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December 2, 2015
The Art of Meetings: Strategies for Success in the Conference Room
Fresh bagels, hot coffee, and the obligatory apple danish — that’s how they rope you in. Of course, if you're planning the meeting, I'd suggest going heavier on the fruit medley. This shows you are more in tune with today's dietary concerns.

This article has an agenda to give both meeting organizers and attendees some useful tips, so let's start with the biggest and most overlooked question.

It’s easy to default to the "let's have a meeting" approach, but before you go through the hassle to book a conference room only to find out it would have been easier to align the outer planets than deal with stats on everyone’s availability, answer the question above.

My point is, a meeting isn’t always the best use of everyone's time. Often, a few targeted phone calls to key stakeholders can get the job done.

So, you’ve decided it’s required. Well, you’ll want to maintain the attention of everyone in the room. Draw out the introverts while keeping the extroverts in check. Moderate discussion while keeping your own composure. Oh, and where are those people joining via video conference? Did you send the invite in the right time zone? No wonder you are sweating bullets.

Let's talk strategy.

If you’re running the meeting or are a primary presenter, we’ll consider you the "FRONT LINE." No one wants to go into battle alone, so let’s look at the other players.

Do you know who you can defer to when you need a breather? Who can step up if you stumble? Who has the technical chops to discuss intricate details? This can be one person or a handful of advisors. However many you choose, we'll call them "The Cavalry."

If you are wise, you'll let your cavalry know the goal of the meeting in advance. If you do, they can listen for points you may have missed and lead the conversation towards getting answers on those points.

They can anticipate problems and swoop in from the flank when needed. In choosing your cavalry, seek out those with these special skills: advanced listening, a talent for transitional statements, and the ability to decode subtext.

You may have noticed that many executives will put their cavalry behind them or on the same side of the table. Although this can be an effective "show of force," it can also be intimidating. This choice comes down to knowing what type of meeting you want.

Is this meeting less of a battle and more of a Meet & Greet? Is the goal information collection or brainstorming? Chat with your team ahead of time. If the mood fits, have them choose seats sprinkled throughout the room instead of a cluster. This allows conversation to bounce around more organically while reducing the “us against them” feeling.

Sooner or later, you may find yourself sitting in an unproductive meeting. Next time things linger, don't pull your hair out. You can learn a great deal from these meetings even if you are not the front line or the cavalry.

Practice decoding subtext and examining body language. Take mental notes on what you'll never do when you run a meeting. Feeling frisky? Try interjecting with a transitional statement. Practice these skills and people may soon recruit you for their cavalrh.

Despite the best of intentions, when meetings linger, inevitably some blowhard manages to bulldoze their way into rambling about fantasy football, their Netflix playlist, or, heaven help you, the Kardashians.

What now?

1. If it's got entertainment value, you can hear them out to see if they actually have a point. This approach gets tiresome fast.

2. Try directing the conversation to the meeting organizer or, in a pinch, anyone that seems like they have the presence required to get things back on track.

3. Can’t trust anyone else to do the job? You can always direct the conversation back to the agenda yourself. You did get a copy of the agenda, right?

What's that?

You think this article is drifting off the agenda…?

Oh, so you WERE paying attention. Still want to have that meeting? I'll bring the gluten-free danishes if you bring some mango slices that, per usual, no one will eat.

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Peter Bossio is an Associate Creative Director/Art Director. He graduated from Syracuse University's Advertising Design program and attended intensive film/video production at Tisch School of the Arts. Peter has been a guest speaker at NYU School of Professional Studies and is president of his local Toastmasters Club. Want to connect with him? You'll likely find him on twitter @PeterBossio in a salsa club or at www.peterbossio.com.
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