How the Most Productive People Lead Meetings

With lessons from Jeff Bezos to Oprah, here’s how to read the room, stay productive, and keep everyone engaged.

If you’ve ever held a meeting at work, you’ve probably realized that its success is about so much more than the material you’re presenting. Sharing your ideas in front of a room of colleagues — and keeping them engaged throughout — can be daunting, and seriously challenging. Many successful business leaders have developed their own innovative rules and rituals around holding an effective meeting, and it’s worth taking a note or two from people who have the process down pat.

From Jeff Bezos to Oprah, here’s how the most productive people lead meetings:

Jeff Bezos implements the “two-pizza rule”

The first step in planning a meeting is deciding whom to include, and that choice alone can determine the variety of voices and opinions in the room. At Amazon’s headquarters, CEO Jeff Bezos enforces a “two-pizza rule,” where employees are discouraged from holding meetings that would require more than two pizzas to feed the entire team. Bezos says his rule can help improve productivity, allow members to share their unique perspectives, and keep people from having to participate in an endless series of meetings that aren’t immediately relevant to their work.

Oprah asks three questions to set an intention

Before Oprah Winfrey begins each one of her meetings, she asks three questions: “What is our intention for this meeting? What’s important? What matters?” By setting a deliberate purpose from the start, Winfrey optimizes the potential of everyone in the room, including herself. She says that doing so can allow you to see your work as positive and impactful, and truly get the most out of your meetings with your colleagues. “Whatever you end up with is what you started with as an intention,” she said in a speech in Salt Lake City this year. “Getting that principle changed the trajectory of my entire life.”

Warren Buffett actively works to improve his public speaking

We typically assume that notable leaders are naturally capable of captivating audiences, but according to successful investor Warren Buffett, that skill was something he’s had to practice over time. He also suggests that we all do the same. “I think the ability to communicate, both in writing and orally, is of enormous importance,” he said. “I would get physically ill if I even thought about having to do it.” Buffett says he’s worked on the skill as he’s gotten older, and cultivating it has enabled him to lead more effective meetings.

Sheryl Sandberg takes notes, and keeps them personal

Facebook executive Sheryl Sandberg has been known to schedule regular one-on-one meetings with her employees, and she uses these short, personalized check-ins to hear individuals’ ideas, and stay productive. Last year, Sandberg’s longtime colleague David Fischer, VP of Facebook’s business and marketing partnerships, told the Wall Street Journal that Sandberg brings a little notebook “that fits nicely in the palm of your hand” to each of her meetings. “She has lists for each person as well as herself,” he explained. “So when I go in and have my one-on-one… she will flip to my name and there will be a set of issues… It’s effective.”

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