Remember your favorite teacher? Whether she taught calculus or Shakespeare, she controlled the class. She stretched your brain and challenged you to do your best work.
Those are probably the same sentiments you’d like to inspire in your team members now. Indeed, there are many similarities between a high school class and a meeting. You congregate to do something better together than you can on your own, but social dynamics and human nature conspire to limit impact.
Fortunately, good teaching is a skill that anyone can learn. While rereading Doug Lemov’s book Teach Like a Champion recently, I came across several techniques from master teachers that not only work in the classroom, but can help you lead better meetings.
I've been to a number of classrooms where the acronym "SWBAT" was written on the blackboard. Eventually, I realized what this meant: "Students Will Be Able To," followed by an objective for the day. Good teachers have an objective for each lesson, and share this objective with their students so that they walk into class knowing what they will be able to do by the end. They know there is a reason to be there.
Likewise, your meeting needs to have a specific objective that everyone understands. Put it up on the wall. If there’s no objective, don’t meet. Unlike high school, you don’t have to be in a certain place just because it’s 9:30 a.m. on a Thursday.
Good teachers don’t just plan what they’ll do to achieve their objectives, they also plan what their students will do during every minute of class. That keeps people engaged. Meetings should be double-planned as well.
If you’ll be giving a five-minute presentation during the meeting, what will everyone else in the meeting be doing during that time? Will they be thinking of holes in your argument? Thinking of who else needs to see this presentation? Critiquing your style? Hopefully the answer isn’t "checking their email under the table."
To be sure, hand-raising is less a part of corporate meetings than your average 10th-grade English class, but good teachers don’t go by hands. They know to call on students who don’t want to be called on as often as they call on students who do. That way, everyone’s brain has to keep working.
Meeting dynamics sometimes keep people from speaking up, which is why a good facilitator will randomly ask for input. Just because someone isn’t talking doesn’t mean she has nothing to say. Often, she has something more interesting to say than the guy who’s constantly speaking over everyone.
Master teachers don’t stay frozen in front of their classrooms. They move around the room to see what students are writing down and keep them from zoning out. While conference rooms often don’t allow for the same level of circulation as a classroom, you can make a point of getting out of your chair, writing something on a white board, or asking someone else to stand up to say something. If you want energized participants, movement—like coffee—is your friend.
The most powerful way to get people’s attention is to be silent. Teachers know that if you’re constantly cajoling your students to listen to you, you’ve lost the battle. If people in your meeting seem distracted, simply stop, wait, and let an uncomfortable silence focus everyone on the matter at hand. That way you can meet your objectives, and get back to the rest of your day.
[Image: Flickr user Eric Schmuttenmaer]