4 Tips for Better Project Meetings
There’s nothing like the sound of the crack of the bat at a major league baseball game. Even though you may be sitting in the stands and hundreds of feet away from the batter, you can still hear the crisp, sharp sound as the bat makes contact with the ball. The ball then begins its ascent as the crowd gets to their feet. It’s going, going, GONE! The crowd goes wild as the ball makes it over the fence! The batter takes his obligatory trot around the bases as he high-fives his teammates as he crosses home plate.
Wouldn’t it be awesome if you were able to knock your project management meetings out of the park the same way? What if every time you called a meeting it ended up with a big cheer and high-fives as you filed out of the conference room? While we can’t guarantee big cheers and high-fives, what we can guarantee is that if you incorporate the four tips outlined in this article you will at least have meetings that are that much more productive.
Different Types of Project Management Meetings
Let’s first define the various types of meetings that you may be involved in as a project manager.
- Internal Kickoff Meeting – The internal kickoff meeting is when you are getting everyone on the project team on the same page at the same time. This means that there has been a tremendous amount of work done up to this point, including all the pre-sales meetings, contract negotiations, initial scoping of the project, managing the internal project team resources and relationship building (if it’s an external client). This is your chance to ensure everyone knows what the objective of the project is, who’s responsible for which deliverable and answer any questions that may come up.
- Client Kickoff Meeting – This is similar to the internal kickoff meeting for the project but is done with the client and possibly their team. Depending upon the circumstances, the client will either come to your facility with a small team of their people or you will go to their facility with a small team of your people. This is a chance to solidify the working relationships, defining who will be working with whom, and answer any technical or business process questions that may arise at this point in time.
- Status Meetings – The meeting that we are most familiar with as project managers is the regularly scheduled status meeting. This is where the current status of the project is discussed with either the external or internal team separately, or, collaboratively, depending upon the relationship with the client’s team. Getting your meetings to this collaborative stage is the best case scenario as this means trust and respect has been built up between both organizations.
- Sales Support – Depending upon your level of technical knowledge about the product you sell, you may be called into meetings in a Sales Support function. While sometimes a bit outside of our comfort level as project managers, there’s nothing wrong with going on a sales call every now and then to help out. The experience and insight you bring from being on the front lines speaks volumes to a potential client and this can build credibility for you and your organization. Typically, if a project manager is brought along on a sales call to help present, it eans that there is a pretty good chance of closing the deal and they are just looking for some technical or business clarification on how things will work in the real world. You may wonder, then, what can be done to knock any of these project management meetings out of the park so you can hear the crowd cheer.
4 Ways to Knock Your Project Management Meetings out of the Park
Keep these points in mind the next time you are tasked with putting a meeting together, and you want to make sure that it is the best meeting it can be.
1. Put the Agenda Together Like a Conversation – So many people will go into a meeting with an agenda that is a hodge-podge of willy-nilly topics that need to be covered in a limited period of time. This results in meetings that jump here and there and come across as terribly disjointed and awkward. The participants will leave feeling confused, most likely exhausted, and possibly even a little agitated because you didn’t get to what needed to be covered.
Rather, look at a meeting as a conversation with one person. If that person was the only person in the meeting room, how would you talk to him or her? How would you start the conversation? What would you talk about next? What would the pace of the conversation be? Would you give the other person time to talk? Answering these questions and then logically putting an agenda together that mirrors this conversation, will give you a strong foundation.
2. Make the Presentation Complementary – How many presentations have you been through that have bullet after bullet on the slide that you feel like you’ve been held hostage by the presenter? To make it even worse, the presenter then takes it upon him or herself to read bullet after bullet in an extremely monotone voice that just about puts everyone to sleep.
Don’t do that! Your slides should complement and augment what you are SAYING. Use graphics, use images, use other collateral you have at your disposal to make the slides behind you come alive and fill in the pauses between your words. If you couple the passion with which you are speaking about a particular topic along with the imagery that elicits an emotional response, then you are on the way to hitting out of the park.
3. Be Alive as a Presenter – This is an extension of the point above in which imagery will bring your presentation to life. This will only work if you YOURSELF are alive, believe in the importance of what you are presenting and make sure this comes across to your audience. Otherwise, you will come across as the staid instructor in…get ready for this…Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Sure, it’s an old reference but it encapsulates the point.
You don’t want to be like Ben Stein who stands in front of the class and just phones it in! No, you want to make sure everyone knows that you know what you are talking about and absolutely believe in the topic at hand. This is what makes for memorable meetings.
4. Be Flexible and Accommodating - One more thing you can do to ensure you knock your meeting out of the park is to be flexible and accommodating. I don’t believe I have ever been to one meeting in my entire career that stayed 100% to the agenda and didn’t stray a little bit here and there.
Remember, your agenda is based upon a conversation. A conversation is going to slowly unwind and expose itself before you. Yes, you can make this conversation go down a certain path, but there are things that will come up out of the blue that need to be discussed.
Plan for this reality. Put some extra time in the agenda that you know can be used for that purpose. Don’t get unraveled and stressed out when somebody wants to talk about something else for a few minutes. Roll with it. The group will appreciate it and you will have a meeting that is that much more productive.
Now, we are not talking about someone that is maliciously hijacking a meeting to fulfill their own agenda (that will be the topic of another post), but rather the occasional “I just thought of something else” that comes up from time to time.
There’s a lot to putting an effective meeting together. But if you take the time focus on the points above, you’ll find that people will cheer and high-five your project management meetings, even if it is quietly in their own minds!
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