How to Lead a (Productive) Meeting, Part One

Have you ever been in a meeting that seemed to lack energy and focus… or worse, felt like a waste of your time?

I recently had the privilege of interviewing our own Trent Dunham, host of The Dunham Podcast, on this subject. Why? Because one of my favorite things about working under Trent is watching him lead meetings. And he probably leads around a dozen a week.

Some of these meetings are 50+ people, then there are senior leadership team meetings, as well as client meetings. And… well, he’s excellent!

Nils: Trent, I believe your greatest strength is the way you lead meetings. How do you begin the process of planning for a meeting? How do you make sure it’s effective?

Trent: Early on it required a lot of my time and attention due to my limited experience. I think the more you grow in your craft, the more you handle things in a natural way because you’ve handled that experience before, had that conversation before, or dealt with that personality before.

Every room is a bit different. You might have the same type of meeting all the time or meetings with very different agendas. But the common denominator is that once the meeting starts, things can go 150 different ways! I believe the best prep is to simply know whom you’re meeting with.

Whether it’s a brand new relationship or one you’ve been in a long time, the key is having a frame of reference for who the people in your meeting are. What makes them tick? What are the things they are most concerned about?

Sometimes you don’t have that insight, but you might have insight on other data points such as the size of their organization or happenings on their board. Knowing those nuances equips you to walk into that meeting prepared.

And of course, you need an agenda! What’s the point of the meeting? What do you want to get out of the time? Whether this is an internal meeting as a staff, a senior team or a potential client, you have to answer that question. How will you define success at the end of that day?

If you can define that ahead of time, you have a much better chance of achieving success.

Nils: Would you say these tips pertain to a 30-minute meeting as well as an all-day meeting? 

Trent: Yes, although I think we have to be careful that we don’t just meet for the sake of meeting, when you could answer a question in two minutes and move on.

You need to focus on efficiency in every meeting. Who doesn’t love going to a meeting, accomplishing what you need to accomplish, finishing early, and getting time back?

One of the greatest gifts you can give people is extra time.

They’re not paying you for the time. They’re paying you for the value of the intellect you are bringing to that particular interaction. So if you can deliver that value in an hour and a half, as opposed to three hours, you just gave them an hour and a half of their life back.

We’ve also had clients who don’t get to meet with outside people very often, so part of the value of those meetings is actually the time. Yes, we are accomplishing things, but there is also this relational opportunity built into that meeting, and it’s ok to take our time because we know this is what the client wants.

Knowing your audience is crucial!

For more insight into how to lead a meeting effectively, be sure to check out more of this conversation on The Dunham Podcast episode, How to Lead a (Productive) Meeting.


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