Lights, Camera, Meeting!

Chances are you will attend meetings this week and chances are you will walk out of most of them feeling closer to death with little to show for it—another victim of death by PowerPoint! Do not take my word for it; 71 percent of senior managers surveyed by Harvard Business Review said meetings are unproductive and inefficient and 62 percent said meetings miss opportunities to bring the team closer together. The only thing that makes pain worse is having more of it. If you are a manager, you may spend between 35 percent to 50 percent of each week in meetings!

Since we spend so much time in meetings, it only stands to reason that making them better would improve our lives!  Rather than give you the standards advice you’ve heard before about agendas, facilitation, etc., let’s look to Hollywood for inspiration on transforming your meetings.

Why is it that a one-hour meeting can drag on indefinitely, but we lose all track of time when we are completely engrossed in a two-hour movie? Here are four Hollywood tricks that will make your next meeting a smash hit:

  1. Tell a Story: People have been gathering together, teaching, inspiring, and forming strong group bonds through storytelling since the dawn of time. And, are not those basically the very reasons we have meetings? You would not go to a movie unless you were interested in the story. So why have meetings that do not have an interesting story to tell?

Like stories, meetings have a beginning, a middle, and an end. But we have mechanized this process with agendas, minutes, and notes. Not saying these tools are not useful, even necessary, I am just saying to not lose sight of your goals. Let the tools serve you, not the other way around.

Begin your story with an end in mind. What do you want your audience to know, believe, feel, or do when your story has been told? With the end in mind, start your meeting in a way that draws your audience in. Lay out your agenda items building one after another to a logical conclusion.

  1. Have Characters that People Care About: Ever read a story with a character that just does not fit? It detracts from and confuses the story. The same thing happens when you cram a bunch of items together into an agenda with no connection— Think of every item you put into your meeting as a character—does it need to be introduced? Add topics in a way that builds logically. Flush out the character with details that matters. Help your audience understand why and then they will care about the character and want to know more about it.

Every movie has more film that can possibly be used. One of the hardest things for movie makers to figure out is what to leave on the cutting room floor. When you run your meetings, I want you to be as critical as a Hollywood director—what you thought may have been necessary may turn out not to be unnecessary. Cut it, leave it, and move on with the story—your meetings will be shorter and more to the point if you do and your audience will appreciate it.

  1. Follow the Arc: Every good story follows an emotional arc—so should your meetings. Movies may begin slowly and build as they flush out the characters or they may begin with action and then fill in from there. The manner you chose to produce each meeting will depend on the intended impact on the audience. Grab their attention or build their curiosity to engage them in the process. Do not limit yourself—let your intention be your guide.
  2. End With a Climax: Whichever arc you choose, take your audience along with you. One path that is effective builds a case with the tempo increasing, then slowing down and diving into the details. Finally, you finish by lifting your audience up and they leave inspired; they walk out ready to engage more energized and committed then when they walked in.

You will know you missed the mark if your meeting ends with people wondering, ‘Are we done? What know? That was a waste.’

Like all great filmmakers, it is going to take practice to produce great meetings. After your next meeting, analyze what worked and what missed the mark. You may not win an Academy Award for your meetings, but if you keep learning and growing, soon your audience will be leaving your meetings eager for the sequel!

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