5 Secret Questions to Ask Before Your Next Bad Meeting


We know that you can’t use a Certified Master Facilitator for every weekly status meeting, but here are a few things you can personally try to make your next small meeting a little more effective.

Are You Asking These 5 Basic Meeting Questions?

If you can answer all of these questions with confidence, you’re already leading some pretty great meetings. But if you are like most, one or more of these tips is forgotten in the midst of a chaotic meeting, and you have an opportunity to lead more effectively.

  1. What is the most important thing to determine during your meeting preparation?
  2. What are the four critical things for you to do when you start a meeting?
  3. What are two highly effective strategies for preventing dysfunctional behavior in meetings?
  4. What are the reasons people disagree in meetings (there are only three!), and what should you do about each one?
  5. How do you close a meeting masterfully?

Let’s jump in, with five quick tips for making your meetings masterful.

Be Prepared: The 5 Ps

What is the most important thing to know in meeting preparation?

If you said, “Establish the agenda,” think again. The agenda just answers the question, “What we are going to do (process)?” More important than process is purpose. To prepare for a masterful meeting, answer each of the 5 Ps.

  • Purpose: Why are we having this meeting?
  • Product: What do we need to have when we are done?
  • Participants: Who needs to be in the room to achieve the purpose and product?
  • Probable Issues: What topics or concerns will we have to address?
  • Process: What steps should we go through to achieve the purpose and create the product?

If you are not sure what your purpose and product are, or if you can achieve the purpose and product without a meeting, or if the purpose and product are not worth the time spent in meeting, don’t meet!

Engage from the Start: IEEI

At the beginning of a meeting, people typical want to know three things: “Why are we here? What are we going to do? Will my issues be addressed?” To have a masterful start, do the following:

  • Inform the participants about the overall purpose of the meeting and the products that will result.
  • Excite them by providing a vision of success and the benefits to them.
  • Empower them by identifying the authority they have been given, the important role they play in the process, or the reason they were selected for the meeting.
  • Involve them in the first 15 minutes with a task-focused engagement question, such as What are the most important issues for us to address to achieve this purpose?

Manage Meeting Dysfunction

How do you deal with people arriving late, or checking emails on their phones? What do you do about the story teller, or the whisperer, or the constant topic jumper? These are just five of 15 common dysfunctions that occur in meetings. How do you address them?

  • Conscious prevention: Use ground rules and discussions in advance to prevent dysfunction. For example, get agreement in advance on such ground rules as “One conversation, Only meeting work in the meeting, Start at the appointed time, Redirect off-topic discussions.”
  • Early detection: Be on the lookout for dysfunction in the meeting. Don’t ignore it.
  • Clean resolution: Once detected, execute an appropriate resolution strategy. While the specific strategy depends on the dysfunction, when it occurs, the number of people involved, etc., there is a general formula:
    • Approach privately or generally.
    • Empathize with the symptom.
    • Address the root cause.
    • Get agreement on the solution.

Implement a Decision Process: Resolving Disagreements

True or false: People disagree for only three reasons?

True. Masterful meeting leaders know the three reasons people disagree and have specific methods for reaching decisions.

  • Lack of information. The people disagreeing have not clearly heard or understood each other’s alternatives and the reasons for supporting them. These disagreements are often a result of an assumed understanding of what the other person is saying or meaning. (Strategy: Delineate alternatives.)
  • Different experiences or values. The parties have fully heard and understood one another’s alternatives. However, they have had different experiences or hold different values that result in them preferring one alternative over another. (Strategy: Identify strengths and weaknesses and create new alternatives that combine strengths.)
  • Outside factors. The disagreement is based on personality, past history, or other outside factors that have nothing to do with the alternatives. (Strategy: Take it to a higher source.)

Have a Masterful Close

Too many meetings end without a clear review of what was done or what is going to be done to implement the meeting decisions. A masterful close includes the following:

    • Review the items covered in the meeting.
    • Confirm the decisions made.
    • Address outstanding issues.
    • Review future actions and ensure they have names and dates assigned.
    • Thank participants, and end the meeting.
    • Document and distribute meeting notes.
    • Follow-up to hold people accountable to assigned actions.

The next time you find yourself saying, “That was an awful meeting,” consider letting the meeting leader know about masterful meetings. And if you’re dreading the size and breadth of your next session, consider searching our database for the perfect professional facilitator for your organization.