Wisdom//

How to Lead a Meeting That People Will Actually Enjoy and Benefit From

Simple steps to become a more likable and effective leader.

White clean calendar on solid yellow background with copy space, business meeting schedule, travel planning or project milestone and reminder concept.
White clean calendar on solid yellow background with copy space, business meeting schedule, travel planning or project milestone and reminder concept.

Unless you work for Oprah Winfrey — who reportedly begins her meetings by asking, “What is our intention for this meeting? What’s important? What matters?” — you’ve most likely found the unstructured nature of most meetings frustrating. Research confirms the effectiveness of Oprah’s approach, noting that productive meetings come down to being honest about your intention for them.

But not everyone gets to sit in a conference room with Oprah. Millennials, for instance, aren’t the biggest fans of meetings: 62 percent of those who participated in a 2018 study conducted by project management company Workfront said that their work time is interrupted by fruitless meetings. Similarly, 71 percent of senior managers said meetings are unproductive and inefficient, in a study cited by Harvard Business Review.

The numbers suggest that meeting culture is in a dicey place — but if disapproval is so pervasive, why isn’t it changing? If you’re a person who leads meetings at your workplace and finds yourself unenthused by them, take it upon yourself to improve. After all, organizational change often stems from one person’s leadership. Here’s where you can start.

Show up on time

This one seems obvious, but apparently, it isn’t. Approximately 37 percent of meetings start five minutes late, and 14 percent are behind by 10 or more minutes, according to a 2018 study published in the Journal of Organizational Behavior, and the impact of this is substantial. Meeting time courtesy has the greatest impact on meeting processes, outcomes, and job attitudes, Joseph Allen, Ph.D., an author of the study and associate professor at the University of Nebraska, tells Thrive. Simply put, if you call a meeting, show up on time, and start promptly. If others are late, you can hold them accountable later.

Believe that your meeting will be productive

One of the reasons meetings feel unproductive is because of the mindset we have about them, Allen hypothesizes. People who lead meetings may have internalized the idea that they’re a waste of time, and they fulfill this expectation by failing to prepare or hold themselves accountable for steering the meeting in the right direction.

“In other words, crappy meetings become a self-fulfilling prophecy,” he explains. To dodge this fate next time you bring your team together, try upping the positivity and engagement — both of which, he says, are emotionally charged behaviors that rub off on others. “If you bring it, others will rise to the occasion,” he notes. “If you ‘mail it in,’ others will forget their stamps.”

Find ways to incorporate laughter (yes, we can all do this!)

Jokes are a great tool for making your meetings more enjoyable. Humor in the workplace is associated with enhanced work-performance and workgroup dynamics, as well as decreased burnout and stress, according to a 2012 study published in the Journal of Managerial Psychology.

And you don’t need to be particularly witty or quick on your feet to be a shepherd of humor,  Drew Tarvin, the “humor engineer” and author of Humor That Works: The Missing Skill for Success and Happiness at Work. tells Thrive. “You can use images you find online, under a creative commons license, in your presentations, or start off with a quick clip from a stand-up comedian or a TEDx talk, such as one on the skill of humor.” Remember, he says, it’s not so much about being funny as it is about simply having more fun.

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