Do This in Your Next Meeting. It Works.

For now, I am going to assume that you don’t work with idiots. With that safely assumed, if you do what I suggest below in your next meeting, it will work. (If it doesn’t, my assumption is wrong)

 

meeting-suggestions-leader

If you are a meeting leader or meeting attendee, do not allow “Any suggestions?” to be a token question. (Click to Tweet)

How many times have you sat through an hour-long presentation or meeting that ended like this:

Meeting Leader: Any suggestions?

Group: (Silence for three seconds. Awkward glances around the room. Some are already packing up.)

Leader (after waiting the entire three seconds): OK then, see you next week.

Really? Not a single person has a suggestion?

Again assuming that you don’t work with idiots, how is this even possible?

After a while, it gets to the point where “Any suggestions?” is no longer even an invitation to offer suggestions. Everyone knows that is the cue that the meeting is over. And when someone does offer a suggestion, there is a collective sigh as if to say, “Dude, don’t you know the meeting is over?”

Sadly, the number of times in the past century of international business that the question, “Any suggestions,” actually produces a response worthy of asking the question is less than the number of people who have made fools of themselves on American Idol.

So what is the solution?

If you are a meeting leader, do this at your next meeting: When you ask if there are any suggestions, sit in silence for up to one minute.

Then watch as people shift nervously in their seats for about ten seconds. Nine times out of ten, if you are willing to make it the full minute, someone will come up with something. And nine times out of ten, it will be something of value.

Even if they don’t, it still works. The next time you do it, there is about a 97% chance that someone will speak up. If no one does the first two times, do it again. People will soon begin to catch on to what is going on. You expect them to offer suggestions.

If you are not a meeting leader, do this at your next meeting: Be the one to speak up.

As the meeting progresses, listen carefully and start preparing suggestions. It could be about style or substance. It doesn’t matter. Just speak up about something relevant.

If the leader does something different stylistically in the meeting and you liked it, say so. Don’t be a butt-kisser, but offer your suggestion that you appreciate the new format.

If you know that everyone wishes to start the meeting a half hour sooner, be the one to suggest it. If you feel like you could skip section two of the agenda most weeks,

“Any suggestions?” is your time to shine. Whatever you do, whether you are a meeting leader or meeting attendee, do not allow “Any suggestions?” to be a token question. Do not allow it to be an end of meeting cue, and do not allow it to go unanswered.

Have you ever let this question go unanswered?

Free Affiliate Training from Matt McWilliams
  • Silence is an awesome tool. When I was training to be a Resident Assistant in college, they taught us this when counseling other students. Ask a question, then sit silently. Let the other person fill the awkward silence.

    I never thought of using it in this way, but it’s an outstanding suggestion!

    • Sorry – had to leave it unanswered for a few seconds :)

      I know I’ve been guilty of passing by those opportunities. I’ve been told (and I’ve said) that there are no stupid questions…but then my mind convinces me that my question or suggestion is stupid. I’ve tried to get better at this, but I still have some room to grow!

      • Well played Joshua! :-)

        No suggestion or question is stupid in the right environment.

        • thats a stupid suggestion matt. Just saying #perfectlytimedwin

  • Great suggestion! I’ve been in those meetings – and I’m not sure whether it’s worse to have no suggestions or the one that is off the wall and not relevant. But I do like the idea of silence – and I love the idea of being the one to start making the suggestions. Great post!

  • Mess with ’em, Matt! I like it.
    Big fan of the awkward silence. Used it often when I felt non engagement in meetings. Please use with caution. My experience is that it can make others feel small and further limit engagement. (Silence often has a sarcastic tone.) On our team we have the opposite problem. I need to ask “Does anyone not have suggestions.” For us we actually take a minute or so to write our suggestions and quickly go round the table. Culture & Serious Engagement is the key to the “Any Suggestions Meeting Exodus.”

    • Good stuff Jeremy!

      Sounds like you guys have built a good culture there in this regards (and in many others)

  • How about start your meeting with, “At the end, I am going to ask you for your suggestions. Please make a note of them when you think of one. Then, share it at the end, or before if you like.”

  • Wade_Thorson

    Great suggestion Matt. I will try it next Monday at our weekly meeting, that is excatly what has happened at my meetings.

    • Great Wade! Let us know how it goes with a follow-up comment please.

  • This is way too common. You got me thinking and now I have a suggestion. At the BEGINNING of the meeting, revisit your agenda (which you would have sent out ahead of time anyway) and let them know that you will be asking for suggestions at the end, so you expect the team to take notes as you go. I work with a team of women and we deviate quite a bit in our discussions. This will help me get them focused and give them a task to concentrate on as the meeting progresses. Thanks!

    • I think a huge one is the have the agenda prepared BEFORE the meeting. And put on the agenda an item named “Discussion” That way they know what you’ll be discussing…and that you expect discussion!

  • Great post buddy. I’ve started forcing myself to speak up more. As a matter of fact, I’m on the school board in my town, and I did this last night. Typically, being, by far, the youngest and newest member of the board I do more listening that talking, but last night, I asked more questions than the other members. It totally changed the meeting, at least for me it did. I dont know if thats the case for the board as a whole.
    We are sooo afraid of asking questions for fear of being wrong. But in doing so, we may be happily (and silently) frolicking towards the proverbial cliff, knowing its there!

    • That is a fun setting to do it in. Large meetings of peers like that. Fun times :)

      By the way, I ran for school board once at 23…made it through primary but lost.

      • Ya, it was fun. Especially seeing that most of the faculty that presents at the meetings are either former teachers of mine…or teachers that were there when I was in school :)

        And to your credit (and my discredit) I’ll bet I’m in a MUCH smaller town than you. It wasn’t some large feat for me to get on the school board. I was actually appointed to finish out the term of a Director that moved out of the district. We’ll see how I fair when I’m up for election this fall (wanna be my campaign manager?? 😉 )

  • This is true. But hard to do. As a teacher I’ll often ask for input in class. If no one responds after say 10-15 seconds I’ll do one of two things: 1. Give them a prompt, or, 2. Take over. Waiting fo a full minute would be a great experiment.

    • Try it. I would be interested to hear what happens. A class might be a bit different though. Still, you are right…I like the idea of you experimenting with it.

      When all else fails, go Ben Stein in Ferris Bueller on them.

  • One of the keys to asking this question is to make sure you’ve reserved the time for people to really answer the question. I have sat in too many meetings where the leader overran schedule, didn’t follow an agenda, and then asked if anyone had anything else to add or ask. It doesn’t work when the meeting leader doesn’t value the attendees time and doesn’t follow-up on suggestions/questions.

    • oooohh overran a schedule…I hate that!!

    • Great point. If the leader, of all people, assumes “any questions” is a cue to end, then why should all of the others not as well?

  • Lulu

    When I chaired a meeting I always made sure the agenda was distributed electronically and hard copy to each attendee. If a matter was to be discussed, it was noted on the agenda, with pertinent info included. Then I lauched into it first thing, with no pre-amble – just expected suggestions. They were to come prepared. I would then ask them to write them down. If further information was needed from me I would add it – then move into discussing the pros and cons of the suggestions. If we could move into the decision mode – great, if not, the matter would be discussed further, or brought forward with the expectation that the decision would be made next time. The minute taker would be responsible for collecting all the suggestions and print them up as an add-on to the minutes, so everyone had a chance to read and revise for next time. I find that if I ramble on it is more like I have the idea and am just looking for approval. If the situation is still “stuck”, then we would agree on a sub-committee to come up with at least 2 solid suggestions and present them at the next meeting. Although I agree silence can be effective, it can also be a bit bullying – sort of like “I’m holding my breath until I get what I want.” I think silence can go along with action, like let’s take one minute to have you write down suggestions that come to mind. That way everyone isn’t sitting there looking down and avoiding eye contact. When you put people on the spot – they usually are not at their creative best. Plus – often it is the same people who always speak – the ones that are comfortable putting ideas out there. You could be missing on some real gems by not giving the different styles of communication room to move. Just some thoughts.

    • Lulu, I agree that it can be bullying, if done in the wrong circumstances.

      If the culture already has team members offering suggestions or questions 50-90% of the time, the silence is definitely ridiculous. It should only be used as a culture shock.

  • 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.

    • That is a great way to:

      -Get heard (by peers and leaders)
      -Help others
      -Possibly spark a conversation
      -Get corrected if you actually don’t understand or perhaps someone left something out.

      Wins all around. Great tip Tom!

      Would you be willing to write a guest post about that technique?

      • Sounds great…will get a guest post to you in next week or so!

  • Pingback: Five Killer Meeting Tips from Tom Dixon | Matt McWilliams | Life. Leadership. Love. Learned the Hard Way.()

  • Many of my colleagues dread attending meetings with me, because I always ask questions. To me it is just polite to the speaker, to show that you were listening and not doodling. Also most times someone will say to me, ‘I’m glad you asked that, as I wasn’t sure what she/he meant.’

    • They say they dread it but in reality, Ron, they need you. Because you ask questions they are thinking.

      Don’t worry about what they might or might not think.

      Thanks for stopping by.

  • Pingback: 5 Things to do Before Every Meeting | Pre-Meeting Tups | Matt McWilliams | Life. Leadership. Love. Learned the Hard Way.()

  • Pingback: Mid-Year Update 2013 - Matt McWilliams | Life. Leadership. Love. Learned the Hard Way.()

  • Pingback: How to Properly End a Meeting, Regardless of Your Role()