By the time you become CEO, you will be awesome at running meetings.
As a humble bystander, and CEO myself for a couple of decades, I have grown to appreciate the fine art of how to run a meeting well. I have seen billionaire tech CEOs run meetings where people cried their eyes out they were so inspired, and I’ve seen front-line supervisors at an aluminum can manufacturing company run meetings so poorly that people were falling asleep–heads clunking down on the table.
Want to run your next meeting like a CEO? Here are 3 rookie mistakes that first-time managers make in running meetings vs. 3 tactics expert CEOs use to run meetings for maximum impact.
3 Rookie Mistakes in Running Meetings
1. Being vague about the purpose of the meeting.
Ugh. I was on a 6-person conference call recently that made me want to poke my eyes out with a fork. A very eager young manager from a Fortune 500 company reached out to “pick my brain” and the brains of a few of my colleagues. My colleagues are very generous with their time, and we like to help young leaders to amplify their positive impact on the world. So, it was our pleasure and privilege to grant this manager’s request. The problem was, the guy didn’t really tell us what the purpose of the meeting was. What was he hoping to accomplish? What were some key questions on his mind? As a result, we were unable to prepare much beforehand, and the meeting was about 20% as productive as it could have been if the manager had a clearer statement of purpose.
2. Being too serious.
Folks, being overly serious in a meeting is boring. Being overly serious makes you look insecure. I recall a meeting recently where a young manager skipped small-talk, went right into a monologue about the topic at hand, and I could tell the other people in the room were shifting in their chairs like they wanted to run for the hills. For a meeting to be productive, it cannot be “too serious.” Instead, you should be natural, energetic, curious, playful, complimentary, creative, slightly provocative, and never too serious.
3. Talking the whole time.
Rookies think meetings are there for them to soak up the spotlight and to say smart things and earn gold stars. They feed on the adrenaline kick of being “in charge” and they confuse others’ polite silence with interest. I was in a meeting once where a software developer was trying to win our business. But he and his colleague talked — THE. WHOLE. TIME. How were they expecting to identify our needs and help us solve our problems if they dominated the entire meeting?
3 Tactics CEOs Use to Run Meetings for Maximum Impact
1. Make an agenda with 3 simple questions.
This is an absolute ninja level of CEO wizardry. As many authors have said, when you are CEO, success comes not when you have all the answers, but when you ask all the right questions. So do 20 minutes of preparation work a couple days before a meeting. Show you have CEO swagger and print on a piece of paper (and include in the online calendar appointment) three simple questions for an agenda.
For example, that software developer I told you about could have suggested an agenda that was as simple as: 1) What is Geoff’s vision for ghSMART? 2) How can technology help? 3) Next steps? That would have been 10x more productive. Simple agendas make valuable meetings.
2. Summarize key points you hear.
Meetings get sidetracked when lots of people are talking and nobody is summarizing key points as you go. Great CEOs naturally seem to pause at intervals about every 10 minutes and summarize key points they are hearing. I’ll give ghSMART’s amazing Managing Partner Randy Street some kudos. I heard him do this on a call this week. There were a half-dozen of my fellow Smarties on the call. Folks were chipping in insights and building on each other’s thoughts. It was a good call. But it took Randy to make it a great call. He summarized what he heard about every 10 minutes, saying things like, “It sounds like one big conclusion we are making is X” or “One big question I hear us asking is Y.” And it was right after these summary statements that the conversation turned towards a decision point for the participants. Then boom, a decision was made. On to the next point. It was a super productive call and I made a mental note to give Randy’s summarization skills a shout out in my next
3. Make people feel safe.
I heard a governor tell a skittish junior staffer, “Tell me more about what you mean by that. I want to understand.” I heard the CEO of a large company tell a new member of her team, “I am not promising I’m going to share your point of view, but I want to understand it. So tell me more.” I heard a billionaire founder say, with a genuine self-deprecating tone, “I dropped out of college as you know. Must have missed the class on Dante’s Inferno. So please enlighten me about why you think that our product development efforts are passing through the 9th circle of Hell?” CEOs don’t want to intimidate people in meetings. That is a myth. What they really want to do in meetings is to make people feel safe, so that everyone can share useful information without fear of retribution or being made to feel stupid. So if you are talking all the time, or trying to use intimidation to assert your “power” over others in meetings, you are not on the right path. Instead, please consider doing exactly the opposite, and make people feel respected, heard, and appreciated, and you will be impressed by the value of the information you learn, and the solutions that come from your team.
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