I recently attended a meeting that went something like this:
Everyone came in, many of them rushing, a few looking at cell phones. They sat at the conference table, laptops popped open. The person who’d called the meeting looked around, said ‘I think we’re all here,’ immediately threw a spreadsheet up on the screen, and started going through a bunch of numbers.
The attendees (I was there as an observer) scrambled to keep up. . .then they started asking a ton of questions about the spreadsheet. They questioned assumptions, tried to solve for problems that hadn’t been directly mentioned, and asked for additional details. The meeting-caller became increasingly flustered as the gathering spiraled out of control.
After 45 minutes, time was up. Laptops collapsed and everyone left. No action items, no real resolution. I wasn’t even clear what the intention of the meeting had been.
It didn’t feel so great. The meeting-caller, who happened to be my client, looked at me: ‘Please tell me there’s a better way to do that.’
Master storyteller and teacher Doug Lipman breaks a storytelling performance into four sections:
I’ve found that applying these sections to meetings works incredibly well:
Disallowing use of the word ‘but’ for the duration of the meeting.
3. Introducing the use of a ‘talking piece’ that delineates the role of speaker and listener. In the right setting, this can have the effect of slowing down the conversation so participants listen deeply to each other. In the wrong setting, it can feel weird or inappropriate.
3. Performance –––> The Meeting
This is the bulk of your meeting; the content. If you have established a consent agenda or agreements before jumping into the meeting, it gives you the ability to refer back to them should the meeting become chaotic.
4. Acknowledgement –––> Next Steps & Gratitude
In a storytelling performance, ‘acknowledgment’ may look like offering a simple ‘thank you’ to the audience for
their attention. In a meeting, it may look a bit different. Here are a few ways to honor attendees for their time and
The most common push back I get when suggesting this type of meeting structure to clients is that it will feel ‘awkward’ or take too much time. While it’s true that putting a structure place may feel uncomfortable at first, it’s almost always less uncomfortable that the agitation that results from a scattered, unproductive meeting.
As for the amount of time it takes, devoting five minutes at the top of a meeting to unify and invite can save countless minutes, if not hours, that it takes to get everyone on the same page later on.
Ultimately, change of any kind involves some level of discomfort. The question is this: is the level of discomfort you experience in the current scenario greater than the discomfort of embracing change?
If not, carry on!
If so, try some of these ideas and let me know how it goes!
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