Better meetings and trainings: how to use new thoughts from experts to keep from boring your clients to death

Even if the right people are in the room, a meeting will result in nothing more than wasted bagels if the process used to conduct the meeting falls flat.

Death by committee meeting may be a common office joke, but the reality is that most managers now dread meetings more than the dentist. However much meetings might be dreaded by clients, a meeting or education session in person may still be the best way to convey complex information about changes needed to a retirement benefits plan. How can financial advisor keep from stupefying their clients? We break down common problems and proposed solutions in this article.


The most complained of aspects of meetings are also the areas where business analysts focus on as areas of improvement. Big topics include the who, how and why.  The “who” includes inviting the wrong people. The “how” includes how information is presented and whether that information is participatory or not.  The “why” includes a lack of purpose to a meeting or a feeling by attendees that they have been called to a meeting simply to have a meeting.


WHO: For some, having a meeting is an excellent way to convey complex information and get feedback about it. However, making sure everyone is operating from the same playbook doesn’t necessarily mean that the widest southern invite be extended (“Ya’ll come!”) to employees.  Most managers complain that meeting attendees were added in error or have nothing to contribute, and this adds a sense that everyone’s time has been wasted.


HOW:  Even if the right people are in the room, a meeting will result in nothing more than wasted bagels if the process used to conduct the meeting falls flat. Managers and executives complain of meetings that are conducted with too much theory, and not enough practical information. Also high on the complaint list are those meetings where attendees are given too much information too soon. Finally a common complaint of meetings is that those running or facilitating them don’t know how to handle heated discussions.


WHY: Another death by committee topic that is often raised by managers is that the meetings they attend seem to have a lack of purpose or a lack of agenda. Those two shortcomings give a meeting a sense of a failure to launch and results in managers feeling like they are at meetings that meander instead of accomplishing a task.  


Proposed solutions to these items focus on clarity. Experts urge that meeting conveners be clear on their purpose for the meeting. Proposed solutions to the who, how and why problems all center on the idea of being clear in purpose.


WHO:  Business process experts suggest to resolve the issue of inviting the wrong people to the meeting that facilitators make it clear whether a meeting is informational (answers questions) or working (drafts documents, action plans, adopts strategies). Once that key decision has been made  and determine attendees from that decision; resist the urge to invite everyone who may be relevant to the topic;


HOW:  Whenever possible choose whiteboards over powerpoint slides. A white board collects group thoughts, shows where the meeting has been and indicates topics for later discussion. It’s a collaborative tool. Powerpoint, on the other hand, is a passive information system. Attendees sit while others show slides to them. Sometimes Powerpoint is helpful to convey information, but for meetings needing active participation, using a passive tool might be a bad match.


Other solutions on how to conduct the meeting include arming attendees with information and action items to be determined at the meeting ahead of time. For working meetings or teaching meetings, limit directions in processing information to small numbers, many experts suggest 3 or 4 items per task. They also suggest allowing for process time between tasks or topics for attendees to reflect and then discuss.  This also includes making sure everyone has the latest version of whatever is needed prior to the meeting beginning. In some cases, it may be helpful to potentially close off revisions at the close of the day before the meeting. 


To avoid heated discussions, wherever possible, try to learn of internal conflicts ahead of time – such as a brewing storm of a budget war over limited resources between two divisions or understand an internal conflict (over expanding the company for example) and predict how that conflict might spill into the discussion on the plan.


WHY: To avoid the meandering meeting, experts suggest that the meeting invite be a crucial step. They urge that meeting conveners make it clear and concise, down to the title of the meeting. Those experts also say to go even further and be clear on why the meeting being held on a specific day or week (i.e., deadlines occurring, etc.) The meeting invite should also identify the outcome of the meeting ahead of time. Finally, the invite (and follow up reminders) should include what preparatory work invitees need to do ahead of time, such as specific items that have to be decided or actions that have to be agreed on.

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