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How can you make meetings better? This week Chris and Gina break down what causes a meeting to drag and how a good meeting can unfold. They explore how to get at a meeting’s true agenda — finding the solution to a problem. They also delve into how to ensure everyone feels their time is valued.

Transcript

Gina Trapani I also think that particularly like recurring meetings can sort of, once they’ve outlived their usefulness, they stay on the calendar because of inertia and momentum. And they just sort of become this ceremony. And this is just part of my job.

[Intro music fades in, ramps up, plays 10 seconds.]

Chris LoSacco Happy Tuesday, Gina.

GT Hey Chris, how’s your day going?

CL How are you doing today?

GT I’m doing great. I’m doing great. You know, another day in client services, staring down a list of meetings today.

CL Meetings.

GT Meetings.

CL Love them or hate them.

GT Love them or hate them. Where the work gets done and where the work goes to die. I can’t tell. It depends. It really depends.

CL Depends on the meeting, right?

GT Depends on the meeting. Some meetings you come out of and you’re like, that’s great. We made decisions. We’ve got a plan. I feel good about this. And other meetings, you’re like six or seven minutes in and you’re like, why am I here? Why are we doing this? Like this is a ceremony.

[1:10]

CL That is the worst feeling when you—sometimes it happens sooner. You’re like 90 seconds in. And you’re like, oh, this is going to be bad. I’m going to sit here—

GT This is going to be a bad meeting.

CL And listen to people talk for 55 minutes and not get anything done. And sometimes you can fix it. We’re lucky that we can sometimes abort those kinds of meetings, but not always.

GT Not always. It’s true. It’s true.

CL Should we talk about what makes a good meeting? There are sometimes where I look at my day and I’m like, I’m excited about this. We’re going to talk about some good things. We’re going to figure some things out. But it’s tricky. And especially when you’re dealing with more senior people, like, we are executives now. We have to operate at a higher altitude and what separates a good gathering of people from a not so good gathering of people is pretty, you know, there are some tried and true methods that make meetings better.

[2:02]

GT Definitely. We should. We should. Because not only are we going to meetings and getting information or problem solving, we are going into meetings with executives that are clients. Yeah. And we want our clients to come out of every meeting with us going great. I’m excited. I understand what’s next. I understand what happened, like this effort’s going great. And I can’t wait for the next one. Right? And that’s a high bar because let’s face it. We’re all in a lot of meetings every single day, often on, you know, Zoom or Meet or Teams or whatever, and it can get, it can get monotonous. But there are a few things that you can do to make a meeting good. Better.

[2:38]

CL Yes. Yes. I’ll kick us off with one idea here. We state the context for the meeting. This is a big one. Don’t assume that everyone knows why you’re there. Even the people who do know why you’re there, it can help to say it again. And to make sure that everybody, especially the bigger the meeting is, restating it, why this group is meeting and what background is relevant to what you’re about to talk about is absolutely critical so that everybody has a common understanding about where you’re coming from and where you’re going. And it’s so common that nobody says anything. They just assume that you walk into the room and you know exactly what you’re there to talk about. And especially for execs, they’ve got 14 million things happening in their world. Their brain is split into all these different directions. They just had a marketing meeting and a sales update and a pipeline forecast. And now they’re talking to a delivery team and the delivery team just starts rattling off, here are the problems we need to solve or whatever it is. Without any context about what are we talking about? What’s this project? Where are we in the project life cycle? Etc etc etc. So making sure that everybody has a common understanding about where you are, what the context is, is so important.

[4:00]

GT Yeah. This is huge. I think, I mean a common pattern that I see is that someone will use shorthand to title the meeting. Shorthand meaning like you know, oh, catch up about X, Y, Z, or we’re thinking about this thing. And sometimes, but not always, folks will put a little bit of description information in the description. But yeah, you have to align on what that shorthand is like, why are we here? And what’s the context at a high level really helps. I felt dumb about this for a while, but now I don’t anymore. 

CL What do you mean you felt dumb? 

GT I felt dumb saying like hold up hold up, hold up, hold up, hold up. I don’t know what we’re talking about. Can you tell me in like a couple of sentences what we’re talking about here? Because I felt weird saying, I don’t know what we’re talking about. I’m not familiar with all the problems on this project, but it shouldn’t feel weird because we’re skimming across projects. So stopping and saying, wait, hold up. What are we talking about? Or what did that mean? Sometimes people repeat shorthand or an acronym or a phrase that the team’s been using and has a common understanding of what that is. But I don’t know what that means and say, can you tell me what that means? That’s huge. That’s something that I try to do, but it’s better to just get ahead of it and start the meeting with like, let’s just assume that no one knows what this is or why we’re here. So here’s the context.

[5:17]

CL Absolutely. We see this with our clients all the time. You said it before, we’re a client services company, this is something we always have to be thinking about is how are our stakeholders receiving the feedback from our teams in meetings day in and day out. And it’s the same problem. It’s you’ve got people who are either, it’s not that they’re not empowered, but they don’t think to raise their hand and say, hold on a second. I don’t know what’s going on here. 

GT Right. [Laughs.] 

CL Or maybe more generously, I’m not as familiar with what’s going on day to day. Like I understand it at a 50,000 foot view, but I now need to understand it at a 10,000 foot view, like what we’re actually here to talk about. I had a great experience early in my career where I was sitting with a chief technology officer and he raised his hand and he was like, assume that I don’t know anything about this problem. Please walk me through it. And it was so powerful because I guarantee you in the four minute recap that the person leading the meeting gave, everybody else around the table was like— 

GT Benefited. Yes. 

CL Exactly. Was also gaining from that recap. So restate the context, it’s so important.

[6:24]

GT And to go an extra step, say how it relates to your audience and you are here because we’re going to make a decision or because I want to get your sign off or because I want to get your agreement or so that as you’re listening to the context, you can be prepared. Like I’m going to look for these bits of information before I respond or react or give the team what they need.

CL This is a great second bit of advice: frame the problems. Make it personal to each person why you’re having this discussion, what you hope to get out of it and how the group and each individual in the group can contribute to solving the problems. And it doesn’t take that much effort actually to say, we have this broad thing we’re trying to achieve. And it breaks down into these six smaller things. And each individual person is going to handle one of those six, but it makes it, it’s so much faster to get to, oh, I see where I fit in and how I can contribute. And frankly, where I shouldn’t contribute or don’t want to contribute additionally, because it clarifies the lanes a little bit. That framing can be really, really helpful.

[7:29]

GT Definitely, absolutely. Right. Cause I mean, most meetings are trying to solve a problem. Right? So you got to set it up so that you can come to a solution.

CL That’s right. What about before the meeting? Anything people can do?

GT There are times when I get meeting invites with a title that I don’t really totally understand and no description. And I’ll say like, what is this meeting about? And then there’ll be an answer. And I’ll say, can you give me something to read beforehand? And so I think a pre-read is incredibly helpful. I’ll speak for myself. I don’t always have the time to read the pre-read before the meeting. But I also love when it’s like, here’s the pre-read. And at the beginning of the meeting, did everyone get a chance to read this? If not, like let’s give everybody five minutes. I know that it can feel like you’re wasting people’s time by all sitting in a meeting, reading together. But it actually is a time saver. Right? It saves you time from not having to re explain what was ever in the pre-read. And I think that a pre-read can do those things that we talked about in the first, the first two steps, which is like the high-level context frame, the problems. And then you can kind of get a running start to the conversation, right? Because typically, we see this all the time, we’ve got a 30 minute meeting to solve a pretty sticky problem. So the more prepared we can all show up and all kind of on the same page, the faster we’re going to be able to get this thing done in real time, to get synchronously. And I think a pre-read can really help.

[8:51]

CL Totally agree. I mean, this is how we run our senior leadership team meetings. We ask our people to put in status updates ahead of time so that we’re not going around the room and saying, what are you up to this week? What have you accomplished last week? Let’s get that out of the way in writing. Yeah. And then when you come to the meeting, you’re totally right that it’s weird. Like the first few times you do this. Where you’re like sitting quietly and everybody’s reading, but you’re on Zoom and you’re like, what’s happening right now. But it’s gotten to a point, at least with our team that it’s normal. Like we’ve built in that time. Our former head of product Vicky was very big on this. Like have the document ahead of time and save everybody the synchronous time of having to get up to speed. Exactly like you said, you can provide some of that context in written words, let everybody read it and then have the discussion around the bits of it that actually need discussion.

[9:50]

GT Yeah. I mean, particularly for recurring meetings that are about a team coming together and talking about like status updates, and here’s what my team’s working on and challenges, we found that when we weren’t doing the pre-read, we would get to the meatiest and most difficult discussions 55 minutes into an hour-long meeting. And it’s like, oh, this is what we should have been talking about since the beginning of the meeting. Exactly. And this is why the pre-read, which is like, people update their status. And if somebody has a question, you could do it in the doc, etc. So it helps a lot. It saves time and it bubbles up the stuff that actually needs discussion. Versus like, here’s a list of all the things that my team is doing and everything’s fine, which is less helpful.

[10:31]

CL Yep. That’s right. Another one for our fourth point, I would say pull in underrepresented voices. Some people won’t say much on their own. That is just a fact. Personalities are different. People are different. The culture and the environment that we work in and live in is different and provides certain invisible structures that just naturally put people in certain positions. There’s also some weird power dynamics that often exist in executive meetings. Right? When you’re talking to a senior stakeholder and you’ve got a more junior team, who speaks and when they speak is not always clear and there’s going to be a strong pull for the more senior people or the loudest people to get the lion’s share of the meeting. And we have found that it’s really effective to work against that. And to give people a prompt when they need it to make space for people to share their thoughts. It doesn’t mean that people will always take it. Sometimes people don’t have anything to say. But making sure that you are aware of this, especially if you’re leading the meeting. And you can have an eye towards it and be able to say, okay, thanks very much for your contributions, Jim, we’re going to go over to Sally. Sally, do you have anything to add, any response to that? Like being sort of very intentional about how you are pulling in the people who are naturally a little quieter or may not be as inclined to speak is really, really important and is going to make the ultimate outcome of the discussion better over time.

[12:01]

GT Absolutely. And a technique I think that works really well here, you know, for someone who you know is more junior and/or maybe just naturally a little bit more quiet and you’re leading the meeting or you’re presenting an idea and you can open the door to that person, instead of just throwing to them, being like Sally, anything to say? You could be like, Sally made this great point at a team meeting yesterday. It was this like, Sally, do you want to say more about that? Cause it kind of opens the door and also even if Sally’s like no that’s it, you are at least giving credit and naming names, like everybody in this room contributed to this in a certain way. Even if everyone isn’t speaking in this meeting. That is also a sign of a healthy team. That sees and recognizes one another. I notice when people call out other people on the team who aren’t necessarily speaking for their ideas or their inputs or their concerns. Jim raised this risk and he made a really great point so we did X, Y, and Z. And I noticed when someone is just using I, representing the team’s work just as an I. That’s a big one.

[13:00]

CL I love that point. And I would also say sort of related to the always using I language. I think there are also people who will constantly try to make their own point by talking over other people. And that’s another thing to try to work really consciously against. And if you see it happening, just pause that person gently and say, thanks so much, appreciate your input. We’re going to go in this different direction. We’re going to hear from X, Y, or Z or redirect a little bit. And that can be a little intimidating and hard to do, but I promise once you start doing it, it’s not that bad. And people are generally understanding and self-aware when you sort of gently push away. And if they’re not, then you may have to have a conversation afterwards with their manager or HR or whatever, but being aware of it is like 80% of the battle. And just trying to gently redirect when you see it.

[13:53]

GT Definitely, I mean, making space, when you see someone about to speak or start to talk, but then someone gets talked over making space and saying, oh, Hey, it looks like, so and so was about to say something. That’s really big. I mean, the fact that a lot of us work remotely, sometimes this is like a tech, like you’re wearing Bluetooth headphones or your internet connection isn’t as isn’t as good. So there’s a slight, like half a beat delay. So people talk over one another because of like just the video call dynamics. Seeing that and being aware of that and saying, oh, it looks like Aaron was about to say something, Aaron, go ahead, I think is tremendous. And I also think it represents well to the audience that the team is together and cares about one another, is looking to one another’s cues, even in little boxes on a video screen. And also just we bring more voices. I think when more voices represent a proposal it’s stronger.

[14:47]

CL Absolutely. Absolutely. It’s going to make a better impression to the executive office or an executive team when you’ve got several people who are beating the same drum.

GT Yes. What about takeaways from a meeting? This is something actually, Chris, that you are very, very good at. I’ve seen you—you did this just this morning and it’s only 10:30—at the end of a meeting, you will say, so I just want to be clear on exactly what it is that we are doing. So I heard we’re doing this, this, this, and this, that like here is our plan. Here are the takeaways. Here’s what we’re leaving this meeting with. I hate the feeling of like, we’re winding down a meeting because we ran out of time or somebody else had to go or whatever. But like, I don’t know what we’re doing next. That is a terrible, terrible feeling. I’m like, we just wasted our time. What did we decide on? It can be difficult if you don’t have that person who’s saying, I just want to be clear for my brain what we’re doing. Or if you don’t have that person, we don’t always have people in a meeting taking notes or assigning tasks. I mean sometimes when you’re in an executive meeting, you do have that person. But sometimes when you’re just in a team meeting trying to figure out a thing, you actually kind of do need to designate that person that’s like, Hey, you know, Emily, can you take this away? Can you go schedule that thing? Or like, Nathan, can you distribute the notes to the team? Just so we’re all clear. But you have to force that. And I think the more that you build that muscle of like, okay, now we need the takeaways from this meeting. I think then it becomes more natural. But it doesn’t happen naturally. I think it’s natural to say I got something else going on. All right. See you later. Thanks everybody. Have a good day.

[16:17]

CL That’s right. You said so many good things there. Number one, you can designate a person up front to do it. I’ve seen that happen when it’s not obvious who should do it. And that’s great. Or sometimes someone will volunteer to say, I’m going to make sure we leave this meeting with clear action items or I’m going to make sure that we take notes so that we know what we need to follow up on after the fact. That’s great. I think number two, if you’re running the meeting, then make it your responsibility to come away with those clear takeaways. Number three, if you’re the executive audience, you make sure that everybody leaves the room having clear takeaways. And if they’re not clear, then ask about them or restate them. This is a technique that I try to use, which is like, here’s what I think the takeaways are. Do we have agreement there? And sometimes it’s right. Sometimes it’s not right. And then it can be like, okay, we need to schedule a follow-up or we need to address this open item in some other asynchronous way. So there are a few different ways to get at it, but regardless of your role, everyone should be driving towards clear takeaways. If we’re going to take action, what are those actions and who owns them?

[17:23]

GT Yes, yes. Even if the next action is we didn’t come to a conclusion. We have to get these three pieces of information—let’s get those and then gather again. Which I will admit is the worst kind of takeaway, which is like, let’s schedule another—

CL Meeting to schedule another meeting. [Laughs.].

GT But sometimes, you know, life. That’s what happens.

CL That’s right. We can’t win ’em all.

GT Yeah, exactly. What do you think about recording meetings?

CL So I love recording meetings. It’s not appropriate for every kind of meeting that you’re having. But there are so many where a video recording is so valuable. So if you’re doing an exec meeting where you are presenting a final deliverable or a key milestone to a stakeholder, if everybody’s comfortable with it recording, that can be so beneficial. Because you capture things that you can refer back to like feedback. You capture the state of the deliverable at that time, which could be a great accompaniment to a slide deck or a PDF or a design or whatever it is. And the team, as it evolves over time, can refer back to where things were at that moment by using the recording. So we’ve used this in the past where one of our teams will present a deliverable to a client. Then a couple months down the road, we’ve got new team members who are joining that team. They will go back and watch that video as a representation of where the platform was at that moment in time. And how it has evolved. And it’s so, so valuable. I also think there are certain kinds of meetings—these are not exec sessions, but like user interviews—where it’s really helpful that you can have a transcript that you can refer back to. Internally at Postlight, we use a tool called Rewatch, which is like a repository for video meetings. They all have transcripts, you can search them. I think Zoom has this feature too, where it will auto record sessions that you can refer back to and search. So if you can have a moment up front where you get consent from people and make sure that everyone’s okay with it, I think deferring to recording where it makes sense is a great tool to have in your tool belt.

[19:34]

GT Yeah, I agree. I don’t think that a recording replaces notes and takeaways. Like I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect people who couldn’t come to a meeting or someone had to leave early to go back and rewatch the whole recording to find out what happened at the meeting. But I agree that it’s really good. Our rewatch archive at Postlight, which we started basically in 2020, if I’m remembering correctly, when we basically all went remote, it’s tremendous. Because you can search archives and say like let’s look, how did this project go? Or at one point I pulled up in our end-of-year, all-hands in 2020, which is kind of a wild time, you can see what happened and refer back.

[20:10]

GT And I have to say the thing about Rewatch is that the transcripts being searchable is huge because you can go back and say like, where was this project at this time? It’s tremendous. I think recording something, especially when it is a presentation, can make it extra high stakes because it makes kind of more of a performance. We record our all-hands, but you know, our all-hands, it is a performance. More than a hundred people come to our all-hands and we prepare and we make sure we have our script right. And not everybody can make it because they’re in client meetings. So it makes a lot of sense. I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing.

CL That’s right. Sometimes I like to miss a meeting and then watch the recording and play it at 1.5x speed. And I feel like I—

GT I know it’s like you were there and you save time. Exactly, exactly. [Laughs.]

CL Hacked the system.

GT It’s true. It’s true.

CL So we talked about agendas, we talked about pre-reads. So if you’re running an exec meeting, what should you prepare and how much?

GT You know, I think that slides are a very good tool for a meeting for an in-person conversation. I think slides can do the right kind of, slides designed well, and we could probably do a whole episode about this.

CL Yeah, what do you mean by that? I think we did do an episode on building a deck.

GT We did do an episode on building a deck, but we call the in-room, right? Like the in-room deck, which is like, you are having a conversation and you’re talking, in our line of work, we’re often talking about technical problems and product issues, especially in a remote situation. But also also in person. But having that thing that people can look at that sort of visual cue. I mean, I think, look, I think the truth is that all of us are distracted, whether we’re in person or remote by our phones, by our doorbells, by our email or whatever’s going on, and having that sort of visual touchpoint—and I’m talking about like a slide with like a couple of words on it—which is like, this is the point that we’re addressing right now, I think can really help like frame a conversation and keep people sort of—especially when you’re going through a list of three or four things related to a problem—keep them kind of like, oh, I see where we are in context, you know? And I can refer back to the earlier points. I think it’s very powerful to keep the meeting on track and keep everybody engaged. I think it’s hard to track. I’m more of a reader than a listener, right? Reading and writing is a better way for me to communicate than conversation. I think for those people in the audience to have those words on screen and visual cues helps keep everybody kind of engaged and aligned on what you’re talking about.

[22:42]

CL But Gina, I want to distinguish between like—because reader not listener, I think is giving one set of guidance and then, slides with a few words on them, I think is giving a different set of guidance. So where do you use those two? Because I think both are valuable. I would argue that maybe reading should be more like a document than a set of slides. What’s effective when you think about how much you want to go read versus how much you want to have that touchpoint that you’re referring back to?

GT Yeah. I mean, I do not want to read text on a slide, like dense text on a slide. There should not be paragraphs. 

CL A lot of people do that. 

GT See in the pre-read that works for me. That’s good. But like in the meeting, when someone is talking, I don’t want to be reading a paragraph of text on the slide because then I’m not digesting either one, you know, either voiceover or the text itself. But I think what helps in an in-room slide deck, what helps is like those high-level bullets can be controversial on slides, but just those couple of words that capture the headline or the idea, the main idea of the voiceover, helps me a lot. It helps me tune into the voiceover a lot more and understand just like the outline of what we’re saying. The main points. That’s more of a visual cue than reading the pre-read. And then, so we have two kinds of decks. We have the inroom deck which is very minimal visual cues, a couple of words, maybe some supporting imagery when that makes sense, because people like to look at things instead of each other or everyone likes to have that one thing that they’re looking out for in the room. And then we’re going to distribute this deck, the PDF that we’re going to email out and we want to send it around to people that they’re going to read on their own time. Those are different things. That’s where you get paragraphs and headlines and decks and all those things.

[24:28]

CL This is so good. And I feel like so much of the world has not internalized this. They make the one PowerPoint file that has all the words on it. And then they send it around and okay. But then they get in the room and they just read it to everyone again. And so you’re having the pre-meeting time where you’re doing reading, and then you’re having the in-meeting time where you’re getting read to. And it’s completely backwards. It’s a thing we see all the time with big consulting. And there’s a lot that we admire about, you know, the McKinseys and the Deloittes of the world. But man, those dense slides and then you join a meeting and you’re getting read the dense slides. It’s madness. Like, why are we doing this? It’s such a collective waste of time. And what you just outlined for people is so good, which is to distinguish between the asset that you’re sending around and the asset that you’re using to present. And yes, that literally means you will have two PowerPoint files or two keynote files on your computer. And that’s okay. And yes, sometimes what you have to do is cut and paste in the in-room version. You have to take your detail bullets and move them into presenter notes. And then if you’re sharing the information, you are sharing it in a way that is much more conversational and directed to the people in the room, as opposed to reading off your slide, because people, you will lose people within the first 30 seconds, they will tune out. And it’s like, I don’t need to care about this.

[25:55]

GT Yeah. I mean, as soon as you’re reading slides, you’ve already lost. And it’s fine to have that supporting material in your speaker notes. I’m a fan of speaker notes. That’s also controversial. But like, I like to write them out. I like to refer to them. Reading material straight just doesn’t make any sense. Right? I mean, you have to be in the room, you have to tune in to what questions were answered. Okay, this person has these concerns. This person has these concerns. Let me address them when that relevant piece comes out. That’s the whole point of doing a live meeting, right? Is that you can respond to the questions and concerns in the room and tailor the message to the people in the room. Right? The PDF can get emailed from here to Kalamazoo, who knows. But the meeting should be tailored to the recipient.

CL That’s right. If I’m an executive listening to this and I’m struggling with this with my team. And I’m a chief technology officer, a chief product officer, who is getting the wrong level of detail with my team— my suggestion here is make this explicit. I think you should say to your teams, I love a pre-read up front. That gives me the context that lets me walk into the room, knowing what we’re going to talk about, what we want to go after. But in the room, I don’t want you to overwhelm me with detail and read me slides, because that’s not helpful. I want you to have, I forget how you worded it before. It was so great. Like the anchor points that sort of move us along. The journey, slides are really helpful for that. And that way we can make sure that the conversation we’re having is oriented around something. We have the same topic in mind. We have the same end goal in mind, but you don’t need to read me the slides. And sometimes you need to say that explicitly to your teams so that people understand, oh, okay, I’m off the hook and there’s a better way to do this.

[27:35]

GT Right. Right. And look, sometimes, people will have read the period. When I say people, your execs, your leaders, your stakeholders, your decision makers, they’ve already got a pretty strong opinion. So you might go into that meeting thinking, okay, I’m going to set context. I’m going to frame the problems. And I’m going to guide everybody along to this decision point. And you might have someone say, you know what I thought about this? And I really think that this is the wrong path. Here’s the right path. And then it goes directly into the debate or the conversation. And that’s a good thing. That’s a beautiful and wonderful thing. I think that can be intimidating, especially for folks who are getting used to being in rooms with senior stakeholders. And those are important conversations to have. Those usually mean that there’s like a pretty big misalignment with how your senior leaders are seeing priorities and how the team on the ground is. And like that’s where that alignment happens. It’s super important to have that alignment. But yeah. I mean, that’s a good thing. Like let’s, you know, not duke it out. I was going to say duke it out, but let’s debate about it. Why would we do it this way when this is more important right now?

[28:31]

CL Yes. God if there’s one thing that people take away from this it’s that if you end up having a better conversation, even if it’s not the one that you totally intended, that that’s success.

GT That’s success. Yes. Yeah, yeah. Totally agree. Totally agree.

CL Our last piece of advice is my favorite one.

GT [Laughs.] We love canceling meetings.

CL Cancel the meeting!

GT Shortening meetings, cutting off recurring series, making recurring series less often, right? Like figuring out ways to work together that are a little bit, I mean, let’s face it. Meetings are expensive. They’re expensive in terms of time and attention—

CL The bigger the meeting, the more expensive the meeting.

GT Exactly. And when you’re dealing with senior stakeholders, you’re dealing with calendars that are very difficult to find space on. You’re dealing with people who are dealing with fire. So if they’ve got to go firefight, you know, today, like that meeting’s not going to happen. What are other ways that things can happen? Can we not have this meeting?

CL Can we not have this meeting? Why doesn’t this happen more? Like why don’t meetings get canceled more or not scheduled in the first place? I feel like there’s a strong current towards putting time on the calendar. Like let’s meet, let’s meet.

GT Yeah.

CL What gives?

GT I think, I mean, a meeting is a point in time where you have face to face interaction with someone there and their whole attention. And it’s your chance, like it’s your chance to get the thing that you need, right? Like I think people can ignore emails or Slack messages or be scattered. Or I think a meeting is about, there’s like, I just, I need this audience. I have to get these people in the rooms. I have to feel like I have their attention and they know. And I want to be able to say three months from now, we had that meeting and I showed this to you. But I think that it’s about, I want to show you the work. I want you to be involved. I want you to affirm that we’re on the right path.

GT I also think that particularly like recurring meetings can sort of, once that they’ve outlived their usefulness, they stay on the calendar because of inertia and momentum. And they’ve just sort of become this ceremony. And this is just part of my job. You know, I have to go to this meeting. I think, especially for folks on the ground who are making the work, the meeting is their time to see the team, to socialize and to communicate what it is that they’re doing. And I think that when you have somebody who has fewer meetings, those meetings become super important. Right? But when you have somebody who has a lot of meetings, you start to rank the meetings. Now. I mean, I can look at my day and go, oh, these two, these three, these are important and hot and need to happen. I need to prep. And I want to be completely there. And then these others, like, no, okay. Like, I’ll go, but you know, not going to be earth-shattering if I don’t. Right? So much of that has to do with what altitude you’re working with, how many meetings you typically have, what’s on your mind at the moment, what you think is the company’s biggest priorities, right? Like if you’re in a meeting with an executive, they are going to be distracted. Like, let me tell you the three things that I’m worried about the most today. I feel like we do this exercise like a couple of times a week. Okay. Let me give you my top three. Right? There’s always going to be a couple of priorities that are on your mind. And if that meeting isn’t about one of those priorities, there’s a little bit of a feeling of like, this is fine. This doesn’t need me right now.

[31:39]

CL That was so great. I want to state something out loud that I think was kind of an undercurrent of a lot of what you were saying, which is that sometimes the meetings are compensating for structures that don’t exist elsewhere, whether it be relationship structures or running the project kind of structures or just connection points. And if there are no other points of connection between the project team and the CTO, then those meetings are never going to get canceled. Even if the topic of the meeting is not relevant anymore. And you’re, oh my God. You’re so right about the inertia of recurring meetings where it’s so rare that someone’s like, you know what, we don’t actually need this. Or we can go from biweekly to monthly or monthly to quarterly. And when it does happen, it’s such a gift because it’s like, yes, we shouldn’t meet just because we previously said we needed to meet all the time, you know?

[32:33]

GT That’s right.

CL And, especially when you’re dealing with execs, every minute is precious, you know? Every hour block on the calendar means an hour that’s not thinking about something else. Going back to this point about structures, I would say it’s great for, it’s kind of counterintuitive in a discussion about how to run effective meetings, to say, you need to have structures to not have the meeting, but it’s really important. And I think that if there are other channels for providing status updates or sharing good deliverables or getting feedback on something that doesn’t require synchronous time, those are so, so, so valuable. And what you may realize is that the more of those support structures you have in place, the less synchronous we all have to get on Zoom, we all have to get in a room kind of time you need to take from everybody.

GT It’s so true. It’s such a good point about having those structures in place to not have to have the meeting, particularly recurring ones. There’s another interesting power dynamic thing, political thing that happens. And this happens to me where maybe you have a recurring meeting with a senior stakeholder or an exec, and this has happened to me internally and with clients. And then one day the exec or their assistant says, I don’t think we need to have this meeting anymore. And or can we change the frequency, make it less frequent, right? And there’s two ways to read that: the negative way is, oh, no, they don’t care about me. The work that I’m doing isn’t important enough to take their time: or, you know, they’re icing me out or my work or the thing that we’re talking about isn’t important enough for them to prioritize in their schedule. That’s the negative way to look at it. There’s also a positive way to look at it. And I think that there are one or two things that are happening. The negative thing might be the thing that’s happening. Maybe this person, it’s just not a priority for them anymore. That happens. And that’s real. The other thing that could be happening is that you’re doing a great job. And that senior stakeholder is not worried about you. They know that you’ve got it and you don’t need them to drive it forward. You just don’t need them. They trust you and they see you as a leader. And they are like if an exec isn’t worried about the thing that you’re working on, that’s a wonderful, amazing compliment, but it’s counterintuitive, right? It doesn’t feel like a compliment. It feels like a diss. Like, I don’t matter as much anymore. And this is a weird thing. You can’t go to the assistant and be like, wait, does this mean that I matter less? Or I’m doing really great? You kind of have to read the room. 

CL Read the tea leaves. 

GT But yeah. And I mean, something that I try to do when I’m suggesting canceling meetings or shortening meetings or making them a little less is say like, you’ve got this. We’re good. We’re out of the stage where you need advice and counsel and sort of North Star alignment. You’ve got this, we’re going, I feel great about this. So keep going and, you know, see you around.

[35:18]

CL Totally agree.

GT Meeting cancellations are a wonderful thing, but they can also strike fear in one’s heart. Like, oh, does this mean this isn’t going well? It shouldn’t. I’ve had execs, our clients, cancel meetings and lunches. And I still have that feeling of like, oh no, does this mean that they don’t want to spend time together? [Laughs.] Or are they just busy that day? Or they’re just not worried about it. And it’s usually the latter.

CL They’re confident in what we’re doing.

GT They’re confident. Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. When someone pulls you in a meeting, a senior person says, we need to talk today. That’s when you should get worried. [Laughs.] You got a minute?

CL Oh my God.

GT Ooh. The got a minute.

CL We need another episode. Eight ways not to prompt a meeting. [Both laugh.] Got a minute is one of them.

[36:08]

GT One of my favorite ever client service things that happened with us. We were on a call with a prospect at one point. And we were talking, it was a really good conversation. It was one of our first calls. And he was super excited. And his face changed mid-meeting. This is on a video call. And we had heard the Slack sound. And his whole posture changed, his face changed. And then we saw him sort of typing furiously. And then he just looked at us and said, total deer in headlights, like mid-sentence. And was like, my boss needs me right now. Like, I have to go and hung up. [Both laugh.] Clearly something had just blown up and his boss was like, you need to be in this meeting right now. And we were just like, oh, we all felt it. There was the empathy. We were like, oh, I hope it’s okay. Okay, we’ll catch up with him some other time. I hope all is well. [Laughs.]

CL Exactly. Really feel for that person.

GT It was wild to watch that happen in real time.

CL Okay. Let’s let’s recap what—this was a lot. Let’s recap what we talked about.

GT Yeah.

CL Eight ways to run a great exec meeting. Number one, restate context. Number two, frame the problems. Number three, provide a pre-read pre-read. Number four, pull in underrepresented voices. 

GT Yes. 

CL You want to do the last four?

GT Yes. Number five, clear takeaways. I’m telling you, this is the LoSacco superpower. I’m trying by osmosis—I’m trying to get it. Record it so that others can catch up or watch it at 1.5 speed, which is also a life hack. Number seven, prepare slides with not too much text. And then eight, cancel it. If you don’t need the meeting, it’s all good. Find other ways to interact with your coworkers about other things and put together those structures that don’t require a meeting.

CL That’s right. This was great. Gina. Meetings.

GT Yeah this was very cathartic. Meetings. It’s the work.

CL We’re going to be talking about meetings until the end of time. All of us as humanity.

GT It’s true. I got to say though, this was a good meeting. Thank you. 

CL This was a great meeting. Let’s do it again some time.

GT Let’s do it again some time. [Both laugh.]

CL Great. If you’re listening and you would like to meet with us, we will meet with you. All you have to do is reach out to hello@postlight.com. Tell us a little bit about what you’re working on and a member of our digital strategy team will reach back out. Sometimes it’s Gina or me directly. And we’d love to say hello and talk to you about what’s up in your world.

[Outro music fades in, ramps up.]

GT Absolutely. We see every single message that comes into hello@ postlight.com. And if you need help with digital strategy, product design engineering, we are here for you. We’d love to, we just love to hear what’s going on in the world. So even if you’re not ready to hire someone or hire us or work with us, we still want to hear about your project. So reach out. Hello@postlight.com. Thanks everybody. 

CL Thanks all. 

GT Have a great day of meetings. 

CL Bye.