The heartbeat of a meeting
Have you ever attended a formal meeting or special event and wondered “why all the rules?” There are so many traditions, customs and parliamentary procedures… there’s no way to keep track or live up to all of them. And you may think “why bother?” Why not just wing it?
I’m sure you’ve had to sit through a “bad meeting” before – unclear purpose, low energy, unorganized, lots of distractions. The net result is that the attendees do not receive or retain the important information that was supposed to be shared. This goes for face-to-face or online meetings.
For me, every meeting has a heartbeat. From the time it starts to the last goodbye, there is a steady flow of energy that keeps the audience engaged… or not. Any break or gap in that energy results in constricted flow, loss of focus and an opportunity for busy minds to wander off.
So what keeps the heart beating? Many of the aforementioned rules are meant to provide structure and facilitate the ongoing flow of energy. Here’s my take on essential rules to follow for a healthy, vital meeting:
Provide prepared introductions to help build anticipation for each speaker. Remind the audience why they need what’s coming and sell the value of it. Just like a warm-up act for a concert headliner, your job as introducer is to bring the audience focus to the stage and get them in a receptive mood.
Do graceful handoffs to each speaker like an Olympic relay runner. Don’t let go of control until the next runner has a good hold on the baton. Wait until they meet you at the front, then shake his or her hand to transfer power. If you introduce someone and run back to your seat, you’re allowing an awkward silence before the next person takes over, killing the continuity of the event.
For WebEx meetings, keep talking until the ball has been successfully passed to the next presenter. If they have any delay in opening their presentation, it’s YOUR responsibility to fill the awkward silence and relieve the pressure.
Provide warm transitions between speakers. Share a little about what you took away from the last segment and challenge the audience to put it into practice. It’s also effective to let people know what’s coming, in case they may be drifting. For example, I was recently moderating a WebEx event with celebrity chef Alice Waters, and noticed from the audience text questions that some were getting impatient to see the cooking demonstration we had saved for the end.
I interjected “Alice, I hear you saying that experiential learning is the best learning, and I understand we have a cooking experience coming up in just a few minutes… but first I’d like to hear a little more about what’s so near and dear to your heart, the Edible Schoolyard program.” I was subtly clueing in the impatient audience members, while staying on track with our planned content.
Bring it back to life. When it’s your turn to speak and the meeting is already in cardiac arrest, you still have an opportunity to resuscitate. Bring your energy up and above the current level and it will revive the audience’s interest. A shock of enthusiasm is usually welcome by a distracted audience. And if you’re wondering whether they are really with you or not, ask them. Nothing draws in an audience more than the feeling you may be called on next.
Your time is too precious and too valuable to waste. Whether you are a facilitator, featured speaker or attendee, think about what you can do to keep the heart beating at your next meeting.