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Meetings Re-Imagined!

We spend our time in meetings.

Meetings at work. Meeting friends. Meetings where you present and meetings where you are presented to. Meetings with all sorts of people. Meetings used to be in offices, conference rooms and over meals and over coffee. Today they have been replaced by and in the future will also be supplemented by meetings over screens.

In fact, if you are in business at almost any level you likely the spend the majority of your time in meetings. Thus, how you spend your time in meetings is how you spend a great deal of your career.

In business there are many who find meetings a waste of time and try to make them as short, small and few as possible. Many try to avoid meeting people and have gate keepers and delay tactics ready to brandish. Some leaders use meetings as ways to ensure discipline and instill fear.

How meetings have changed.

For the past year the ability to exercise power through meeting power structures such as leveraging gate keepers, seating arrangements and arriving late or slipping away early are for less impactful in a zoom world. Everyone is a single square and showing up late means entering an empty virtual space or more likely the meeting is proceeding without you.

The number of meetings has increased rather than decreased because in a collaborative, fast moving, networked society even with all the social networks and collaborative tools in the world, it is hard to be a manager or a leader without meetings even if it these days it is remote via a screen and you can be dressed in your pajamas.

Another way that meetings have changed in the socially distanced arena is that we often find the meetings more tiring these days. The reason is not because we have trouble staring at other people but because in the office, we rarely looked at each other when we were in a meeting! We did not attend meetings but “stare-a-thons” where we looked not at each other but at three screens. A big screen where some presentation was being projected. Our laptop or iPad where we were attending to emails or reading the news and the mobile screen balanced on our knees below the table where we engaged in social and text messaging. Yes, we were in a room with other people, but we were really staring away from them at some combination of screens.

Instead of circumventing what cannot usually be avoided why not think about how to get the most from the meetings you will be spending your time in?

A different way to approach meetings.

There are a lot of books and articles on meeting management and how to get the most out of gatherings. Most of them are utter and complete BS because they all focus on how you can get the most out of a meeting, while the focus should be how can you give the most in a meeting.

If you go to a meeting with an “extraction” mindset versus a “giving” mindset you are likely face a number of problems including a) missing meetings where you may have been able to share your knowledge and therefore build goodwill and your brand, b) become so focused on what you are looking for that you do not discover what you need and c) becoming over confident that you know more than anybody else and so you have the ability to forecast before attending a meeting can where you benefit and where you do not.

So, you end up with less and less knowledge, find yourself shocked and surprised at things that come from left field and also suffer a diminished reputation.

To maximize your learning, your reputation and upgrade your meeting experience focus on generosity, empathy and energy as the keys to meetings.

a) Generosity.

How can you leave the person or the people whom you are meeting with or presenting to with a gift? A gift of knowledge or insight or a way to see things that they did not have before. Something that makes them believe that it was a good use of their timeto be in the meeting.

Besides knowledge some other ways to be generous include appreciation of their skills and their contributions. Everyone wants to be acknowledged and recognized for their good work.

Another way to be generous is to provide guidance. People are hungry for advice, directions and stories to navigate whatever challenge or situation they face. Providing perspectives, stories and experiences resonate and scale in empowering and growing people.

Knowledge. Appreciation. Guidance.

b) Empathy.

How can you truly understand the other persons perspective and point of view because in doing so you will grow even if you disagree with their perspective or view. If you are presenting, how can you make sure that your talk is relevant to the audience and the issues they have in mind and not some boiler plate boiled anew. Is it not ironic when speakers talk of relevance and customization and customer or content is king but do not customize or make relevant their content to their audience? Basically, they are saying that their time is more valuable than the audience!

Three ways to ensure empathy is to seek to understand by asking, listening and re-stating the problem and situation. By reframing the problem using analogies and other categories and finally by sharing relevant personal experiences.

Understanding signals you are listening. Re-framing telegraphs that the problem or challenge being faced has been shared by others. Personal experiences ensure a human connection and re-enforces that you have been in this person’s shoes or seen others who have been.

c) Energy.

How can you leave the folks in the meeting more energized and feeling better about themselves? So much of success is attitude, belief and hope. So many meetings leave folks dispirited, brow beaten, scared and worried. One does not have to be all bouncing beans unrealistic but let’s be pragmatically enthusiastic if you want progress.

There are three keys to ending a meeting with energy. First is clarity. People should be clear what next steps are for each of them. Second is belief which is a belief that they can tackle these next steps and finally a plan which is how they go about doing the next steps. At the end of every meeting are things clear, do people believe they have the tools and skills to do what is next and do they have a plan?

The giving mindset to meetings is omni-channel and omni-situation effective!

By focusing on giving versus getting you are almost guaranteeing a great meeting because at minimum the other folks leave the room better off, and feeling positive about you. And in feeling that way they become an ally, a supporter and an advocate for you, so you get something out of it.

But actually, what happens is much more. In the course of the meeting once they understand that you are giving without asking, they give in return. Knowledge.Insights. Help. Lots of other stuff. Often in the meeting or as a follow up.

Finally, because you have treated their time as precious, they treat your time as precious.

Don’t think of how to put barriers to meeting people. Don’t think about what you can get. Don’t think through yourself as a filter.

And this approach to meeting works in both the real world and the virtual world. It works across every culture and country. It is effective in both personal and business situations.

Think about the other person or people.

Give yourself and your time first.

And you will find meetings are valuable, fun, educational and energizing.

Illustrations by Carolina Contreras

Rishad Tobaccowala (@rishad) is the author of the bestselling “Restoring the Soul of Business: Staying Human in the Age of Data” published by HarperCollins globally in January 2020. It has been described as an “operating manual” for managing people, teams and careers in the age we live in and The Economist Magazine called it perhaps the best recent book on Stakeholder Capitalism. Business and Strategy named it among the best business books of the year and the best book on Marketing in 2020. Rishad is also a speaker, teacher and advisor who helps people think, feel and see differently about how to grow their companies, their teams and themselves. More at

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