Meetings Part IV: Action!

Meetings are for the sole purpose of making decisions. Sharing information is important, but there are many far more efficient and cost effective ways to do it.

As an aside, unnecessary meetings are frequently excused by “But if I send a memo, no one reads it.” That is a management problem that won’t be solved by meetings. Important information is better communicated in writing. If it isn’t worth reading, it shouldn’t be distributed. If it is, the recipients have to read it.

meeting sillouhetteThe disconnect comes either when people perceive the memo to be valueless, but don’t want to hurt the sender’s feelings by saying so; or when someone who needs to know the information has to be spoon fed because he or she doesn’t accept the responsibility for staying informed. The answer to both is the same. Address the behavior, not the means of communication.

Decisions made in meetings are too often lost, dropped, or poorly implemented. Again with the help of my readers (especially Ed Bierschenck and Jim Marshall), here are some tips on developing effective action plans.

Get verbal acknowledgement from the entire group. Make sure everyone is on the same page. We often gloss over this because we know one person still holds an opposing opinion. That is unacceptable. Once an action has been agree upon, everyone must support it whether they fully agree or not. (See my post “We’ll Just Agree to Disagree.”)

Define responsibility by asking the person assigned to execute or lead the task to repeat back what he or she understands the goal to be. Write it down for the meeting notes in the words of the person responsible, not those of the highest ranking person in the room.

Set a completion date. If the ultimate goal is further out than the next scheduled meeting, set a concrete interim objective for completion.

Document goal progress at every meeting. If it’s worth spending the money to bring people together for a decision, it is worth following up. If the task is on track you can skip any detailed explanation, but variances from budget or schedule should be explained.

Celebrate accomplishments. Something important enough to discuss, decide and track is important enough to warrant some acknowledgement when completed. A small “removing from the list” ceremony serves three purposes. It recognizes the accomplishment. It maintains focus on the entire list, especially items that have lingered too long, while it also helps identify routine tasks that are being “puffed up” into meeting goals. If one person is going from meeting to meeting with a pattern of goal/completion, goal/completion, goal/completion every time, they are just doing their normal job. (Example: My goal is to get the monthly newsletter out before next month’s meeting.”)

Next week: the last installment on post-meeting activities. Your comments and suggestions are always welcome.

In business, everyone is either a Hunter or a Farmer. Which one are you? Take the quiz.  book


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Meetings Part III: The Meat of the Meet

We will presume that you’ve started your meeting with the proper preparation, as discussed in last week’s column. Now it is time to get into the business of the meeting, the meat of the meet as it were. This week, we will discuss participation.

Who needs to be at the table? If decisions are to be made (and that is what meetings are for) then the authority of those attending should be roughly equal. If someone sends a subordinate to take notes and report back, the time of those who came prepared to make a decision is wasted. Consider a rule that says “If you can’t attend a previously agreed-upon meeting, the rest of the participants can make the decisions without you.” standing meeting

Why do you need a table at all? If the agenda calls for a meeting of 30 minutes or less, meet standing up. It keeps folks from getting too relaxed and wasting time.

No serial dialogue. That’s when the chair talks with the first person, then with the next, then with the next. That isn’t a meeting, it’s reporting. Every discussion should involve everyone present. If a topic isn’t relevant to one or more attendees, it should be handled in a different meeting.

Just because it impacts you… It has become standard practice in business to say “You are going to be discussing things that affect my job (or my project, or my department) so therefore I have to be in attendance.” No…you…don’t. Unless you are part of the decision making process, a copy of the meeting notes or minutes will serve nicely.

Presentations aren’t meetings. Sitting through a PowerPoint in a darkened room doesn’t put anyone in a creative or collaborative mood. Besides, having one person make their case to begin with sets an expectation of arguing for or against the presentation’s conclusions. Present relevant background information ahead of time; not everyone wants to absorb it at the same rate.

Put it in the parking lot. It’s a great device to cut off irrelevant conversation without being rude. Agree to keep a list of items that come up and which need to be discussed, but aren’t on the agenda for this meeting.

Hand signals? This one is from David Cunningham in Colorado. Agree on some hand signals that allow all participants to call a question or point out irrelevancies. David suggests a hand slash across the throat to cut discussion, for example. I’m not sure about that one. Where I grew up, it probably wouldn’t have been a great way to communicate, but obviously David isn’t Italian.

bookIn business, everyone is either a Hunter or a Farmer. Which one are you? Take the quiz.


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One Response to Meetings Part III: The Meat of the Meet

  1. David Basri says:

    One more item for the “meat of a meeting”. Punctuality. A company I was with in the ’80s charged $1/minute after 3 minutes. The money went in a jar (literally) and when there was enough we all went out for a round of drinks after work. This policy did not hurt anyone financially, but it had a huge positive impact on punctuality.

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Meetings Part II: Start Right

Thank you to everyone who posted or emailed their suggestions for productive meetings. Please keep them coming!

By far the most frequent suggestion was to have a written agenda. That is as good a place as any to start.

Distribute an agenda. This should be done in advance of the meeting, and be copied to all invitees. It should include the beginning and ending time, and define who is responsible for each segment of the meeting. If an invitee has no responsibilities on the agenda, you can legitimately question why he or she is attending.

Identify a leader. Someone has to be the chairperson or leader of the group. “Let’s all get together and discuss it” is a poor use of time. Even an all-out brainstorming session should have someone responsible for keeping conversations on track and moving along. It’s best to acknowledge the leader’s scope and role at the outset. Too many meetings are ruined by a higher-ranking employee who chooses to ignore the authority of the facilitator.

meeting overheadBegin with the end in mind. The meeting chair should state the objectives of the meeting to start. What do you expect to walk away with? Are you making decisions for implementation, or is the meeting only to choose a direction that will require further research before moving forward? If there is no actionable decision expected, and a meeting is simply for exchanging information, use email instead.

State the finish time. Remind everyone (it should be on the agenda) of when the meeting ends. The leader should supply signposts for the agenda, such as how far along you should be at the halfway point.

Engage everyone at the outset. People who are introverted can easily become observers, watching the conversations of those who are more outspoken. Start the meeting with a quick go-around of a minute or two per person. It can be about what they did last weekend, or their favorite TV show. Get everyone speaking, but don’t let it turn into a conversation.

Remind everyone of the expense. One reader wrote that he is irritated by meeting chairs that don’t seem to understand the value of time. He specifically cited his trade organization. Board meetings are led by an association employee, who seems to have little realization that the business owners on the board value their time at hundreds or thousands of dollars an hour. The employee (who is the only person being paid to sit at the table) is clearly unconcerned about wasted or ineffective meeting time. Even if you don’t know the salary of each individual in the room, you can still estimate the hourly cost of the group just to make the point.

Empower the attendees. When discussing the agenda and timekeeping, all participants should share responsibility for staying on schedule. Make it plain that anyone is welcome, or even better — obligated, to speak up if things are falling behind.

Taking  a few minutes at the outset to get everyone focused pays big dividends in greater productivity.

Next week; the meat of the meet. Keep your ideas coming through posted comments or directly to me at Thanks

bookEveryone in business is either a Hunter or a Farmer. Take the Hunter/Farmer Quiz and see which description fits you.

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One Response to Meetings Part II: Start Right

  1. David Cunningham says:

    Meetings should end with agreement on the text for, “Actions Arising From This Meeting”. Where appropriate, the actions should include designation of the person responsible for the activity, resources that will be applied, next task review date, and delivery date. Most likely these last details will require time to flesh out but the process of having them called out as line items in the meeting agenda minimizes the risk that nothing will get done.
    Another good practice is to hold “Standing Meetings” where literally all attendees stand. This works well for Monday morning meetings to remind everybody of the targets for the week and quick assessment of any new issues. If the meeting is limited to 30 minutes, it is useful to have some hand signals, (eg throat swipe to cut off a topic needing more time or a different audience), to keep the meeting brief.

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“Death by Meeting”

Meetings  are often a painful necessity, but they are a necessity none the less. What makes a “good” meeting?

The saying “Death by meeting” is common enough. Patrick Lencioni authored a book with that title in 2004, but I remember it as being in common use long before that. It describes the pain, boredom and resentment of those who have to sit through unproductive or unnecessary meetings.

Bad meetingBad meetings steal time from more important activities. They are expensive. Take a half dozen $60,000 managers. Add in the cost of their benefits and infrastructure, Put them in a room together for ninety minutes, and you’ve spent between $400 and $500. Coordinate schedules, prepare an agenda, circulate meeting notes, post the action items on the company intranet, and you’ve easily spent $1,000. That’s before any action is taken.

Of course, there is another side to meetings. About 85% of our face-to-face communication involves non-verbal signals. Body language and facial expressions greatly facilitate any discussion process. In a good meeting, team members bond through personal contact. Differences in opinion can find middle ground in minutes, rather than via a week’s worth of emails. Consensus on a course of action allows everyone to leave the room with a clear understanding of group expectations, their individual role, and the next step in the process.

From a morning “huddle” to a three-day strategic retreat, meetings have a purpose and a place in every organization. We are social animals. Humans are the only primate with white eyeballs. Scientists believe that other primates evolved to hide the direction of their gaze, while humans’ evolutionary direction was to emphasize who we are looking at for better communication.

Meetings are a necessity. The challenge is to avoid making them an unpleasant necessity.

Over the next few weeks I’ll discuss types of meetings and ideas for making them more effective. I would love to include your ideas and experiences. Please comment, or contact me using the link in the sidebar.

Take the Hunter/Farmer Quiz to better understand your role in business.



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The Value of a Cleared Mind

Last weekend I missed my first weekly post in about two years. I was in Los Angeles, attending an intensive workshop for professional speakers. It was a life-resetting experience. Apologies in advance for the zillion hyperlinks, but they are all richly warranted.

keller lightbulbI went because of the quality of the instructors, and want to acknowledge them here. Organizer and literary marketing guru Wendy Keller did an amazing (her favorite word) job of putting them together, and contributing her own deep knowledge of the industry. John Bates, a TED trainer, Max Dixon on body movement and presentation gestures, and Bernie Hiller, acting coach par excellance, were all breathtaking in their ability to pull the best out of people in a compressed time frame.

Jeff Roldan is a top-echelon videographer. I’d tell you how great his work is, but I haven’t seen his footage yet. (Sorry Jeff! :-) ) He was, however, a pleasure to work with. (I just hope I don’t look like Bela Lugosi, whom I’ve been told I resemble.)

(If you are interested, participation is via application and interview only. Start at

Better yet, and entirely unexpected, was the quality of the nine other students. Victor, the very large but totally gentle financial planner, Nancy, a former marketer for Barbie and now a consultant on youth marketing, Annette, a PhD who loves working with tech entrepreneurs, Leo, the world champion wrestler who defected from Romania and arrived in LA with nothing but determination, and Laura, who is changing the investment world.

Then there was Angela, a successful attorney who lost her eyesight in college, Janine, a school superintendent who is insanely passionate about improving literacy, Alia wants to bring greater humanity to corporate management, and Mike Muhney only invented ACT! and launched the entire CRM industry.

So I had three days of hard work and outstanding camaraderie, returning in the wee hours of Tuesday morning exhausted but pumped. Now for the rest of the story.

Later Tuesday I found out that a date hold on my calendar had turned into a major keynote engagement. I was also asked to contribute to a column in on presentation skills. (Ya think maybe I was ready for that one?) A routine catch-up lunch with a banker turned into a major revelation about my marketing effectiveness.

On Wednesday I was asked if a national marketing publication, Onward Magazine, could use one of my “Awake” columns in their July issue. I also had a “Let’s get acquainted” breakfast with another banker, which unexpectedly turned into a plan for joint marketing and another speaking opportunity.

On Thursday, an interview I gave a few weeks ago came out as a long profile piece at Later that day my business coach, Agnes Mura (might as well get everyone in- regular readers know that I don’t usually do this) gave me what is probably the best promotional idea I’ve ever heard in-my-life.

On Friday I met with my marketing pro, Lara August of Robot Creative. We went over book sales, and I discovered that the marketing is actually having a measurable effect. Hallelujah! She had also had an interview for an entrepreneurial podcast, whose sponsor (in Michigan) had not only heard of me, but is among the elite who’ve read my book, and now wants to interview me.

Coincidences? I think not. I’ve discovered the secret to success. Spend a few days doing something completely different. Stretch from your comfort zone. Make new friends. Clean up your attitude. Then quickly go out and talk with as many really smart people as you possibly can.

Take it from me. You can’t miss.

Take the Hunter Quiz and see if you are Hunting in a  Farmer’s World.


Ippy Silver
NYBF Winner
Hunting in a Farmer’s World has received its fifth award, named the Best Business Book by the New York Book Festival. Thank you!


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2 Responses to The Value of a Cleared Mind

  1. It is amazing how involvement with smart people can make one so “lucky.” Time well spent.

  2. Wow, John! Thank you for mentioning all of us in this great article. You’re so right – getting out of our zone is so beneficial (should I say “amazing”?) You were such an asset to the course – strong, wise, grounded, clear. It’s a pleasure to get to know you better. Wishing you much continued success!

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