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Some things never change. Nor should they.

Funny.  I came across a pamphlet the other day from a workshop that my grandfather attended in 1958 with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.  The title of the workshop was Making Meetings Effective.  I had to laugh because, 52 years later, I deliver a workshop on that very topic.

Furthermore, after flipping through the 19-page pamphlet, I realized that the tips my grandfather learned so long ago are nearly identical to what I teach today.

Here’s what the preface in the pamphlet had to say:

Poor meetings, like accidents, don’t just happen.  They are caused, but not, in most cases, by the indifference, or stupidity, or pigheadedness of their audiences.  Poor meetings are generally what they are because they are just ‘other meetings’ to those responsible for their planning.

Effective meetings, on the other hand, are effective because they were planned as having unique situations calling for individual treatment.

What?  I made that same point in a workshop a few weeks ago.  In fact, the part about meetings “having unique situations calling for individual treatment” is an underlying principle for each module that I train.

Here’s the deal:  The challenges and solutions of meeting facilitation were the same in 1958 as they are today, save for a couple of minor differences:  I type up my meeting agendas on my shiny new MacBook Pro using Microsoft Word; my grandfather and his colleagues typed up their agendas on shiny new powder-blue Royal Futura 800-model typewriters.  (Gotta love the Futura part.)  I often log in to a meeting via Gotomeeting or Webex from my home office in my pajamas; Granddad arrived at meetings in polished boardrooms dressed in smart suits and skinny ties.

But, honestly, those items are about the extent of the differences.

So let’s take a look at three techniques from then and now to help you run an effective meeting:

  1. Identify the purpose and desired outcomes in your pre-meeting email and agenda to attendees. To identify the purpose of the meeting, answer the question “Why are we meeting?”  To discover the desired outcomes, answer the question “What are we going to walk out the door with?”  Your desired outcomes ensure that you achieve tangible results.
  2. Plan the content and process. We often plan the content of a meeting by throwing a few items for discussion onto the agenda.  But don’t stop your planning there.  You should also plan the process of the meeting, laying out how the items will be discussed and how consensus will be achieved.  Planning the process helps you keep the discussion on track, ensures everyone’s involvement, and moves the group toward your desired outcomes.
  3. Get feedback. You can ask a participant to provide you feedback after the meeting, or you can hand out a short feedback form for everyone to fill out anonymously.  You’ll find out which parts of the content and process worked and which parts didn’t.  The feedback will be invaluable to helping you improve your planning for your next meeting.  (Download an evaluation form here.)

So there’s a start for you.  To get additional techniques and practice in facilitating effective meetings, you can either take my workshop or get in your time machine and set the dial to 1958.  Do whatever is most convenient for you.

If you decide on my workshop, rest assured that there is one major innovation that sets it apart:  it isn’t called Making Meetings Effective, but Making Meetings Matter.  Nice 2010 ring to it, don’t you think?