Two Simple Words That Will Improve Every Meeting

Death_to_stock_communicate_hands_1Author Keith Ferrin

As we sat down to plan an upcoming team meeting, the conversation went something like this…

Me: “What is the purpose of your team meeting.”

George (my client): “The purpose is to update my team on the status of ABC Project.”

Me: “No it isn’t.”

George (with a puzzled look): “Er…uh…yes it is.”

Me. “No it isn’t. Updating your team is never your purpose.”

George: “Ok. So what’s my purpose?”

Me: “I don’t know yet. But I know two words that will help us discover your purpose.”

That’s when I shared with him the two words that will improve every meeting you ever plan.

…so that…

Sounds simple. That’s because it is simple.

Over the last decade, I have asked countless people the purpose of a meeting (or speech, slide deck, or keynote presentation). My best guess is somewhere around 85-90% of the time, their answer is either to “update,” “educate,” or “inform.”

Update, educate, or inform may express what you are going to do in the meeting. But they are never your purpose.

Anytime you find yourself using one of those words, your Purpose Statement is only half done. Instead of a period, put a comma and add “so that…” Now replace the “…” with the rest of your sentence.

Whatever comes after “so that” is your purpose.

“…so that we can identify the issues we’re having with this project.”

“…so that I can equip my team to implement this new system.”

“…so that I can calm the uneasiness surrounding our company’s change in direction.”

Using “so that” will improve your meetings in three ways.

First: It will force you to move from topic to purpose.

If you stick with update, educate, and inform as the purpose for your meeting, your meeting will be all about sharing information. It will be about a topic, not a purpose.

It will remain a “what” meeting, instead of a “how” or “why” meeting. “What” meetings don’t force the people in attendance to think, feel, or do anything. They sit. They listen. The might even take notes. But they almost always walk away uninspired, confused, frustrated…or simply wishing the information was sent in an email so they didn’t waste a whole hour!

“So that…” forces you to move beyond the information to the action you want people to take.

Second: It will streamline your preparation (which saves you time).

How much time have you spent building a slide and figuring out “where it fits” in the deck only to skip it once you’re delivering the presentation? I see it all the time.

Why?

Because when you’re focused on the topic (educating, updating, and informing), the possibilities for what you could include are endless. When you move from topic to purpose, you will very quickly identify what is going to help you accomplish your purpose – and what will actually cloud your message and get in the way.

When you have a clear purpose, you won’t waste time “fitting in” talking points, slides, and agenda items that don’t belong in the meeting at all!

Third: It will give you a tool for evaluation and follow-up.

Let’s take the three examples I used a few paragraphs earlier.

“…so that we can identify the issues we’re having with this project.”

Have you identified the issues? Have you assigned next steps to specific team members? Have you established a timeline?

“…so that I can equip my team to implement this new system.”

Is your team using the new system? Are there members who aren’t? Do people have questions or need further training?

“…so that I can calm the uneasiness surrounding our company’s change in direction.”

Do people seem more at ease with the changes? Are they talking more positively about the leaders who made the changes? Are their actions in line with the new direction?

Now, let’s put this into practice.

What is the purpose of your next meeting? If the word update, educate, or inform just popped into your head, I’ve got two simple words for you…


Keith Ferrin is an author, speaker, storyteller, and blogger. He speaks for audiences of all types and sizes at conferences, companies, churches, universities, and non-profits. His corporate site is www.true-success.com and his ministry blog is www.keithferrin.com. You can also connect with him on Twitter (@KeithFerrin) or LinkedIn.

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