The Meeting Minute

Blog

brett, Author at Less Meeting - Page 2 of 3

Dissecting The Meeting Frog

Posted by | Meeting Tips | No Comments
When you were in high school, if you took any sort of advanced biology courses, one of the projects you had was to dissect a frog. 

I’m sure you remember it well… Your teacher gave you a live frog, you had to kill it by sticking a needle in the base of its neck.  Then there was a set of instructions you had to follow to cut open the frog and find its various skeletal structures and internal organs.  

If you were like me, the process was not pleasant (I had gutted enough fish to think of cutting animals as a chore).  If you were like my lab partner, you were totally into it… he is also a doctor now.

Regret:

Looking back, one of the things I regret that never did in that class was to ask Why?

Why are we cutting this animal apart? 
Why do we need to do this when we have videos and text books?  
Why should I have to do this, If I don’t want to be a doctor when I grow up?
At a lot of companies, meetings are like dissecting that frog…  
No one around you ever stops to understand Why Are We Meeting?
To get better at Dissecting the Meeting Frog you should think about the reasons why you are meeting.

The BAD Reasons Why:
1. Social Reasons (aka: Meet and Greet, Getting to Know the Team, Catching Up)
Humans are social creatures who in general like to congregate in groups of common interests.  Thousands of years of instincts tells us that we are safer in a groups.  It feels good to be in a group that accepts you and understands you.  
 
Have you ever gotten a sense of validation by being in a group of your peers and people you respect? 
2. Formality (We are meeting because we always have this meeting)
There are a lot of meetings that are based on some formality or rule that says we have to meet. 
Board meetings and safety regulation of are a good example of meeting for formality reasons. 
Status meetings are typically the most abused sort of “Formality” meeting… Have you ever attended a status meeting that should have been cancelled, but you had it because “we always have this meeting”.
The GOOD Reasons Why (mostly):
3. Certain Types of Communication is Easier in Groups.
Imagine if you were a School Principal and you wanted to give parents updates on the school renovation and address their concerns.   You could:
A. meet with parents individually
B. Send a group email, answer questions as they came up.
C. Discuss the changes at the PTA Meeting and have a 15 minutes question session.
The problem with A and B is that they don’t scale well.  Single parent meetings could take hundreds of your hours.  And I am sure you have seen large group emails get out of hand with “respond all”  firestorm replies.
Meetings are a good venue when you need to work with a larger group to: Spread Information,  Obtain Information, and Answer Common Questions
4. Meeting to Learn / Give Help / Solve problems:
Small meeting groups (3-8 people) are great for Learning, Teaching, and Problem Solving.   The key for these types of meetings is to have a clear goal and approach for structuring the meetings, otherwise they can turn into a social gathering. 
5. Accountability Is Easier In Groups

If you have ever joined a group exercise class with your friends, you may have discovered that you were less likely to give up in the middle of the class, and you were less likely to skip a class because you wanted to sleep in that morning.  Meetings can be like that…
Sometimes we meet because we know that it is easier to hold people accountable in a group.  Most people don’t want to let their peers down in front of them… so they are more likely to get action items knocked out before the meeting.
In a workplace environment, reasons #1 and #2 from above are typically not ideal reasons to hold a business meeting.  For reasons #3, #4 and #5, be sure that you differentiate the purpose of the meeting to help you best structure your meeting objectives.  
YOUR HOMEWORK: As you look at you meeting invites this week, ask the question “Why are we having this meeting” to determine if the meeting is really necessary.

*Please Note (for Reason #1):  I am not against having social meetings where you get together with someone and shoot the shift about random topics…  But I don’t think anyone who is a productive person should be scheduling these meetings in the middle of a workday.  Please schedule these events at 5:30, and be sure that you bring beer.

Attendee Diet: Trim 12 People From Your Meeting Waistline In 4 Weeks

Posted by | Meeting Tips | No Comments
Have you ever found yourself sitting through a conference call with 20+ people when you were actually doing working instead of paying attention to the meeting?
POP QUIZ – You get called on… but you were not paying attention.  What do you do: (A) Tell the moderator that you missed the question, ask them to repeat it.

(B)  Give a random status update on one of your 3 projects (hoping no one else is actually paying attention).

(C)  Sit quietly and hope that they assume you have dropped off the call or are stuck on mute.
(D)  Ask the group “Why do we have 27 of our best employees sitting through a two hour meeting when the only update that matters to each person is their 3 minutes of status?
 
Are you guilty of answering with (A), (B), or(C)?
You would have liked to answer with option (D), but I am guessing that like most other people you were too scared to call out the status quo without a great reason why it should be questioned.
Out of all of the people we have talked with at the 500+ companies that have signed up for LessMeeting, I think every one of them has said that they sit in too many meetings with too many people.
The worst part is… they all acknowledged that those meetings are the suck*.
Seriously,  when was the last time you heard anyone say: “This meeting was OK, but if we added 15 or so more people it would have been a lot more productive”… NEVER
Key Questions For You To Answer
How do you build the ammunition and credibility to be able to step up with Answer (D)?
 
Alternatively, how do you change the culture of the people you work with to avoid these massive 25 person wastes of time?
If you would like the answers to these questions, keep scrolling down and read the rest of this post.  Otherwise, please return to ignoring the conference call you should be listening to… Take Action

If you want to tackle your issue of too-many uber-large meetings,  I recommend you work on answering these 4 questions:
 
Question 1:  Are you having the right types of meetings?
Very few meetings should have more than a dozen people in them.  The few exceptions that are acceptable are:
  •  All hands meetings  – Quarterly or annual all hands meetings are a good platform for organization leaders to talk about the organizations direction/strategy and to give an open forum for discussion (although I recommend gathering questions prior to the Q&A session).
  •  Training sessions – Training Classes can acceptably host 15-20 people, but a few decades of research indicates that class sizes of less than 15 are the most effective
    For the other types of meetings:
  • Status / Information Meetings – These are the most excessively attended type of meeting.  It is never valuable to have 20+ people in a room (or on a call) giving 3-5 minutes of status to a manager, director, or executive.  HAVE SMALLER MEETINGS and get people to EMAIL BETTER STATUS REPORTS.
  • Review / Evaluation Meetings – These should always be done one on one… more than two people is TOO MANY.  If you are responsible for managing someone, you should never discuss their performance feedback in front of the whole team.
  • Business Development Meetings – If you are trying to sell something to someone, don’t show up at your client with a team of more than 3 people. Showing up with 10 of your co-workers is confusing to your client.
  • Problem Solving / Decision Making – Try to keep decision making meetings to less than 8 people.  I am a firm believer that humans don’t make better decisions when in a larger group (also known as Herd Behavior or Groupthink).  For examples of how people make bad decisions in large groups, take a look at these sites:    http://www.house.gov/ or http://www.senate.gov/
 
Question 2:  Are people scared of being left out of meetings where decisions that impact them might be made?
I imagine that you at one point in time have been burned by someone making a bad decision on your behalf.  Following that incident, I bet you never missed a meeting with those people again.
 
How do you fix this? 
Don’t make decisions without a key stakeholder present.  
 
Parking-lot that item as a follow-up for the meeting.  If you need to make the decision at that exact point in time, call their cell and get their input on the spot.  If someone makes decisions without another key stakeholder present it will create a phobia of missing meetings.
Question 3:  Do you have a “Meeting Club” culture?
Are you part of the club?  If you are not in the meeting you are obviously not important…this sounds a lot like high school,  but I have seen a lot of companies that have the club mentality.  In these clubs you need face time with people to get recognition.  Meetings have become a social avenue of success in many companies.
 
How to fix these “Clubs”:
 
If you are CEO – Have a chat with a few of your club leads, require that they provide everyone with agendas and formal meeting minutes from all of the meetings they organize.
 
If you are in the Club – Stop having club meetings during the work day.  Move the club to extra-curricular activities such as a morning running club, lunch time basketball club, or after work happy-hour club.
 
Don’t invite people to meetings if they are not a stakeholder or key-contributor to the meeting.  Send them a follow-up note with the meeting minutes and any relevant points they should be thinking about.
Question 4:  Are people in your organization empowered to Decline meetings?
This is a strange question, but are people in your organization empowered to JUST SAY NO?
 
No one should feel obligated to go to a meeting unless it directly impacts them. 
When you organize meeting invites you can do a few things such as these to help enable people to say no:
 
 Make certain meeting attendees optional and send them a follow-up up email such as this: 
Tom, Dick, and Harry: 
I know you guys are really busy with project-XYZ.  I included you on this meeting invite as optional so that you would receive the meeting notes that come out of the meeting.
I don’t expect you to attend unless you have something critical to discuss in the meeting.  I will send a follow-up email after the meeting.
Thanks,
Sally
 
You should also make sure that people know what their role in the meeting it.  If they are a stakeholder, you need to make sure they are aware of this so that they do show up at the meeting.  If they are going to be a non-active participate and just need to be kept in the loop, please let them know so they can decide whether they want to decline the meeting
 
Summary answer to question 4:  Empower people To Just Say NO.
 
 
 
You now have 4 questions to help you with your meeting size problems… Go forth and trim a few people off of your meetings. 
 
 

_____________________________________________________

*Note:  “Meetings Are the Suck” was a phrase coined by Murray Gordon, one of our mentors from Microsoft during their 2008 BizSpark competition.  We can’t take credit for this awesome quote, but we like to say it a lot.


**The Second image Is from The Dilbert book “Words You Don’t Want to Hear During Your Annual Performance Review”   Other images (without modification) were originally from  Wikipedia.org.  If your grandma still buys encyclopedias, you should print out the Wikipedia and send it to her for Christmas.

How to Hold the Right Meeting

Posted by | Meeting Tips | No Comments
Meeting problems occur across all sorts of meeting types.   However, some problems are more prevalent in certain types of meetings.  In addition, we have found that not having a clear understanding of the type of meeting you are holding in the first place will magnify the problems you are likely to experience.
In the next blog series we’ll look at the most common meeting types, how they differ, and how to effectively run each one.  First up: Status Meetings and Decision Making Meetings.
Type 1 – Status/Informational Meetings:
Example meeting types – Common types of meetings that fall into this category include: Daily status meeting, Standup meeting, Weekly status meeting, Quarterly All Hands Meeting, Safety Review Meeting, Deliverable Review Meeting, KPI Review meeting
When to have them:
  • These are the most common types of meetings.  You should have them on a period that corresponds to how often new information is available and is useful to the attendees.  Do not have status or informational meetings if there is nothing to talk about.
Inputs & Outputs:
  • Everyone should come to these meetings prepared to quickly communicate their completed activities, current/next steps, and any blocking issues/concerns.
  • Everyone should walk out of the meeting with an understanding of:
  1. What teams/individuals are doing
  2. Overall how everything is going
  3. What the main issues / problems are
Key Roles:
  • Leader / Organizer – Keep the meeting on pace.
  • Note taker – I advocate everyone keeping notes for themselves, but having a person assigned every meeting  to take notes definitely helps hold everyone accountable.
  • Participants – Everyone should provide their status.
Common Pitfalls:
  • Scheduling status meetings too frequently. If the update from most of your team member is “I am working on same thing as yesterday, no changes” then you should probably have these meetings less frequently.
  • Allowing people to use status meetings as a discussion forum.   If someone tries to Hijack your meeting and use it as a brainstorming forum, you should ask them to setup a separate discussion.
Key Suggestions:
  • Timing – For daily status meetings, try to keep these meetings under 2 minutes for every person who is giving an update. For example a team of 5 should be able to hold a status meeting in 10 minutes.  Weekly, Monthly, Quarterly Meetings can be longer, but if you have a meeting longer than 50 minutes, you should schedule breaks.
  • Pace – These meetings should be a fast as possible.  Keep track of the time during the status updates.  Additionally, doing status meetings standing up helps improve the pace because no one wants to stand for 30+ minutes.
  • Time of Day – I recommend status meetings first thing in the morning.  It will help everyone focus on what they need to be doing during that day, and it will help avoid breaking up the day with a meeting.
Type 2 – Problem Solving/Decision Making Meetings:
Example meeting types – Common types of meetings that fall into this category include: Issue review, Triage Meeting, Post Mortem Meeting, Emergency issue meeting, and Prioritization Meeting
When to have them:
  • If there is a large issue that needs to be resolved or a set of decisions that needs to be made that require input from multiple people.
Inputs & Outputs:
  • Prior to the meeting, all participants should be made aware of the problems or decisions that need to be made and solved.  In addition all supporting materials should be provided prior to the meeting.
  • At the end of the meeting the problems should all have next steps.  If decisions were needed, then they should be documented.
  • Notes from the meeting should be sent to all stakeholders (not just participants) to ensure that everyone is aware of next steps and decisions.
Key Roles:
  • Leader / Organizer – Should be responsible for setting the agenda for the problems and decisions that needs to be focused on. If a discussion point is out of the scope of the meeting, it should be tabled or put into a parking lot for a future discussion.
  • Participants – All participants should focus on understanding:
  1. The problem or decision
  2. The potential outcomes
  3. The decision on the next steps.
Common Pitfalls:
  • Inviting too many people. There is a humus quote that states “We are all dumber as a group than we are individually”.  Having too many chefs into the kitchen does not always make the product better.  Be sure to just invite only the right people required for closure.
  • Not having a key participant present.  If a person required to solve the problem or make the decision is not available, then try to reschedule the meeting.  Holding the meeting without them will just waste the time of the other participants.
  • Meeting not focused on the highest priority items.   How many meetings have participated in where the low priority items were given more discussion time than the high priority items?  Prioritize the agenda with the highest priority items being discussed first.
Key Suggestions:
  • Rooms with Whiteboards – Try to have these meetings face to face where everyone can share a common whiteboard.  If you can’t have everyone in the same room, use screen sharing with annotation.
  • Supporting Materials – Understand that everyone will not be able to read all supporting materials for the meeting.  When you send out the invite, include the summary data points and materials that are critical to the discussion. Due to blackberry, iPhone, and outlook meeting/calendar behavior issues, I recommend putting these materials into a separate email from the meeting invite.
View the next post in this series on Planning & Operational meetings here – http://blog.lessmeeting.com/2011/09/how-to-hold-right-meeting-part-2.html.

Lessons Learned For Startup User Signups

Posted by | Business Tips | 6 Comments

Startup Sales 101 – Conversions

For any web service based startup, sales are driven by 2 key factors:

  1. People visiting your site – You’ve got to get people to your site. Whether it’s viral campaigns, one-on-one sales, online ads, or traditional marketing, people need to see your product or service. For online advertising this is typically the ‘Click Through Rate’.
  2. People signing up for your service – Once people take a look at your site, you need to make a compelling case for them to sign up. This is your ‘Conversion Ratio’.

While there’s always room to improve the number of eyes reaching your pages (e.g. throw more money into advertising), you should be most interested in improving your conversion ratio.

Lessons Learned – “Why isn’t everyone signing up?”

In addition to the new features we rolled out recently (more here), we invested a considerable amount of time into updating our pricing and signup model. The LessMeeting homepage, features, registration, and pricing pages all got makeovers. Why? Simple – we needed to make the decision to try LessMeeting simpler.

Using tools like Google analytics we analyzed why people were coming to the site but not signing up. (Of course they could simply be disinterested in the product, but our research has told us that typically isn’t the problem.) The 2 culprits we discovered were:

  1. Features and benefits need to be very clear – We overwhelmed users with too much information. We had to make key benefits as clear as possible so visitors could understand why this tool would help them.
  2. The signup process & pricing model must be dead simple – We had too many pricing tiers and our trial/freemium model was too complex.
The new Features page

The Make-Over

We learned that customers were getting too confused about our pricing & registration and as a result, bailing on us before even giving LessMeeting a try. In retrospect I don’t blame them…and I’m especially impressed by those who made it through! So let’s look at a few mistakes that we made and how we approached a new solution.

Mistake #1 – A Complex Freemium Model

The Intent – Meetings are a team activity and we wanted to encourage teams to try LessMeeting together. In our initial freemium model, the first 3 customers at a company (defined by email address domain) could sign up for free and any additional users from that domain would have to pay for an account.

What really happened – Too complex! How do you define a “company”? What if all 3 licenses have been taken up but there is someone else at the company who really wants to try your product? What if the 3 licenses are taken up by a team in a completely different area of the company than someone new who wants to try the product? These questions go on…and get worse.

How we’re making it better – Don’t over-think your freemium model. Remember, the point is to get people using your product in a manner that makes them want to pay for more advanced features. Your freemium approach shouldn’t deter new users from signing up.

We have changed our approach so signing up is free. Always. For everyone. No credit card required. Try LessMeeting for free for 30 days and if you like it after that, then it’s a simple $12 flat fee per user per month.

Summary – Freemiums should be simple. Their goal is to get your product in as many hands as possible; anything else and you’re overdoing it.

Mistake #2 – Too Many Pricing Tiers

The Intent – We originally had three pricing/feature tiers. We thought this would allow us to uniquely cater to power users, casual users, small companies, big companies, team leads, and team members alike.

What really happened – Our customers didn’t need tiers. Every one of our paying customers had signed up for the same middle tier. We got a lot of questions regarding the features related to the different tiers (e.g. “can I pay for the teams pages, but just for 5 of our users?”). In general, we found that having more pricing/feature tiers was just confusing to our users and added barriers to the buying decision.

How we’re making it better – Tiers makes sense for a lot of startups. But not us. If you’re a startup (or any software company) consider if your customers really need the additional pricing levels. We ended up trying to build useless features just to justify different tiers that no one even used. Now we’ve changed to a single tier with a simple $12 flat fee per month.

Summary– If your customers don’t understand your pricing model, don’t try to explain it to them. Change your pricing model.

Mistake #3 – Overzealous Signup Process

The Intent – We wanted to give you all the information we could about LessMeeting so that there was no possible way you wouldn’t want to sign up.

What really happened– No one read the text filled feature pages. Users got lost getting from the homepage to the registration page. There was no call to action. In the end, users didn’t sign up as often as we thought they would.

How we’re making it better – It’s critical that you streamline your signup process. It’s no different than the “shopping cart” process online retailers use. Identify what your target “funnel” is and build your registration process around it, including a clear call to action at each step.

For LessMeeting, we want you to: 1) Start on the homepage, 2) View a much improved features page, 3) View our simplified pricing model, 4) Register and signup, and 5) Start using LessMeeting. Users need to be able to complete this in just a couple minutes too, as that’s likely all you’ll have their attention for.

Summary – Make signup as fast as possible.

Mistake #4 – Complex Incentives

The Intent – We want to encourage customers to buy by providing discounts.

What really happened – Only the squeakiest wheel was heard. All of our customers deserved to know about the discount options but only those that asked about them found out. While we didn’t intentionally hide our discounts, we didn’t do the best job of announcing them either.

How we’re making it better – Advertise your discounts. Sign up for a group of licenses (starting at just 10 users!) and get a discount. Or, pay yearly instead of monthly and get a discount. Discounts should be your friend. We want to give these discounts to every single one of our customers. First, it helps our cash flow (Startup Finance 101) and builds momentum via a larger user base. More importantly, it makes your customers happy.

Summary – Reward your customers for buying behaviors that help out your company too.

Guess the Theme? (hint: it’s a simple answer)

Notice a theme? It’s nothing new, but we needed to be reminded of it so decided it’s worth passing on – Keep It Simple. Having a great product or service is only half the battle for startups…you need to get people to actually sign up for your product. In summary:

  1. Avoid complex freemium models
  2. Reduce the complexity of your pricing
  3. Reduce the number of actions required to signup
  4. Reward your customers for the right things
  5. Above all make you product easy to understand

The Hidden Etiquette of Meetings

Posted by | Meeting Tips | One Comment
It’s 3:30 and you glance down at your phone to check your schedule for the rest of the afternoon… Booked solid until 5pm (again). Not a lot a free time available to get work done between all these meetings.
image
Do you constantly struggle with how to get work done with all of meetings you attend. Are you an avid GTD junky, do you align yourself to Zen Habits principles of simplification, if Merlin Mann ran for president would he get your vote? Like you and millions of other knowledge workers, I have to battle the day-to-day meeting crunch of spending more than 25% of my time in meetings, I tried to squeeze as much effectiveness out of meetings as possible.
As you have grown in your career you have most likely uncovered a lot of little tricks to run your meetings better. Over the next few posts we are going to explore a few of the often overlooked areas of meeting etiquette.
The “Hidden Etiquette of Meetings” that we are are going to cover include:

  • Meeting Flow – How should we handle Introductions, Framing, Clarifying, and Conclusion?
  • Pressing Issues In Meetings – When is it OK to have sidebar or bring up discussion items that are not on the agenda?
  • Technology in Meetings – What Level of technology in meetings is acceptable?
  • When To Invite / When To Attend – What are the rules about inviting certain people to meetings? When is is OK to decline a meeting?
  • When To Talk / When To Listen – How do you structure your meetings so people know when to talk and when to contribute?
  • Hidden Roles and Responsibilities – Does everyone understand their role in the meetings?

We look forward to your feedback on these areas of meeting etiquette, as well as any other suggestions on how to improve meetings.
Stay Tuned…

Meeting Search – With LessMeeting Release 2.1

Posted by | Using Less Meeting | No Comments
LessMeeting has rolled out a new release (version 2.1). There are over 30 updates and improvements, but the most noticeable new feature is the updated Meeting Page. The Meeting Page now includes a timeline search filter and advanced search live filters.
The video below is a quick overview of the new meeting search functionality:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3AZrNXjp7_U
Meeting Page–Filter and Search Overview