Two Surprising Tips for Great Meetings… and Dinner Parties

meeting1You’re about to hear the best advice I’ve ever received for getting the most out of business and social meetings alike.

Some years ago I had the good fortune of taking a Leadership course at the Gestalt International Study Center on Cape Cod. The remarkable Sonia Nevis, one of the Center’s founders, worked with our group over the course of several days.

During our time together, Sonia shared these very surprising tips for making meetings work well. As it turns out, they work equally well for both business meetings and dinner parties!

Tip 1: Calculate Your Share of Air Time

As your meeting gets started, divide the number of minutes allotted for it by the number people present. The resulting number is your fair share of air time.

If you talk longer, you’re usurping someone else’s time. And if you talk less than your allotted share, you are ceding your time to someone else — and perhaps not contributing as much as you might.

This rule helps shape good dinner parties too. By simply being aware of how much you’re contributing to the evening, you’ll help balance the participation.

Tip 2: Look at Each Person

At least every ten or fifteen minutes during the meeting, look around the room and notice each person there.

You’ll be surprised at how much you learn just by noticing other people’s demeanor.

You’ll glean more valuable information from watching how others behave than you will just by watching only the speaker.

When you periodically look around at every person in the room, you’ll have a much clearer sense of what’s happening under the surface. You’ll see when someone’s words say one thing while their body language says something else entirely.

Noticing what’s going on around the table will provide valuable information for you to use both during the meeting and afterwards in debriefing the meeting in your “parking lot” conversations.

Awareness Leads to Collaboration and Flow

I’ve learned a lot over the years about leading meetings and crafting effective agendas, but these two tips for increasing your awareness make a far deeper difference in creating a constructive, collaborative culture.

Though Sonia Nevis intended these tips for meetings, if you use them at your dinner parties, you’re almost guaranteed to create the kind of conversational buzz and flow that makes for a memorable event.

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Look at Everyone at the Table

At your next meeting or more-intimate social event, look around the table several times to observe every person and notice their expression, their body language and their affect. Don’t let yourself be drawn only to the primary speaker or “life of the party.” You’ll be amazed by how much richer and more complete your experience of the event and the group becomes!

How do you handle a meeting when someone takes up much more or much less of her “allotted time?”

Share your thoughts in the comments below.

  • While these tips have great value for everyone, they’re SOLID GOLD for introverts, who often hold back, ceding our time to others (who may have less to contribute than we do), because we just don’t want to deal with the rough and tumble of extravert-style meetings.

    Knowing our “fair share” of contribution time, and observing the other participants, are both great ways to overcome the tendency to hold back. I’ll be sharing your advice with all my introvert public speaking clients!

    • Andrea Kihlstedt

      Thx for your comment, Jezra. I hadn’t thought of it in terms of introverts, but what you say makes sense. Though really, it’s just as important as a way of helping those of us who take up more than our allotment. And, if we can just remember to look around the table, we may realize that you introverts are just waiting to be invited to speak!!

  • Susan Fischer

    This is a wonderful application of Sonia’s wisdom. It is so useful especially to know how to get into the discussion without feeling like you are interrupting. It puts the “responsibility” on everyone to be a part of the event and then you can feel that you have participated even if that participating was to listen and be silent. Kudos to both of you! Susan Fischer, Editor, Gestalt Review, GISC

    • Andrea Kihlstedt

      Thanks Susan for this astute comment! I love these pieces of wisdom from Sonia because they are so simple to do but so surprisingly effective…like much in the Gestalt approach to life! 🙂