Our Responsibilities as Meeting Hosts and Participants

By Dave Bayless

Too often, business meetings suck. They don’t have to. Meeting hosts can help build trust in the process by being mindful of Purpose, People, and Process. Meeting participants, in turn, have a responsibility to be Prepared, Prompt, and Present. Effective—even energizing—meetings are the result.

You’ve been there—meetings in which 10 minutes of productive conversation are “crammed” into two hours. Sometimes, the real purpose of a gathering is to hang out. However, that’s not the case in most business meetings. Those must be planned.

Hosts and participants, alike, are responsible for the success or failure of meetings. More specifically, hosts are responsible for defining and communicating:

  • Purpose
  • People
  • Process

At the same time, participants are responsible for being:

  • Prepared
  • Prompt
  • Present

Purpose

Business meetings are expensive—in time and energy. The requisite investment deserves a clear purpose. What do you want participants to do as a consequence of your meeting? If you can’t articulate a clear and compelling purpose for a meeting, don’t have it.

People

The purpose of the meeting determines who should be in the meeting. Everybody in the meeting must be willing and able to contribute to the achievement of its purpose. Everybody else detracts.

Resist the temptation to be overly inclusive. Don’t worry—the people you leave out will be grateful. They have plenty of opportunities to participate in meetings.

Process

Create and share an agenda in advance of the meeting and stick to it. Meetings benefit from a little structure. Give Liberating Structures or other lightweight facilitation techniques a try.

Be mindful of how you meet. Zoom offers relatively high bandwidth communication, but video meetings are cognitively demanding. Too many Zoom meetings for too long are exhausting. Might a phone call be sufficient?

Prepared

The best meetings emphasize conversation over the content. Ideas can—and very often should—be shared in advance. Conversation lends itself to the situation, evaluation, and application of those ideas.

However, productive meetings require that participants do their homework. Showing up to a meeting unprepared is a waste of time.

Prompt

Be on time and expect others to do the same. Being late, or allowing meetings to run late, is disrespectful and wasteful.

The scheduled duration of a meeting should be determined by its purpose. Resist the temptation to commit an hour to complete a conversation that could take 30 minutes.

Nevertheless, life happens. Build in a little flex in your agenda to accommodate unforeseen disruptions. If a meeting is running long, honor others’ time by providing a graceful exit at the end of the allotted meeting time.

Present

If you find yourself or others multi-tasking during a meeting, there has been a design failure:

  • The purpose wasn’t sufficiently compelling
  • The wrong people are in the room
  • Participants aren’t sufficiently prepared

If a meeting is worth having, it’s worth being fully present.

Build Trust in the Process

People abhor meetings because they’ve learned that many meetings are a waste of time and energy. As meeting hosts, it’s up to us to give others a reason to trust the process.

  • Don’t call for a meeting unless there is a clear and sufficiently compelling purpose.
  • Present ideas and content in advance to allow the meeting time to focus on the conversation.
  • Let the purpose of the meeting determine its duration and composition.
  • “Hit your marks” by starting and ending promptly.
  • Be thoughtful and deliberate about the agenda and meeting tools.

Over time, people will actually start to look forward to your meetings. They’ll do so because you’ll have demonstrated that they are an effective means for accomplishing shared objectives.