Work Smarter//

Here’s How to Hold a Meeting Like Oprah

New science backs up her approach, and offers a winning formula.

Earl Gibson III / Contributor
Earl Gibson III / Contributor

Oprah Winfrey reportedly kicks off meetings with these three sentences: “What is our intention for this meeting? What’s important? What matters?”

New research confirms that we’d all do well to follow her strategy.

A recent report in the journal Current Directions in Psychological Science provides a formula of sorts for what should happen before, during, and after meetings. After examining nearly 200 studies, the research team found that essentially, productive meetings come down to being blatantly honest about your reasons for meeting in the first place, while stripping out what’s unnecessary to focus on what is.

Joseph A. Allen, Ph.D., a psychologist at the University of Nebraska, Omaha, and a researcher on the report, tells Thrive that “the biggest misconception about meetings is that employees and managers don’t like them,” he says. “But in a series of studies, my team asked the question, ‘In your ideal day, how many meetings would you have?’ Even though zero was an option, the most common response was one. So, the reality is, it is normative that people say they hate meetings, but most people’s ideal day would include one."

But not all meetings are created equal. "Meetings are generally bad, but meeting science shows us there are concrete ways we can improve them," Allen told Science Daily, summing up the basics of making meetings better, whether we're hosting them or just participating: "Leaders can be more organized, start on time, and encourage a safe sharing environment. Attendees can come prepared, be on time, and participate," he said.

Love them, hate them, or simply tolerate them, meetings are an inevitable part of work. Luckily, Allen and his fellow authors suggest these proven strategies to plan efficient, Oprah-like meetings:

Before a meeting starts

Understand your goals. Meetings should be held to solve problems, not to share non-urgent information, the researchers suggest.

Share an agenda. This makes priorities clear to all stakeholders and lets attendees prepare in advance.

Invite people who can move the needle. If you’re planning a meeting, invite people whose expertise can help the team reach their goals.

During the meeting

Keep the focus. Leaders should make sure the agenda gets followed and goals get met.

Laugh a little. Humor encourages participation and creative problem solving, which both boost team performance short-term and long-term.

Curb complainers. “Complaining can quickly lead to feelings of futility and hopelessness,” the researchers highlight in the Science Daily post. Leaders should redirect the conversation quickly if attendees start to complain.

After the meeting

Circulate the minutes. Attendees need a record of the decisions made, and a plan of action for next steps and who owns them, the researchers suggest.

Ask for feedback. Leaders: doing this can help inform the structure and content of future meetings and boost attendees’ satisfaction, the researchers found.

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