You Got This!

Making Your Meetings Effective


Hi, everyone. My name is Naomi. And I happen to also work at Twilio. So, the company that you just heard about. I am a manager there for a team called Internal Enablement. Which teaches Twilions internally how to use our products. All right. But that's not what I'm here to talk to you about. I'm here to talk to you about effective meetings.

So, if you're like me, lots of meetings that you have had in your career may have been sort of mediocre and sometimes unproductive. And if you feel like that too, and that has happened to you, then this talk is for you. Even if that hasn't happened to you a lot. But just, you know, sometimes, stick around and you'll learn how to make those meetings better.

So, the way I think about having effective meetings is that you do that by leading with purpose, hosting decisively, and documenting for clarity. And we'll go through each of those three parts in turn during this talk. And at the end, I'll walk you through an example of a specifically very effective meeting that one of the people I used to work with led. And all right. So, let's start with leading purpose.

So, if you -- if you work in tech, you probably have multiple meetings that follow a specific ritual. Generally, people tend to have stand-ups or retrospectives or some meetings like that. Where you've got an agenda that doesn't even necessarily need to be written down anymore because you all know it super-well.

And sometimes that works really well. Sometimes... it doesn't. And it sort of gets to the point where when you go in a circle and each give -- each person gives their update, the other people kind of aren't interested. They on their laptops. Of course, if you're in the remote -- in a remote meeting, they're definitely on their laptops or on their phones or they're just playing with their dogs on their laps. Things like that. And that is not necessarily a problem with the people itself. That could be simply that that meeting isn't meeting the needs of the team anymore.

So, that's -- that's like an antipattern of where you've got a meeting that isn't being led with purpose. So, in those cases, I'd encourage you to think about what the group actually really needs. And why it needs to be meeting. And that gets towards the purpose of why you need to meet. So, generally, there are a few common purposes. The first one being something like to get to know each other.

Another purpose might be to help each other with issues that you encounter that you might need to discuss because someone else might have better context for you that would help you solve this issue. But there are a variety of different reasons for -- for having meetings. You notice that there is -- that I'm not putting the purpose down of giving each other updates. And that is because most the time that can happen asynchronously. And then you avoid this problem of people just to the really being interested in the meeting. Because if they can just skim over the updates and then, I don't know, ask -- ask questions and comments. That's a lot more effective way of having that meeting. And it doesn't have to be in purpose.

All right. So, bringing that full circle. Think about really what you are trying to achieve with the meeting. And then figure out whether the best way to do that is to have a synchronous meeting or an asynchronous meeting. And in the beginning, I spoke a little bit about having an agenda. And you may not even need an agenda if you hold a meeting multiple times. You always should have an agenda for a meeting. It doesn't necessarily need to be written down. But you should be able to write down an agenda for a meeting. Because that really helps with figuring out -- well, not with figuring out the purpose -- but with communicating the purpose to everyone else in the meeting. That doesn't mean you can't change the agenda if during the meeting you find that it doesn't fit the purpose or that you want to change something. We will talk about that a bit more in the next section where we're talking about hosting decisively.

So, as the meeting host, you have the authority to -- to do certain things with your meetings. And those can make the meetings better or worse. Being a sort of laissez-faire host, letting people move along as they please, can work out if you are hosting a meeting. But it doesn't necessarily mean that you end up where you want to be. Someone else might assume authority of the meeting and lead it somewhere else and then you struggle to claw back the authority. Or people are just kind of unsure of what is expected of them and what to do next.

So, that is -- that is where you come in with your authority. And there are certain things that you can do in leading the meeting. So, the biggest thing is, you get to set rules for this meeting. And you get to enforce those rules. Now, they don't have to be super-strict. They can be whatever you want them to be. A common one people think about is starting on time. Because it respects everyone's time that way. And an antipattern of that, which I'm sure many of you are aware of, is if you don't start on time repeatedly and you wait for people, then it suddenly becomes okay for everyone to show up late. And you will never start your meetings on time. So, that's something where the host gets to decide what to do.

Another thing is equalizing speaking time. So, if you notice that that's an issue, the host can say, really, anyone can say, but the host can enforce it. To say something like, please raise your hands before speaking. And you can do that in a virtual meeting, with some Zoom functionality, or just raising your hand. Or in-person meetings, of course, as well. There are other things that help -- that can help with -- with the flow of the meeting. If you find that people often continue discussions and they're really restating because they want to express that they're agreeing. There are things that you can do. Let's say, for example, if you agree with someone, just knock and that way you have voiced your agreement. You don't need to restate their entire point.

You can do things like time boxing conversations. If you find something takes too long. There are Zoom apps that allow you to set timers. So, in you're worried at some point, hey, like this thing in the agenda, I really only have 10 minutes for it. Set a timer. People will know what's happening. And generally that helps actually come to a conclusion. You can adjust the agenda. So, if you notice, oh, this -- this discussion is going really well. And I would love to continue with it. You can -- you can adjust the agenda. There's nothing stopping you from it as the host. We spoke about time boxing things already. Last, but not least, it's one more thing. And that is deciding on the invite list. So, quite often people are over-generous with inviting people, adding people as optional on meetings. Things like that.

But I wouldn't say that's actually really generous. Excluding folks can be much more generous. Because you have to go back to what the purpose of the meeting is. And then think about: Are the people that I'm inviting here really helping us get towards that purpose? And if they're not, don't invite them, there's other ways you can share the information discussed in that meeting with them. And if they are -- if they're not vital to the meeting there, you're probably saving them and yourself time. So, it's really a find thing to do to exclude folks if they don't have to be there.

All right. Now for the third part of -- of this talk. And that's documentation. So, I just said there's other ways to share information from a meeting. Other than having people be there. So, when you are documenting and meeting, there are three personas that you can think about. Documentation is important for yourself. So, your future self. When you've forgotten what was discussed during a meeting. For folks who maybe couldn't make that specific meeting but are on the team and are in the set of people that should be in that meeting. And then for other interested parties. So, folks you may have excluded from the actual meeting, but who are stakeholders and should know what was discussed.

And what you want to be discussing, what you want to be documenting here, is the agenda generally. So, that is something, again, that you should have and should be able to write down if you want to document this. And aside from the agenda, then, take notes during the meeting if you can. Take notes especially of important discussion points and of decisions that you make. Now, if you are the meeting host, this may be difficult unless you are very good at multitasking. So, feel free to designate a note taker.

You're probably aware that you can record meetings. And you could send out these recordings. I'd recommend to more often than not not do that. Because it takes up a lot of time for the viewer. They have to watch an hour-long meeting or a half hour meeting. A succinct document that just has a list of what was discussed, what the discussion points were, and what the outcomes were is much better for that.

Now, a lot of what I spoke about today is based on a book by Priya Parker called The Art of Gathering. So, this is mostly what she says and how I've interpreted it for meetings in the professional sense. She speaks a lot also about how we gather in our private lives and things like that. It's a really wonderful book that really makes you rethink how you meet other people in your life.

Now, I'm going to go through one example of a very well-structured meeting with you. As from someone who -- who was the co-founder and CTO of a popular tech company. And he hosted staff meetings. And they -- they designed these staff meetings really well. They thought about them really well. And this is for like high-level, C-levels and like VPs and people like that. So, people who generally don't have a whole lot of time. So, the way they thought about is that they thought about what the purpose was and what specifically wasn't the purpose of the meeting. So, starting with that, they said it's not the purpose of these meetings for people to be chatting, for people to be boasting, for one-on-ones with just additional listeners. And it's also not for the person leading the meeting to have updates from everyone. All that have been be done differently.

But the purpose of these meetings and why it's important to gather all these people together and have that chat together is to provide context where it's necessary. It's to anticipate conflict between different departments. And to find collaboration opportunities. And lastly, to discuss issues relevant to all. So, you can see how they made it very clear what they wanted in these meetings. And then they put that into a Google Doc template. Which has -- which always has a date at the top. It's got some agenda items where people can raise important things that they want to discuss. And then it's brought something where people can say what's top of mind for them. Doesn't necessarily need to be discussed. But that's someplace people can put fun anecdotes, whatever.

And then it's got a section for team updates. That's where everyone can put their updates in short. Now what then happens with this template is a certain process happens. So, before the meeting, this template gets copied. There's a meeting invite. And then they all know, because of the meeting host, and the rules that are imposed on this meeting, that everyone needs to fill these notes in beforehand.

The meeting starts on the dot. And the first 10 minutes are spent reading the status updates. Reading everything that's in that document and thinking about it. And they can have discussion and comments, but mostly silent. That's how they get through most of the content of the document without even having to -- without even talking, really, in like face-to-face. They are sitting there on a call together and doing that. However, when those 10 minutes are over, they then discuss any remaining comments. So, that's where things that really need to be discussed gets -- get voiced.

And then they go on to the agenda items that thing they need to discuss with the entire group. Lastly, after the meeting, action items are taken. And more importantly, documentation is shared from that meeting. So, this type of a meeting produces really good documentation. Just by the way it's led. And I think that is really cool about it as well. All right.

So, that was pretty much the talk and what I wanted to get through today. So, we talked about the three different parts of what I think makes an effective meeting. It is starting with the purpose of the meeting. Really thinking about does this have to be a meet something what shape should the meeting take? How can we make it the best it can be? Then it's about hosting decisively. Imposing rules and making sure people abide by them as they make sense for the purpose of the meeting. And then last, but not least, documentation.

Right. I don't actually know how much time I took. But this is me done. I think we've got maybe a bit of time for questions? Or maybe we're completely over.