10 Ways to Build Excellence in Running Meetings and Workshops

If you really want to make leading excellent meetings or workshops a core part of your personal repertoire, you’re setting out on a journey. Unfortunately, that journey takes time. But from our long years of developing ourselves and helping others develop themselves, we know that you can accelerate the process if you hone these ten practices.

Being an accurate self-critic

Understanding the impact that you have in a room is a core part of mastery when it comes to leading meetings and workshops. Your personality, skills, assumptions, beliefs, values, experience, knowledge and energy all bundle together to create that impact. So if you want to be really successful leading a roomful of people, you need to develop a large dose of self-awareness. This self-awareness will mean that you

  • Recognise what’s happening in a roomful of people, so you know whose with you and who isn’t

  • Can address problems or strong emotions as they arise and that they aren’t swept under the carpet

  • Know when to change pace and energy so that you work successfully with everyone

  • Are aware of the meeting or workshop process, where you are in it and how to make it obvious to everyone else

That means reflection before, during and after your workshop. We’ve already talked about a learning journal.

In addition to this reflection, before your meeting or workshop, think through

  • What two or three things do I want everyone to say about me after this session? For example, got a lot done, focused us and had a light touch.

  • How will I ensure that I deliver them? For example, keep a tight watch on time.

  • What do I want to do exceptionally well this time? For example, signpost to make sure everyone knows what’s happening.

Focusing on being fantastic at just one thing will mean that you will concentrate your effort. And once you feel that this area is honed, you can move onto the next. Plus, articulating what you want to yourself means it’s more likely to stay top of mind, making it easier to judge how you did afterwards.

Getting real feedforward

The benefit of thinking through what you want to deliver and do exceptionally well is that you are then in a great place to solicit useful feedforward from your participants and peers. (Feedforward is what you can do to make things better in the future rather than what you did that didn’t work in the past.)

Make sure you choose people who will be honest with you so that you get valuable input and that you ask them

  • What should I keep on doing because you think it worked?

  • What should I start doing because you think that would make a big difference to the way I work?

  • How do you think I managed x (when x is the thing you wanted to do exceptionally well.)

Ask individuals giving you feedforward to make sure that what they say is concrete, specific, evidence-based (they should give you examples) timely and actionable. Anything else is simply unhelpful.

Listen to what they say without getting defensive and thank them for their insights. Take 24 hours to dwell on the information you’ve been given and think about how you’re going to use it. Then let them know what you’re going to do as it shows that you value what you were told. If you can, close the loop once more after you’ve implemented their suggestions; that way they’ll be sure to take the time to help you out again.

Observing excellence at work

There’s nothing like building your own skill and practice by observing those who lead groups exceptionally well. When you see an effortless performance in any area, you can be sure that there has been a lot of preparation and years of learning to master that craft.

To fast-track mastery for yourself, you need to pay attention to three levels and look at how experts manages

  • Themselves

  • The group

  • The whole process

Develop a checklist that enables you to do this analysis. As you observe, write down their successful behaviours and actions. Then reflect on what you do and how you can incorporate some of what you observe into your practice.

Of course, you can always do this as a two-way exercise; you observe and map someone, they observe map you, and then you debrief each other afterwards.

Being authentic

Being authentic means being true to yourself and true to others. And to do that, you show up with aligned words, mind and actions. Being aligned means others trust you because they know that what they see is what they get.

There’s nothing worse than attending a meeting or workshop led by someone the group perceives to be fake. That means if you don’t believe in something, don’t do it and don’t advocate for it.

So what do you do if you have to get behind something you disagree with?

You need to

  • Explain that you can’t do this but solve the problem by finding someone else who can.

  • Find a part of it that you do believe in and can get behind.

So how do you know when you are not being authentic?

  • Your words don’t match your thoughts.

  • You lack energy to fulfil something because you don’t believe in it.

  • You are not true to what you know is right.

Again, to check that you are authentic, just tune into yourself and ask yourself, ‘Am I articulating what I feel, and if not, why not? How does this help or hinder me?’ Only you can answer that.

Being a 5 rather than getting 5s

If you are being evaluated as you lead meetings or workshops, it’s normal to worry about your scores on the doors. But if you worry too much about getting your grades, you’ll focus on what you lack, what might go wrong and whether the group will like you.

Let all that go.

Instead of thinking about getting a bunch of 5s (if that is the highest mark), think instead about how you can be a 5. If you want to go more granular, ask yourself:

  • How can I be a 5 in the areas that will make the most difference to the group?

  • How will I show up as an authentic 5?

Focusing on these two questions will build your performance from the inside out, rather than the outside in – which is a much more solid foundation to work from. (And thanks to Anita Brick for this brilliant insight!)

Dealing with a hand grenade at the start of a session

Sometimes you get hand grenades at the start of a session. These fall into two camps: the unintended and the deliberate.

Unintended include IT or room hitches, organisational dramas and illness. In other words, you can’t do much about them other than stay calm. Once you PANIC, you won’t be a 5 anymore. And you’ll lose your credibility, too.

If you think you might lose it, ask someone in the group to help you manage the issue, leave the room and the building, get some fresh air and concentrate on your breathing. While you’re away, the group will probably step up for you anyway.

Then you have the deliberate hand grenade when someone says something just to throw you. In that case, you can deal with it by asking, ‘I’m curious about what lies behind what you just said?’ You’re not answering a challenge or hostile comment but signaling strongly you recognise what’s going on . . . and chucking it back at your participant.

Addressing what’s happening in the room

When tension gets high, it’s the easiest thing in the world to ignore it. This isn’t helpful and will ultimately get in the way of the group’s work together.

If you think something isn’t going as well as you would like it to, put the issue on the table by acknowledging that it’s there. Then invite the group to do something about it. If you’re wrong, there’s no harm done. If you’re right, your group will thank you because you will have enabled them to deal with a difficult issue.

Avoiding putting your foot in your mouth

Okay. We’ve all been there and dropped a clanger without meaning to. If you do say something inappropriate, apologise and move on. If you simply get facts wrong and someone corrects you, that’s okay. In fact, it can be a good thing: If you make a mistake, then others can, too, and you reduce the pressure to be perfect.

If you catch yourself saying the wrong thing, instead of saying ‘sorry’ just correct yourself by saying ‘rather, I meant to say . . .’ or ‘what I meant is. . . .’ Then you are showing that it’s no big deal.

If you say sorry once when you mis-speak, you’ll say it three more times. And all you’ll do is undermine yourself and reduce participants’ confidence in you.

Not backing yourself into a corner

There are three main corners you don’t want to back yourself into and you do that by

  • Making self-deprecating comments – for example, ‘I don’t know what allows me to run this session today as I’m not really very skilled at this sort of thing.’

  • Blocking new and potentially important stuff – for example, ‘We can’t deal with that. It’s not on the agenda/wasn’t planned.’

  • Creating a sense of failure – for example, ‘We’re running out of time, so I want to cover this really quickly.’

You never ever need to make any comments like these. You might think them; you don’t say them. You don’t want to show anyone that you aren’t managing, and that’s all that these comments indicate.

Ending a session early

Most people think that they are adding more value when they run over, whether it’s a meeting or workshop. If you are at the front of the room and in charge of the group, when you ask them ‘Would you like to continue?’ of course they’ll all say yes. You are in the position of power and authority.

But running over isn’t good practice. It’s just rude. It shows you can neither manage your time nor respect others’ commitments. Your participants will always have other things to do, especially if they are going home.

So do the opposite. Surprise everyone and end 5 to 10 minutes early. Your groups will love you for it. And you’ll give yourself a break, too.

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