Dear Effective Communicator:
Help! I’ve recently been promoted to a leadership role in the clinic I’ve worked at for the last few years. As part of my new role, I’ve been tasked with running several meetings. I’ve been to enough meetings to know when they’re bad, but how can I make sure mine are good?
Muddling through Meetings
irst, congratulations on the promotion. Second, I’m glad to hear you’re thinking about how you’d like to run your meetings. The world needs more people like you! Meetings are an essential communication practice—when done well . As you’ve intuited in your question, often they aren’t.
I once attended a meeting that, to this day, I’m not sure ever started or ended. While attendees typed wordlessly on their laptops, the presumed meeting leader rattled off a list of items that had not yet been completed. More typing followed. And then someone stood up and left (yes, it was the Effective Communicator) .
You can find a dozen different ways to run a meeting (my favorite comes from this PBS article), and all of them more or less work. (Hint: You know a good meeting when you see it). While it may be true that no meeting is better than any meeting, we have a meeting-intensive culture here at the University of Utah. Keeping with my firm belief that there is a uniquely Utah way, I checked in with some colleagues for their approaches to running a meeting.
1. Figure out why you are meeting by creating a goal for attendee engagement.
At the beginning of meetings (especially regular ones), ask, “What would we all like to accomplish?” (Shout out to Ed Clark, MD, president of the University of Utah Medical Group and chair of the pediatrics department.) Are we there to share information? Collaborate? Make decisions? Hold one another accountable? Asking such a question can cut a taxing meeting in half, or turn a brief meeting into an absorbing conversation.
2. Make an agenda by taking advantage of tools the marketing team created.
(For informal meetings, you can be less fancy). Whatever the method, your presentation should have a clear beginning and end. My colleague, Kristen Peko, has put together agendas for the C-suite for more than a decade. Her well-honed suggestions include:
- Make sure the right people are there—and that they know why they are there.
- Send the agenda to attendees in advance—up to a week ahead for large meetings, a day or two for smaller ones.
- Set aside time for each agenda item—including time for discussion at the end.
- Designate a meeting leader (you, in this case)—and tell people who it is.
- Have a plan B—decide which agenda items can be pushed to another meeting or left off entirely.
3. Talk about it.
At the end of the meeting, spend five minutes determining the two or three most important things you need to communicate as a result of the meeting. This can take two forms. First, determine what needs to be communicated internally to the team (i.e., tasks, minutes, summary). Second, determine what needs to be communicated to stakeholders not present (i.e., subordinates, senior leaders, patients). Unless you are in a cabal that demands strict secrecy, what happens in your meeting can’t stay there.
If a tree falls in the backcountry and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? I don’t know. What I do know: If a meeting falls in the School of Medicine and no one looks up from their phones, then a meeting didn’t happen. As for collaborating and holding each other accountable as we work to transform health care? That won’t happen in a bad meeting, either.
You got this,
The Effective Communicator
More on meeting culture:
Want a deeper dive about meeting culture? It’s more interesting than it sounds. When 1999 Harvard Business Review article “What’s Your Strategy for Managing Knowledge?” (h/t Monica Horvath at Thotwave for sending it to me) was written, CEOs were just coming to terms with the glut of information being produced by our aptly-named age. The authors noted two strategies: one values person-to-person transfer of knowledge and the meetings those require; the second values the accessibility of knowledge and the digital infrastructure it needs. While the latter occurs on a small scale here (two successful examples include Hospitals & Clinics’ human resources page and the guest communications page on Pulse), our culture values exchanging knowledge the more old-fashioned way: mano a mano.
Question for the community:
The Effective Communicator spends boring meetings daydreaming about how to improve them. Here are my strategies. What are yours?
- Start on time. Be generous with latecomers; we’ve all been there.
- End 10 minutes early. We are a big campus; people need time to debrief and get back to work.
- Let your attendees choose the agenda order. This is especially important for more informational meetings.
The Effective Communicator is Isaac Holyoak. Isaac is contributing editor for Accelerate and leads communication for University of Utah Health Medical Group. He received a Master's in rhetoric from the Brian Lamb School of Communication at Purdue University and taught speech, argumentation, and debate to undergraduates in Indiana and Texas in his pre-health care life.