work to help forward the work of any organization.  Therefore, meeting skills are a core competency for employees.


“One of the most beautiful qualities of true friendship is to understand and to be understood.” –Seneca


Choose Your Perspective

Your new book outlines eight strategies for more effective meetings.  Let me ask about just a few.  Number one “Choose the perspective.”  It’s about being intentional, mindful, and catching yourself if you fall into negativity about a meeting.  Why is perspective the starting point?

I believe two things change behavior: perspective and awareness.  Perspective might be the more important of the two because with a disempowering perspective, strategies and tactics have less impact.  We’ve drifted into three perspectives that set us up for failure—meetings don’t matter, it’s not my meeting, and I don’t have to fully engage if I don’t want to.  Very difficult to run a good meeting when people walk in with these points of view.  Just imagine how it would be to lead a meeting where everyone walked in with an attitude that was shaped instead by these perspectives: meetings are leverage and I’m responsible for making this meeting turn out?


“It is indispensable to have a habit of observation and reflection.” –Abraham Lincoln


The 4 C’s of An Effective Conversation

Procrastinate on Purpose

Learn How to Be A Multiplier

If you’ve tried all of the tips, tricks, tools, apps, checklists, planners and technology gimmicks to improve your productivity, you may wonder why it is that you still haven’t mastered your time.


“Creating the next level of results requires the next level of thinking.” –Rory Vaden


My friend Rory Vaden, cofounder of international company Southwestern Consulting, NYT bestselling author of Take the Stairs: 7 Steps to Achieving True Success, says that:

  • Everything you know about time management is wrong.
  • The most productive people in the world do things differently.
  • We need to understand the emotional aspects of time management.
  • We need to learn how to multiply our time.
  • We need to learn how to procrastinate on purpose.

9780399170621His new book, Procrastinate on Purpose: 5 Permissions to Multiply Your Time has just been released. A few weeks ago, I sat down with Rory to talk about his extensive research into time management.

If you want to be more productive, more effective, more impactful – and who doesn’t – Rory’s research will propel you along.


3 Types of Procrastination

1: Classic procrastination

2: Creative avoidance

3: Priority dilution


3 Types of Procrastination

Learn about the 3 different types of procrastination:

50 Things to Drop Before the New Year

The Eliminate List

There are some things that we just need to eliminate.  Don’t take them into next year.  Here’s a few in random order of what we can all drop:

  1. Grudges
  2. Anger
  3. Toxic habits
  4. Clutter
  5. Negative thoughts
  6. People who drag you down
  7. Limiting language
  8. Bitterness
  9. Extra weight
  10. Unrealistic expectations
  11. Self righteousness
  12. Meanness
  13. Rudeness
  14. Partially hydrogenated anything
  15. Hatred
  16. Swearing
  17. Excuses
  18. Distractions
  19. Blind spots
  20. Frivolous spending
  21. Busywork
  22. Being cheap
  23. Drags
  24. Texting while driving
  25. Lateness
  26. Limiting beliefs
  27. Road rage
  28. Time wasters
  29. Doing it all alone
  30. Too much screen time
  31. Laziness
  32. Jealousy
  33. Stress
  34. Old clothes
  35. Gossip
  36. Debt
  37. Correcting others
  38. Perfectionism
  39. Self-sabotage
  40. Roadblocks
  41. Procrastination
  42. “Um” and other filler words
  43. Junk food
  44. Worry
  45. Sense of entitlement
  46. Thinking the worst about people
  47. High blood pressure
  48. Empty and false promises
  49. Seeking the approval of others
  50. Some money in an envelope and send it to your favorite charity.

How to Get Through Your Writing Faster

This is a guest post by Laura Brown, PhD, author of How to Write Anything: A Complete Guide. It is a terrific guide full of everything from writing apologies, thank you notes, and even fighting parking tickets. Dr. Brown has taught composition at Columbia University and has more than 25 years experience coaching business writing. More info.


Fact: we spend 28% of our time at work reading and writing email.


According to a 2012 study from the McKinsey Global Institute, we now spend an average of 28% of our time at work reading and writing e-mails.  That’s a total of 81 days a year spent on e-mail alone.  Another study, from the Radicati Group, found that the average corporate worker processes an average of 105 e-mails every day.  Any way you look at it, that’s an extraordinary investment of time and brainpower, and these numbers cover only e-mail, not the other kinds of writing we do at work.  What would it be like to get some of that time and energy back to devote to other projects, or just to take a deep breath once in a while?

Writing is likely to remain an important part of the average workday, but there are ways to streamline your writing process so that you can get through your writing tasks in less time. These tips can help.


Discover Your Process

In my consulting practice, I find many people think they’re doing writing “wrong.”  They have some notion from a high school or college writing class — or from business writing training at some point — that there is a “correct” way to approach a writing task, and they’re sure they’re doing it wrong.  The fact is that there are many different successful ways to get your writing done.  One of the keys to success in writing, and to accelerating your writing process, is to discover the process that works best for you.

Writing is typically taught as a linear process: first you consider your purpose and your reader, then you brainstorm content, then you create an outline, then you write a draft, and finally you revise that draft.  There’s nothing wrong with that process, unless it doesn’t work for you.  Many people find that a less linear approach feels more natural.  You can start to discover your own best process by simply observing how you typically start a writing project.  Do you like to have an outline before you start?  Do you jump right in and write a draft?  Do you consider your objectives before you start to write?  These are all potentially excellent ways to get started on a writing task.

Once you understand the writing process that works best for you, run with it.  Stop beating yourself up about doing it “wrong,” and find ways to work with your own approach. Becoming more conscious of your writing habits and embracing your own preferred style will accelerate your writing, no matter the task at hand.


To Speed Up, Slow Down

One of the best ways to speed up your writing is often to slow down a little.  Taking a minute to think before you write can save you a lot of time over the long run.  This trick can be especially useful with e-mail.  Before you compose an e-mail, ask yourself these two questions: “What am I trying to achieve with this message?” and “Who is my reader and what do they expect from me?”  This simple, time-saving matrix will force you to isolate and refine your message before you even start writing it.  Your e-mail will be more concise, and you’ll be less likely to omit important content (and less likely to have to follow up because of it).  You can use the same kind of matrix when you read and reply to e-mails: ask yourself “What is the purpose of this message?” and “What is my reader asking of me?”  Slowing down just long enough to ask and answer these questions will speed up your e-mail processing overall.

Pick the Low-Hanging Fruit to Improve Productivity

Many leaders are looking for the “big” program that will change the game.  They agonize over large scale change efforts, ways to reduce costs, and how to increase innovation within the firm.

What if the answer wasn’t identifying one large project but instead was small issues that employees already knew about?  If the employees had the courage and the power to act on them, what would happen?

It’s the same in business as it is in life.  The little things matter.  Add up the small changes and the daily disciplines and you have mapped the road to success.


“The important thing is not to stop questioning.” -Albert Einstein


Jeremy Eden and Terri Long are the Co-CEOs of Harvest Earnings, an advisory services firm. They have helped companies like Heinz, PNC Financial, Standard Register and The Schwan Food Company, Energy East, Webster Financial, and Standard Register to reduce costs and increase revenues. I recently had the opportunity to talk with them about their new book, Low-Hanging Fruit: 77 Eye-Opening Ways to Improve Productivity and Profits. 

This is one of the most practical and immediately actionable guides for business leaders that I have ever seen.


Embracing Change


You have listed numerous ways to make an organization more efficient, more productive, and more profitable.  When you consult with an organization, do managers readily embrace your ideas or do they resist?Low-Hanging Fruit

If we said to our clients’ employees, “Folks, here are 77 new behaviors you need to do now,” there would be mutiny!  So instead we build in the most important behaviors into a process that we provide called Idea Harvest™.  Most managers do readily embrace the process because they see that it is a way for them to get their ideas not only a hearing but a decision as well.  By going through an Idea Harvest™ managers just naturally adopt our ideas without anyone having to learn or accept 77 ways of behaving.  One of the most loved new behaviors is to use simple one-page summaries for most ideas and to stop creating big presentations.  Since most decisions in an Idea Harvest are simple (“low-hanging fruit”), no lives need to be wasted on creating elaborate PowerPoints.


“PowerPoint has consumed the best years of too many young lives.” -David Silverman


Another example is that an Idea Harvest uses many short deadlines.  Deadlines focus everyone on important activities and give them permission to ignore unimportant ones that might otherwise waste their time.  Some embrace this new behavior immediately because they see that it also means decisions will be made quickly.  Others don’t see how they can meet the short deadlines until they see how efficiently they can work following some of the other rules … which is a perfect segue to the next question!


Know When Good Enough is Enough

I love the concept of “gold plating.”  Would you explain it and give an example?

Gold plating, also known as “paving the cow paths” is an effort to make something better that is already good enough … and more specifically, spending time making that thing better does not grow profits.  The most prevalent example is the one we describe in Chapter 77 “Mom Should Have Said, Don’t Always Do Your Best.” Managers spend an incredible amount of time perfecting PowerPoints, memos, and emails when “good enough” would have saved time that could be spent on truly important activities.  Many bosses inadvertently encourage this behavior by pointing out meaningless typos or formatting issues in internal memos.  We worked with one client where the employees laughed when we said the senior team would review a one-page summary of their ideas.  They needed to hear directly from the CEO that he didn’t want a full blown presentation for every idea they were going to discuss!  We worked with another where the word went out to reprint hundreds of pages of team reports in bigger font after the CEO made an off-hand comment that the type size was small – luckily the CEO caught wind of this and told everyone he preferred using his reading glasses to wasting time and money!  One engineering department was designing equipment that would last 75 years even though with new technology that standard no longer made sense. “Gold plating” occurs in every large company and is seen as virtuous instead of the resource stealer that it is!


“A bad system will beat a good person every time.” -W. Edwards Deming


You talk about “embracing conflict” and that can require some serious culture change inside an organization.  How do you change the culture to accept healthy conflict?

Managers bemoan how hard it is to change a culture, but we have seen it happen practically overnight.  Think how quickly a culture can change when a company is bought and merged.  The top dog has culture change within his or her power (but like Dorothy who didn’t know she only needed to click her heels three times, they often don’t know it.)  Company executives who want their teams to embrace conflict must embrace it themselves.  Is there a decision that has lingered because two factions can’t agree on the right course of action?  Executives should adopt the mantra that “everyone is entitled to their own opinions but not their own facts” (courtesy of Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan).


“There seems to be some perverse human characteristic that likes to make easy things difficult.” -Warren Buffett


In practice, this means demanding facts before entertaining debate and discussion.  By making sure that everyone agrees on the facts, many conflicts will  be resolved.  In one company, the business line wanted a 24-hour call center because they “knew” that good customers called at all hours while the call center “knew” that staying open overnight was not worth it.  Together, they devised a simple data collection plan and determined that few good customers used the call center late at night.  Again working together, they found a way to form a skeletal staff to take care of the customers with 3am needs.  With common facts, a decade old conflict evaporated.  With facts, conflicts also lose much of their political edge that can turn decisions into power struggles.


One additional simple change can make a huge difference:  Get everyone involved in a decision in the room at the same time.  No serial meetings with differing points of view that the boss is left to figure out.  Ask the conflicting parties to present a single point of view on the issue and 95% of the time they will do it.


“There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all.” -Peter Drucker


Making Meetings Effective

How do you make meetings more effective, less time consuming, and more impactful?