A speed meeting.

SanFranCoffeeI’m sitting in a café in San Francisco. I visited this café just over twelve months ago when I was here and have been just “hanging to come back”. Great coffee, awesome vibe, happy staff, and a wonderful environment for writing. This café is pretty popular that I queued in the freshness of this spring morning for about 20 minutes before I could place an order. As the local bloggers say here “if there is a queue, then it is worth waiting for” (someone should have told that to the dude in the queue at the SFMOMA yesterday who just whinged continuously as he waited to see the latest installation! But I digress).

I have set the goal to carry out one last proof read of a book chapter that I have been working on. The edits came back just before I left and are due while I’m here. A quick turn around. But I’m slightly distracted (clearly very as I’m inspired to write this post on the spot). There is a meeting happening next to me. Literally right next to me. I’m sitting at the high stools at a bench table running along the side wall of the café. I have about 50 cm between the windows and me. It’s tight. So tight that if I flap my arms like wings (like I have a habit of doing when I speak) I’ll knock out the two people sitting either side of me. Thank goodness I’m not talking to anyone is all I can think. So next to me is an American activist and journalist/photographer and she is meeting an English lady from Greenpeace. I’m distracted by the way the meeting is being carried out, as I’m impressed in the etiquette, mutual respect and pure speed that topics are being covered. Both clearly have limited time but a set agenda to achieve.

This meeting attracts my attention, not because it is happening right on top of me but as I’m keen to learn what it is that makes this a successful meeting. I’ve noticed a pattern of late that I’ve been involved in a few meetings that are not so productive. There is a pattern with some who have called meetings that shows disorganization – some just do not know what it is they want to achieve. I’m not really up for having a meeting just for meetings sake. Back to what’s happening next to me. So clearly there is a set agenda, formally or informally established previously to this face to face. The English lady (awesome accent to hear in amongst the landscape at the moment) keeps bringing the discussion back to her agenda. She acknowledges what has been said and finds a link to naturally and politely refocus the discussions. I’m also impressed she is taking notes as the American journalist is dropping names of people like no tomorrow with why she should connect with them. She clearly knows this area of activism well! I also love how each of the ladies checks in and asks  “would you like me to send you the link to this research or this persons work?” And they record this promise to keep the integrity of this offer. Between trying to refocus on my own work and not eavesdropping, the quick meeting over coffee (I think this productive meeting lasts just under 15 minutes) ends with confirmation about how should I best contact you in future, including method and time. I love the “give me as much notice as possible” vibe that is happening between the two of them.  Both ladies chat for some time and it is not dominated by just one voice. The ideas are flowing and there are clear links being made. I can sense that this is the first time they have met but I can also hear that both know each other’s work. They are both well prepared. The English lady, who clearly knows what she wants to achieve with this conversation, ends with one last comment and frames it with “I know your time is valuable, but what is it I can offer you so we can work together on…” Impressive! An offer to acknowledge the value of each other’s work, time, and contribution to the united topic (or in this case the cause).

My top five observations:

  1. Clear agenda prepared prior to the meeting. This also means if you have called the meeting turn up on time, even slightly early so you are organized in the space.
  2. Prepared strategies for refocusing the discussion that are not abrupt nor one sided.
  3. Take notes and work out if you are better to type on a laptop or handwrite in your notebook (not scrapes of paper that look disorganized from the beginning).
  4. Plan, prepare and respect each other’s time.
  5. Don’t just take, have something to offer as well.

 What have you observed in a great meeting? Do you have any strategies you apply? What doesn’t work for you?

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2 Comments Add yours

  1. Jonathan O'Donnell says:

    Excellent eavesdropping! 🙂

    It sounds like one of the reasons that this meeting worked was because both people were too busy to stay for long. So maybe another guideline would be to make all your meetings 15 minutes long. If it can’t be done in 15 minutes, then it is probably another topic.

    Also, exchange notes afterwards (generally as a quick e-mail). That way the notes become the minutes of the meeting, and everyone can see if they are on the same page. And it means that everybody has everybody else’s e-mail address.

    1. Why thank you Jonathan 🙂 I secretly wish I could have been a part of the discussion…so interesting, especially when they started talking about photo documentary.

      I agree on your additional tips. We should now have…

      6. Keep meetings short and sharp!
      7. Exchange a quick electronic summary post meeting (almost immediately not 3 weeks later) to support accountability.

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