How to start a meeting that someone else initiated

24th June 2014

Four things initiate the meetings you attend:

  1. You
  2. Someone else
  3. Habit
  4. Obligation

I’ll cover how best to do the first – those you initiate – next week. Here’s how to do the others:

Let’s start with the second type – when someone else initiates it. For example, this could be a colleague who wants to discuss a particular topic with you; or one of your contacts wants you to meet their boss; and so on.

The problem here is that someone else has initiated it. So it’s their agenda. And, because you don’t know exactly what they are thinking: ask.

Good questions before the meeting

If you can speak with/email them before, do so. Good questions include:

  • What do you want the outcome of our meeting to be?
  • What are the key decisions we have to make?
  • What do you want me to do at our meeting, so we can move quickly?
  • What shall I bring to the meeting?

Good questions during the meeting

If you’ve managed to speak before, their earlier answers will help shape the agenda. If not, these questions work well in the meeting:

  • How can I help you? (They’ve called it. So ask them. Let them speak about their agenda)
  • Please tell me more about that? (Get more information)
  • So what would a good outcome be? (So you both focus on the desired end-point, rather than discussing lots of topics)
  • What information do you need from me? (Start with what they want, rather than telling them everything you know)
  • What about X? (If you think they’ve missed something, tell them)
  • So, given all this, what’s next? (Agree actions)

And for the third type – Habit Meetings – if you regularly read Tuesday Tips, you’ll know exactly what I think of them. Just because you always meet, doesn’t mean you should (weekly updates, anyone?)

With Habit Meetings, ask yourself/fellow attendees what harm it would do if you reduce something – their frequency, duration, number of attendees, number of agenda items etc. If you think you can reduce something, do so. You might as well: it won’t do any harm!

(A quick example: one group of 20 people I worked with changed from having weekly two-hour update meetings to having one monthly 10-minute conference call. Do the maths – this is an enormous time-saver, both as individuals and as a team).

Finally, for Obligation Meetings – ones where you break the law if you don’t have them – keep having them. You’re obliged to!

Habit Meetings needlessly waste lots of resource. But, so can others’ meetings unless you ask good questions.

A quick summary: there’s lots in this Tip. But if you want to keep it really simple, a good question to start others’ meetings: “How can I help you?”

This is much quicker than guessing, and then preparing something they didn’t want. That’s just annoying for everyone.

Action point

For your Habit Meetings: reduce something about them.

For imminent meetings that others have initiated: where possible, use one/both sets of questions above to ensure you’re doing what they want, not what you think they want.

Want more Tuesday Tips?

Every week, Andy releases a Tuesday Tip via email and his website, let’s take you back to the archive of tips.

Back to Tuesdays Tips