Shut the Fuck Up

Phoebe Dodds

There’s nothing worse than sitting in a meeting where the host just won’t stop talking. We’ve all been there—trying to look enthusiastic whilst chugging coffee as if our life depended on it, throwing in a well-timed nod so everyone believes we’re participating. 

Bad meetings waste everyone’s time, they ruin team morale, dampen productivity and cost companies money. With over a billion meetings every year in the US alone, we’re willing to bet a lot of them don’t meet the mark.

Here’s the good news: you don’t need to be an expert facilitator to host a great meeting. All you need are a few best practices from the experts themselves—which is exactly what we’ve gathered in this article.

Set clear expectations

It sounds counterintuitive, but rules and guidelines really do make meetings better. The most successful meetings have a clear agenda, and everyone knows what they should be focusing on. Respect is earned, not given, so take this opportunity to communicate your expectations and make everyone feel as though they’re starting on solid, equal footing. Renate Matroos, facilitator and learning designer at Twenty 6 Consultancy, says her number one rule is “cameras on, microphones off.”

You’ll have your own rules depending on the setting, context and aim of your meeting, but whatever your approach, make sure you’ve clearly communicated it to your audience. Renate’s rule “allows you to interact with your participants through the use of hand gestures, which also makes your meeting more interactive,” she says. If you have got your audience muted for most of the meeting, make sure you’ve included designated time for Questions and Answers at the end of your time together.

Other rules and guidelines we love include:

  • Phones on flight mode (or at the very least, hidden away for the duration of the meeting)
  • There are no stupid questions, so ask away
  • Follow the “yes, and” approach when giving feedback
  • Stay focused on the meeting goals 
  • Watch the clock! Keep things on time
  • Be inclusive and understanding—not everyone has a dedicated home office where they can take online meetings
  • “Discuss undiscussable issues” as Harvard Business Review puts it. You’re most likely to achieve the desired result when everything is out in the open.

Get to the point ASAP

Everyone’s busy, and if you start your meeting by going off on various tangents, you’ll quickly lose your audience’s attention. Raz Widrich, a content delivery expert (and author of this &ideas article!), shares this advice with us: “get to the point as quickly as possible.” More specifically, he advises “plan your session so that you reach your core content within five minutes. If the opening of your session exceeds this limit, you’ll have to work 10x harder to keep your participants’ focus—remember that their smartphones are just a pocket away.” 

When planning your meeting in advance, ensure you’re starting off strong so that participants feel engaged and motivated to keep paying attention. “This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t break the ice, introduce yourself, or explain what you’ll cover,” says Raz. “But if you can’t do that in 5 minutes, you’re doing something wrong. Use the 5 minute limit as a tool to keep your opening sharp—ain’t nobody got time for fluff!”

Go out with a bang

Even people who regularly start strong forget to plan a proper exit.. “There are many key moments to a gathering,” says Dan Levy, founder of innovation consultancy More Space for Light. “Something that took me time to refine as a facilitator is closing with intent. Don’t let people just shuffle out of the room and end the session looking like a janitor tidying up sticky notes! You’re in control up until the point where the session is concluded.”

Think about what you’ve achieved over the course of your meeting: “you’ve just orchestrated an experience where you’ve managed a group’s energy and insights for a period of time, so make sure people leave the session with clarity and confidence,” says Dan, who’s also an expert in remote workshop design and facilitation. “Our goal at More Space is for people to leave sessions with energy, not feeling exhausted!”

And yes… know when to shut the fuck up

There’s no way of knowing exactly how a meeting’s going to go until everyone’s sitting down. As a facilitator, your job is to manage the meeting and ensure pre-established goals are met, and so your best bet is to be flexible. Sure, it’s always a good idea to be as well-prepared as possible, but when it comes down to it, you’ll need to read the room (or the Zoom) and respond to the energy of the group as it shape-shifts over the course of the meeting.

Some moments will call for more of an encouraging approach, actively inviting participants to weigh in. But at others, your best bet is to stop talking and to listen. Even if you have to grimace through an awkward silence, chances are someone will step up and share their opinion to put everyone out of their misery. Rather than being something to avoid, those silences can be illuminatory: “silence creates a pause that adds more meaning to what's being discussed in a meeting. It also invites everyone to participate,” says Gustavo Razzetti. 

Here’s your key takeaway from this article: when in doubt, shut the fuck up. Your audience will thank you.

Phoebe Dodds

Phoebe is Content Lead at Publicover & Co. She’s been writing for publications like the Huffington Post, the Guardian and the Holland Times since the age of 15, and after graduating from business school with a Masters degree in Entrepreneurship, Phoebe combined her writing and business background to found content strategy consultancy Buro155. In her free time, she balances learning Japanese with Keeping Up With The Kardashians.

Read more articles