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The Green Sheet Online Edition

September 27, 2010 • Issue 10:09:02

Command performance meetings

By Dale S. Laszig
Castles Technology Co. Ltd.

Can you remember the last time you felt excited about going to a meeting? Perhaps it was an invitation with a paper umbrella announcing a company bash or the unveiling of a new product line. Meetings can be meaningful and productive, but they too often miss the intended mark.

A meeting, like any theatrical production, has three essential ingredients: timing, action and plot. If any of these are lacking, the reviews will not be kind.

Avoid common pitfalls

Here are the most common complaints among critics:

  • They take too long: As we all know, time is money, so when we leave our customers, friends and families to attend a meeting, we're looking for a return on investment (ROI). We hope to gain knowledge that can be applied toward increasing productivity and staying ahead of our competition.

    We've all suffered through lengthy performances where speakers promised to be brief. We've seen the devastating consequences of "meeting creep" brought about by presenters exceeding their time limits, causing other speakers to be bumped and meeting agendas scrapped.

    Most of us would rather leave early than take long breaks. High-level overviews are preferable to complicated trainings that go into too much detail. Hand-outs with links and recommended reading extend a meeting's useful life, perpetuate its objectives, and enable us to continue our research and follow-up at our own pace - long after the event has ended.

  • They are boring: Good meetings have fast-moving agendas presented by knowledgeable professionals who don't take themselves too seriously. Presenters don't have to be professionally trained actors to be fun and interesting. They just have to care about their audience and subject and convey that in an animated way.

  • They have technical difficulties: Props and technology can enhance a meeting's entertainment value. Short, three-minute video clips and interactive exercises can spice up a presentation, as long as they support the main theme of the event and illustrate a point. Long videos can turn an engaged audience into couch potatoes, and distribution of free items as rewards for those willing to speak up can alienate the introspective geniuses in the room while rewarding the shouters.

    In the absence of a face to face meeting, webinars provide an effective medium for interactive discussions because they support graphic presentations and allow for multiple presenters.

    Video conferencing, which works best when used in small groups, can sometimes pose problems. The casual spontaneity of webcams is viewed by some multinational companies as too informal and unprofessional.

    Video conference technologies can be useful in building rapport within cross-functional teams, but they could prove counterproductive when used to communicate with overseas clients. In the latter case, visual distractions could undermine a meeting's agenda and priorities.

  • They lack focus: It's a good idea to share a meeting's primary objectives ahead of time, as well as the allotted times for presentation, discussion, question-and-answer periods and breaks. Having a set schedule and list of talking points will make it easier to stay on track.

    Maintaining a meeting's focus takes advance planning and gets easier with practice. Effective managers circulate an agenda before the meeting begins. Once the meeting is in session, they check in with attendees to make sure that everyone is in sync, and they stay on course by relegating less pertinent questions to separate, offline discussions.

Put on a show

A good meeting resembles a three-act play, with each act contributing equally to the structure and integrity of the event. Here are some ways to make each act a bravura performance:

  • Act one: Set the stage: Insist on everyone's undivided attention. Just as we have only one chance to make a first impression, a presenter or moderator must take control of the meeting at the very beginning to establish credibility and ensure participation. It's demoralizing to a presenter and damaging to a meeting if attendees are watching laptops and smart phones instead of the speaker

    Review the agenda. Make clear, inclusive opening statements that advance meeting objectives and make all participants feel directly involved in the event. Share the rules of engagement. The meeting chair should advise whether it's preferable to ask questions during the formal presentation or wait for a designated question-and-answer period.

  • Act two: Engage and motivate: Make the meeting interactive. No one likes a talking head. The most productive meetings are those that engage participants, solicit feedback, and reward new ideas or correct answers. And make the meeting fun. The best meeting I attended was a scripted product demo with music and dancing that occurred in the midst of a conventional conference. The audience jumped to its feet, singing and dancing through the rest of the production. Years later, attendees are still talking about it and buying the products.

    Also, state the value proposition. What is the ROI for attendees, and how will the information or action plan shared in this meeting directly benefit them?

  • Act three: Summarize and agree on next steps: Close on the meeting objectives by summarizing main points. If your meeting is a sales presentation, ask for the order. If it's a call to action, agree on next steps. Distribute handouts to extend the meeting's life and encourage follow-ups. Resolve to execute on all action items to make the goals of the meeting a reality.

Grab the spotlight

Finally, it's no accident that carefully planned meetings tend to be more memorable than hastily arranged assemblies. But even spontaneous gatherings can be productive and successful if a bit of theatricality is applied.

Devising a theme for the meeting will add a sense of fun and adventure to the intended call to action. Good timing, combined with audience engagement and a strong story line, will set the stage for a command performance. end of article

Dale S. Laszig is Vice President of Sales in the United States for Castles Technology Co. Ltd., a manufacturer and global provider of smart card, contactless and POS solutions. She can be reached at 973-930-0331 or dale_laszig@castech.com.tw.

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