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Once again about meetings

Updated: Mar 19, 2018

Great tips - relevant not just to ceos. there are takeaways also for students.

By Brian Rumao, Chief of Staff to the CEO at LinkedIn

We’ve all been in conference rooms when a thought crosses our minds: What’s the point of this meeting? Why is this person talking so much? When will this end?Many folks feel like meetings are either a complete waste of time, or at best, a necessary evil.

To make matters worse, the more senior you become, the more time you’ll spend in meetings. Some spend their whole day shuffling from one meeting to another. Bad meetings tend to exhaust your energy and leave you distracted, as you question the merits of how you’re spending your time. Because focused attention is a manager’s most important resource, improving meetings presents a massive opportunity to improve productivity.

Great meetings include thoughtful preparation and balanced discussion, culminating in a decision and commitment to action, followed by execution thereafter. The following tips are a set of best practices that our LinkedIn Executive Team adopts to maximize the likelihood of success for our meetings together.

Before the meeting

1. Define the meeting success criteria. This is the first step in planning any meeting, but often the most overlooked. It’s the answer to the question, “what would make this meeting successful?” In other words, why are you meeting? What are the objectives? Including the specific success criteria in the meeting invitation grounds everyone in the reason for calling the session. When done correctly, this can also save you from an unnecessary meeting, if for instance, the decision can be made sooner over email, or the success criteria are already completed. We also include the success criteria on the first slide (or page) of the presentation, in the format of, “This meeting will be a success if…" We start meetings with a reminder of the success criteria, and with 5-10 minutes left to go, we review them like a checklist to see how we fared and to ensure alignment on key decisions.

2. Apply the RAPID framework to focus on the right people. Have you ever joined a meeting only to realize you weren’t a required participant? Or worse, have you attended a meeting where the key decision-maker was not in attendance? To help ensure the right folks are in the room, use the RAPID framework to define the key stakeholders involved in decisions. At a minimum, you should invite the “R” (Recommender) and the “D” (Decision-maker). In most cases it makes sense to invite the “A” (Agrees with recommendation) and the “P” (Performer who executes the decision) as well, while the “I” (offers Input) is generally optional. The RAPID framework also serves as a reminder to discuss the content and recommendations with the key stakeholders beforehand, so there are no surprises that derail the conversation (a process called “socialization”).

3. Send pre-read materials the day before. For all executive meetings at LinkedIn, we require the presenters to send the discussion materials (e.g., a PowerPoint presentation or Word document) the day prior to the meeting, ideally 24 hours in advance. There are three benefits to this: First, the audience gets a chance to digest the materials before the meeting, so you can optimize the time together for discussion. Second, you provide the audience an opportunity to raise questions or request more information before the meeting, so you can cover the right content during the discussion and avoid additional follow-ups. And third, it saves the presenter from staying up all night and making last-minute edits and tweaks to the content, so he/she can be well-rested and prepared for the meeting.

During the meeting

4. Begin with a silent read-through — never present. We generally reserve the first 5-10 minutes of the meeting for a silent individual pre-read, during which folks can read through the document if they haven’t already, or simply re-familiarize themselves with the content if they already have read it. I’ve been in meetings where the facilitator aims to go through every slide in detail — this is a mistake. Most executives can read the slide much faster than you can articulate it, so you’ll bore them if you try this route. A simple rule of thumb is that if your slide requires additional voice-over explanation, then it may not be well-written. Of course, the exception to this is if for instance there’s a particularly important slide that you feel is worth calling out for discussion, but I’d limit it to no more than 2-3 key slides.

5. Rely on as few slides as possible, and use the whiteboard wisely. Most meetings rely on PowerPoint, which can be a great communication vehicle. But it’s easy to get lost in a sea of slides. When it comes to presentations, less is more. For a one-hour meeting, 20 slides is generally the max, with 10-15 being ideal. I've noticed the more slides you have, the lower the likelihood that any single slide is fully digested. Think about the psychology of getting handed a thick stack of papers — it feels daunting, overwhelming — you may as well not even try to read it. Contrast that to a few slides, which puts you in the mindset of, “I can read this all carefully”. Another under-used visual tool is the whiteboard. You can watch the energy of a room shift from people talking at each other, to brainstorming collectively toward a common goal on the whiteboard. Instead of viewpoints becoming diffused into the ether, they all get captured when written on the whiteboard, and it helps build consensus faster.

6. Poll the room using a go-around. We’ve all been in meetings where some folks speak too much. But maybe more often there's the opposite situation, where some don't speak up at all. In many of these instances, the introverts or more junior people tend to be more reticent, when in fact they have the most valuable insights to offer. A useful technique to ensure balanced discussion is the “go-around”. It’s simple: the presenter or decision-maker can ask a basic question to get everyone in the room to quickly participate. For instance, you could ask a straightforward 0-10 scale question, or you can solicit each person's opinion. Go-arounds tend to open up insights from folks who might be more introverted, as it gives them an opportunity to speak up. The technique also helps everyone calibrate on the team's overall sentiment, so I like to use the go-around at the end of the discussion to make sure we're all aligned before leaving the room.

After the meeting

7. Distribute action items and notes. Following the meeting, the note-taker should send the action items and a distilled version of the notes (not a play-by-play, but rather a summary of the key discussion items and decisions). The action items should be called out clearly, ideally in a standalone list with each one containing the name of the person who owns the follow-up. Sending the notes and action items helps prevent the Rashomon effect, where meetings participants leave with different interpretations of the outcome.

8. Cascade relevant information to teams. As a leader, you are usually representing your team at the meeting. So it’s important to provide your team feedback loops as needed so they can better understand the key discussion points and next steps. I’ve seen several situations where leaders fail to cascade the information, so their team is effectively out of the loop and lack context on how to proceed. Further, in most cases, the team will require the full understanding of the meeting outcome in order to perform their job most effectively.

9. Follow up (keep your word). Finally, meetings are only as great as the follow up they lead to. Meetings that include great prep, discussion, and decisions are worthless if they do not yield action and improvements in performance. People will look forward to your meetings if they know tangible progress will result. So keep your word after the meeting, and let the note-taker know you’ve completed your action items to close the feedback loop and help ensure accountability.

In appreciation to Brian Rumao from LinkedIn.

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