Five Killer Meeting Tips from Tom Dixon

Raise your hand if you like meetings. Even at the finish line of a marathon, that is a question sure not to cause a stink. (Get it? Marathon…sweaty people…stink? OK, good.)

Tom Dixon Meeting Tips - Leadership

With these tips, you can make an impact on meeting effectiveness from any level. (Click to Tweet)

Whether you are one of the eleven people worldwide who raised their hand to that question or you are like the 99.9999% of us who hate meetings, you want them to be better. So I brought in Tom Dixon to offer some helpful tips.

Tom left a great comment a few weeks ago in my post, Do This in Your Next Meeting. It Works.

One trick I’ve learned as a meeting participant is to play back one or two sentences that recap what I’ve taken away from the discussion…this can be helpful to others to solidify what was discussed as well as a chance for the group to clarify any points I didn’t get right.

Tom normally writes at his blog, Monday is Good where he offers practical career help. He believes it is possible to look forward to Monday. Connect with him on Facebook and Twitter too. You won’t regret it.

Here are Tom’s tips:

Working for a large company, I go to a lot of meetings.

Some are incredibly productive, while others are a big waste of time. I avoid having a meeting if at all possible, but many times it’s the most effective way to solve a problem or share information.

Fortunately, there are things you can do as either a leader or an attendee to make the most of the meetings you attend.

Great leaders ask great questions. Here are 21 questions every leader should be asking…get it FREE right here.

You no doubt already know that meetings should:

  • Include only the relevant participants who have something to contribute.
  • Have a published agenda ahead of time, including pre-reads.
  • Start and finish on time.
  • Have written minutes and action items published within 24 hours.

Assuming those ground rules, I want to share some suggestions that changed the way I do meetings:

  1. Decline more. If there is no clear agenda, or reason for the meeting, then hit the decline button. If asked why, tell the truth – you have multiple demands on your time, and were not able to prioritize the meeting into your schedule without an agenda. This is uncomfortable the first time you do it, especially if you are an individual contributor. You will need to use discretion, but it will pay off if done correctly. As a manager myself, there is nothing that would impress me more than my team doing this.
  2. Be prepared. You need to prepare for every meeting you go to. This is a personal accountability thing. Doing your homework is a sure way to have a productive discussion, and you will get noticed.
  3. Lose the chairs. Sometimes meetings last longer than they have to because people are too comfortable. Try removing the chairs from the room, and see if you can’t get a sixty minute meeting done in thirty.
  4. Practice active listening. Spend twice as much time listening as talking. Contribute where appropriate, but listen more. When someone voices an opinion that you disagree with, first focus on what it would mean if the other person is right and you are wrong. Then talk.
  5. Summarize. I had a leader in the past who modeled a great technique. As each meeting was wrapping up, he would summarize the entire thing in one or two sentences. It was incredible to see how he boiled down an hour of discussion into one concise point. The benefits were immediate – we knew he “got it”, everyone left on the same page, and we all knew what the outcome was. You don’t have to be the meeting leader to do this. The benefits are just as real when a meeting participant summarizes the main points for the group.

Meetings have a bad reputation as time drains and productivity killers, but they can be effective. Their value rises and falls with the leaders involved. With these tips, you can make an impact on meeting effectiveness from any level.

What techniques have you found to make meetings more effective?

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  • I couldn’t agree more with these. Especially #3, which is a key element in the agile software development practice of holding daily “stand up” meetings which last no more than 15 minutes. Seriously. I’ve cut people off mid-sentence before to enforce the 15 minute limit. While it may sound fascist, guess what? People quickly learn to be brief during the meeting and to carry on lengthy discussions offline.

    I also love #1. A water-walker I worked with some years ago made it a policy of only going to meetings that couldn’t start without him. He went to few, but when he did, they were really meaningful.

    I’d further add #6: Make sure everyone knows the purpose of the meeting. How many times have we gathered for a “meeting” because, well, it’s a “meeting” an we’ve got to have “meetings”. But no one has a clue why we’re really there. This ties into being prepared and having an agenda, but it’s deeper even than that, I think. It’s all about having a clarity of purpose for the time we’re setting aside for the activity before that activity begins. If we can’t achieve that before calling the meeting, then we probably shouldn’t call the meeting.

    Awesome post, brother!

    • you fascist… :)

    • Amen to all of that Bret. Thank you for sharing!

    • Wade_Thorson

      I have a daily “stand up” meeting and I haven’t cut people off at the 15 minute mark yet, but that is a point I should probably make. Typcally we may only go over a couple minutes or 5 minutes, but even 5 minutes add up over time.

      • It’s something we do in Scrum, because it underlines the fact that everything in the Scrum process is timeboxed. Nothing slips. We produce a working increment of software every two weeks — we may not have features in that we had planned, but we will have a finished increment every two weeks.

        Timeboxing this meeting to a hard 15 minutes reminds everyone that everything we do is time limited. So there really is more going on than just my desire to keep the meeting short and sidebars & ratholes to a minimum. Though those things do help ensure everyone shows up every day!

        • Wade_Thorson

          I have looked into the Agile methods for our development programs which include software and hardware development but I haven’t specifically used any concepts. I may have to see if there are some items I can pull out and use.

          • Great idea! There are lots of folks out there who believe that if you don’t rigidly follow the tenets of their chosen method, you will fail. I’m not one of those.

            I do think that picking one to start with (like Scrum, which is probably the most popular and the most documented) is a great idea. Work it for a few months before you start investigating other methods (XP, Crystal, DSDM, Lean) for ways to enhance what you’re doing. The big key is to remember the guiding principles and apply them to everything you do (

            Good luck, Wade. I think it’s made developing fun again!

        • When I used SCRUM, we did 5 minute stand-ups. Of course we only had 4 people. But it was still hard sometimes.

    • Love the discussion on this one. It was a software implementation (SAP) for me that introduced me to stand-up meetings…they work really well.

  • Great post! I love meetings, when they are done right. One thing I try to do is to make sure I only say things that I feel is going to contribute to the discussion. I try and scan everything I say before I say it.

    With some help, I also came up with 29 ways to behave in a meeting and wrote my own post on it –

    • THAT is a great post Jim.

      Everyone read Jim’s link above.

    • Wade_Thorson

      Great list Jim, if we can model those points it would improve meetings in our company and make meetings valuable.

    • I try to use my “brain filter” too – sometimes it works out, and sometimes not so much. Will have to check out your post and site. Thanks!

      • Oh…I love “brain filter”. I’m going to use that.

  • Great advice, Tom. I remember one dean I worked for who was the master of summarizing and it sure made things move quickly. I like the idea of losing chairs, too.

    • yea, losing chairs would certainly make sure people are on task!

    • It is really a gift when there is someone there who can cut to the chase.

  • Good stuff Tom. Every time I think of meetings I think of a quote I heard (and often repeat…if only in my head), “It better be a damn good meeting to be better than no meeting at all!”
    I think its huge to have an agenda. Having an agenda cuts down on the number of crickets that sneak into the meeting (get it? someone asks for input, room goes silent, crickets start chirping…)
    Another thing is just remembering the quote I shared. If you’re going to have a meeting, make sure its “a damn good” meeting…otherwise don’t waste everyone’s time.
    Thanks Tom!

  • Wade_Thorson

    I agree I think a couple key items are the agenda, and finally summary. I do it as well sometimes but it is too easy at times to just assume that everyone should know what we need to talk about. I guess that goes back to communication, you can never over communicate so that should come through in an agenda and finally summary.

    • It does come down to communication. Tell ’em, tell ’em you told them, then tell ’em again!

  • Taking notes is one way I have found to keep me engaged in meetings.

    • That one is huge for me too, it is a great way to stay engaged and get a record of what was discussed.

  • That is one thing I find hard to do Tom and that is decline a meeting. Wow! Well I guess I need to start declining so that I am not stressing myself to please everybody. Thanks for the thought.

    • If you don’t have something to add, then the RIGHT thing to do is decline!

    • Make them give you a reason to attend.

      It’s OK to ask them. Even with your boss as long as you ask within the context of other priorities.

      Boss, you gave me a deadline of tomorrow to finish project X. Is this meeting more important than that or can I decline and meet the deadline?

  • Thanks for having me, Matt! Ironically I’m in all day meetings this week. Thanks to those leaving comments…great discussion!

  • I love the idea of losing the chairs. I’ve heard of people doing standing meetings before – although I wonder if I would distract people with my constant moving back and forth.

    • HAHA!

      I would not suggest it for lengthy meetings (planned more than 15 minutes). But I found that my major time and energy drains didn’t come from 1 hour meetings that went 10 minutes long, but from an endless string of 5-15 minute meetings that went 5-10 minutes long.

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