Great Business Meetings Don’t Just Happen

“The leader must know, must know that he knows, and must be able to make it abudantly clear to those about him that he knows.” – Clarence B. Randall (Making Good in Management, 1964)

It was said that Napoleon’s presence on the battlefield made “the difference of 40,000 men.” This was not a reference to his physical prowess.Whether you have three people or 30,000 working for you, you want to believe that you can inspire them to be more than they are without you. But unless you are careful about how you breathe your vision into people during a business meeting, your greatest efforts can be in vain.

Certainly, it’s much better to get people pumped up by focusing on the positive, instead of by threats and warnings. But how do you do that? Is it just a matter of casting your comments in a positive way? Is that enough? Or is it also necessary to speak with enthusiasm? (The short answer to that last question is, “Yes.” Whenever I notice my voice drop into a monotone, I can see the eyes of my listeners glaze over.)But there are plenty of other things you can do. In an article in “Selling Power,” a Fredricksberg, VA-based management magazine, several experts provide their suggestions.Michael Begerman, a meeting planner for the 3M Meeting Network (an on-line resource for businesses), says that where you locate the meeting is very important. “Choose the location according to your business objectives,” he advises. “Then make sure all the details are right: the physical setting, the hours and break times, the agenda, etc.”

When Begerman plans meetings, he goes all out. From 9 to 5, attendees experience a carefully choreographed production — much like a stage play — of inspirational speeches, technical presentations, how-to workshops, and interactive learning activities. Then, “from 5 p.m. till the wee hours,” Begerman plans “fun — shared experiences to keep the group together. It’s cocktails here, dinner there, tickets to a show, and so on. After four days of work and fun, the team achieves a closeness akin to a summer camp.”

Another expert, Gordon Mackenzie, formerly a “creative genius” at Hallmark Cards and now a lecturer on business creativity, uses Tibetan cymbals and mind exercises to teach “the visualization of letting go.”

And Mel Silberman, author of “101 Ways to Keep Meetings Active,” suggests such idea stimulators as:

Slow brainstorming. People write down their ideas privately and then share them with the group later. “Brainwriting.” Ideas are written on a card, which is then passed around. Each idea gets augmented as it goes. “Brainwalking.” Ideas are put on big sheets of paper tacked to the walls. People walk around and write comments on them.

I’m sure all these things help. But for me, inspirational meetings start and end with an idea that motivates me. If you have a vision of how your business can grow or become better, the best and most productive thing you can do is convey that vision — as forcefully and vividly as possible — to every person in that room.

You can throw in the Tibetan cymbals or leave them at home. That’s a matter of environment, not leadership. But you need to have a good idea. And you need to know how to “sell it” to the troops.

James O’Rourke, director of the Fanning Center for Business Communication at Notre Dame, says that selling a big idea starts off by clarifying it. What, exactly, is it that you want to accomplish during a particular meeting? And what, exactly, do you want to get your people to do? You might even want to be clear on how you want your people to feel about your big idea.

O’Rourke says you must “link” your objectives to those people you wish to inspire, and the way to do that, he says, is to break your vision down to specific objectives that are “measurable, observable, and rewardable.” It seems to me that this advice is worth noting. You certainly want to set objectives where and when you can. And people will work harder to achieve them if you can create a work environment in which their efforts toward those objectives are noted and rewarded.

[Ed. Note.  Mark Morgan Ford was the creator of Early To Rise. In 2011, Mark retired from ETR and now writes the Palm Beach Letter. His advice, in our opinion, continues to get better and better with every essay, particularly in the controversial ones we have shared today. We encourage you to read everything you can that has been written by Mark.]