Is it Time to Wrangle Your Team’s Life-sucking Meetings?

September 20, 2016 in Author, Greg Owen-Boger, Meetings, Posts for Buyers

Frustrated businessman in an office business meetingOver the weekend I was having coffee on the deck with our friends, Paul and Olive. We were discussing the week ahead.

“I have nothing but meetings lined up next week,” Paul said. “I hate meetings. People show up late. Nothing ever gets done. Decisions aren’t made. And no one does what they’re supposed to do. And all of that just means that we’re going to have the same meetings next week and the week after that. It never ends.”

Paul’s not alone. Meetings can suck the life right out of you.

I was in a separate conversation not too long ago with a client. Because of some recent remote hiring, they were laying the framework for moving almost exclusively to virtual team meetings. The client said, “It’s as if we need to learn new etiquette for showing up to the meeting. In terms of meeting virtually, should the way we work together be any different than meeting in person?”

My answer was, “No. Not really.” Sure, the mechanics of meeting virtually are different, but the same rules of engagement should apply.

The challenge is that we’ve become so messy with our in-person meetings that we’ve forgotten about common courtesy and how to lead and participate in a way that gets business done.[Tweet “We’ve become so messy with our in-person meetings that we’ve forgotten about common courtesy”]

It’s Not Just the Meeting Facilitator’s Responsibility

Most advice for effective business meetings is focused on meeting facilitators. We think it’s time that everyone be aware of how to run meetings AND attend them. We’ll even take it one step further and say that it ultimately lands on business leaders – all the way up the corporate ladder – to set enterprise-wide expectations.

If we look to our friends at The Emily Post Institute, THE authority on all things etiquette, they say that all manners rest on “fundamental principles: respect, consideration, and honesty.”

That’s a pretty good set of principles for leading and attending meetings. Building off of their definition of etiquette, here are Turpin’s recommendations for wrangling business meetings. We break it down into three groups: Attendees, Facilitators, and Business Leaders.

All Attendees
Show respect for your fellow attendees and for the work you’re there to accomplish:

  • Arrive on time and be prepared to participate fully.
  • Silence your devices and put them down. Seriously. Just. Do. It.
  • Listen intently… always.
  • Be courteous and helpful.
  • Speak up when appropriate to do so, and don’t be the one who talks just for talking’s sake.
  • Take notes. You’re busy and forgetful. You might need notes later, and even if you don’t, the act of writing them down helps keep you engaged.
  • Avoid sidebars that distract from the meeting’s intention.

Meeting Leaders and Facilitators
Create the conditions for a fruitful conversation and for decision-making:

  • Prepare an agenda and use it as your map for the conversation.
  • Greet meeting attendees as they enter the room (or log in virtually).
  • Encourage attendees’ participation without losing sight of the group and the goals of the meeting.
  • Keep an eye on the clock, and do not run over unless the situation REALLY warrants it.
  • Keep an ongoing list of decisions and assign tasks with dates as you go along. Be sure to communicate these afterward and set expectations for completion.

Business Managers and Leaders
Set expectations enterprise-wide, or at least with your team:

  • If you’re lucky to start from scratch, set expectations early.
  • If you’re inheriting a dysfunctional meeting culture, try your best to level-set by setting expectations early and often.
  • Have the team create a meeting rule book and use it when you have to course correct.
  • Place value on well-run meetings.
  • Place value on respectful meeting behaviors.

The Time is Now

Meetings don’t have to suck, and improving them requires the active and thoughtful participation of all attendees.

As a leader, it starts with you. Your business needs you. What are you going to do to breathe new life into your team’s meetings?

by Greg Owen-Boger, VP at Turpin Communication and co-author of the book, “The Orderly Conversation”

Coaching SMEs to be Expert Facilitators of Learning

May 13, 2014 in Author, Greg Owen-Boger, Posts for Buyers, Talent Development, Training

UPDATE: Back By Popular Demand

Greg’s been asked back to deliver this same session two more times at the 2015 Association for Talent Development International Conference & Exposition (ATD ICE).

ASTD ICE 5-13-14I had the pleasure of speaking at the ASTD (renamed ATD mid-conference) International Conference & Exposition in Washington, DC last week. The audience for my session included instructional designers and leaders within the training & development function. The topic was about ways to coach SMEs to be more effective in the training room.

The session, as you can see from the picture, was packed. Over 200 people attended, and more would have joined had the room moderator not closed the door and turned people away. I was reminded (again) how hungry the training industry is for help working with their Subject Matter Experts.

Why Bother with SMEs?
There’s good reason to involve SMEs in the training process. They bring credibility, depth, and enterprise-wide perspective. They can also cause frustration for everyone involved, including the learner. And when learners are frustrated, learning doesn’t happen as fully or as efficiently as it should.[Tweet “when #learners are frustrated, #learning doesn’t happen as fully or as efficiently as it should.”]

The Challenge We See
In our experience, working with SMEs to improve their effectiveness in the training room, my colleagues and I have discovered a few things:

  • Materials, slides, and facilitator guides are rarely created with the SME’s delivery style and experience level in mind.
  • SMEs want to do a good job as trainers, but they don’t fully understand what the job is and what’s expected of them.
  • They usually focus too much on the information rather than the application of the information to their learners’ jobs.
  • They don’t understand how to frame the information to provide proper context to the learners.
  • They often aren’t given proper training.

In short, organizations aren’t setting the SMEs up for success. They’re not getting the resources they need to be effective presenters and facilitators of learning. This, in turn, leads to dull learning events and the loss of learners’ good will.

The Solution
Let’s not beat up on SMEs too much. They mean well, but they need help.

On the instructional design side, they need materials designed to support them and their unique needs. Design elements that work for professional trainers don’t necessarily work for others outside the industry.

In the training room, once the session starts, they need to understand that they wear two hats.

  1. The Expert Hat is the obvious hat that they wear. This is the one they wear when they are talking about data, details, and their area of expertise.
  2. The Trainer Hat is less obvious, but a much more important hat. This is the hat they need to put on to provide context, connect dots, and to facilitate learning and the application of the information to the learners’ jobs.

Once they understand their dual purpose in the training room, SMEs are much better able to facilitate learning.

Contact us at to learn how we can help your SMEs be more effective in the training room.

Postscript #1: SMEs From the Ground Up
I was glad my session at ATD ICE was on Tuesday because that gave me an opportunity to sit in on Chuck Hodell’s session on Monday. He wrote the recent book SMEs From the Ground Up. If you work with SMEs, I highly recommend it. He has some fresh thinking that’s well worth taking a look at. During his session, Chuck talked about ways to manage SME relationships, set expectations, and celebrate their accomplishments.

Perhaps his most impressive thinking, though, is around redefining who the SMEs are on any given project. He writes, “… SMEs are both content-related and process-related. The programmer, the writer, the teacher/trainer and the manager are all SMEs in ways that matter in our work. Identifying and working with all of these specific types of SMEs provides endless possibilities for improved products and processes.”

Postscript #2: Is that Flat Stanley in the Picture Above?
Yes! Not only did I get to speak with 200 learning & development professionals, I got to do it with my Great Nephew Jayce’s Flat Stanley! It’s a cool project. If you’re not familiar with Flat Stanley, click this link:

by Greg Owen-Boger, VP at Turpin Communication and co-author of the upcoming book, “The Orderly Conversation”