Raise your hand if you love meetings.
That’s what I thought.
I don’t know anyone who likes meetings. I also don’t know any professional with a meeting-free life. Meetings are a necessary evil, but they don’t have to feel like a never-ending layer of hell.
The beginning of the semester is a great time to consider how to transform any meetings you control. For most of my readers, it’s a daily or weekly editorial meeting.
I have a confession. The editorial meetings for the publications staff I advise weren’t always as good as they are now.
Past meetings went a little something like this: Staffers strolled in at various times during the meeting, grabbed a piece of pizza and sat next to their friends. The editor scrambled around gathering materials, making last-minute copies or printing things while essentially begging the staff for story ideas.
The staff, who probably attended just for the hour of pay they received, spent most of the meeting talking to each other while a few students provided story ideas, some of which inevitably led to tangent conversations.
I think that’s commonly referred to as “organized chaos.”
The meetings were longer than necessary, and staffers left feeling like they had wasted their time. The editor-in-chief generally felt the same way, only with the added despair of being in charge.
A session I attended at an Associated Collegiate Press national media convention changed our editorial meetings. Mat Cantore, the newspaper adviser at Hudson Valley Community College in New York, led the session, Don’t Run Everyone Off, Run Your Meeting Right.
Mat provided the following advice for running successful meetings:
Focus on the purpose
A meeting is gathering a group of people for a specific purpose. It’s important for you to understand the purpose. Think about it. What is the purpose of your editorial meeting? Make all decisions about your meeting with that purpose in mind, including considering whether the meeting is necessary. (Read: Do This Before Scheduling Your Next Meeting)
Know your role
Being a student media editor is difficult because you are in charge of your friends. Mat calls the balance between friendship and leadership the “sweet and salty.” I love this concept.
The “sweet” tells you it’s acceptable to be friends with people on your staff. In fact, you will have much more fun in your editorial role if you work with your friends.
The “salty” symbolizes the line you have to draw when you are in a management position. You can be friends with your staff, but they also must understand that you are the boss, which means they will operate under your guidance.
If any friends/staffers have trouble with this, discuss it with them one-on-one. Explain that you are glad you’re friends, but they must respect your role as their boss when it comes to newsroom-related tasks.
Provide an agenda
Make an agenda for each meeting. Send the agenda to the staff ahead of time so they can review it before the meeting. Do not assume the staff will bring copies of the agenda to the meeting. Make copies available. Also, be sure to leave space for notes on the agenda. This will help staffers keep all items related to the meeting in one location.
Control the meeting
Important topics need to be discussed during the meeting. Discussion is especially important during story idea generation. You can’t let the discussion derail the meeting’s focus. Set time limits for discussing topics, if necessary. Don’t allow one person to dominate the discussion. Take control so that the various helpful perspectives in the room can be heard.
This is where Mat and I disagree. Mat said the “three fs that F you up”—food, flirting and fones (pun intended)—should be banned from meetings. I disagree about everything but the flirting. This is where you need to know your staff.
Our editorial meeting is at lunch time. Most students come straight from one class and go directly to another after the meeting. We always serve food. If we didn’t, staffers might be prone to skip the meeting because they would miss their only opportunity to eat until dinner. The food (usually pizza or sandwiches) is delivered about 15 minutes before the meeting, so staffers just walk in, grab their lunch, story budgets and meeting agendas off the table, and settle in. I don’t think the food is a distraction to the meeting.
Phones also are an important component of our editorial meetings. Most of the staff keeps their calendars on their phones, so they typically have them out checking times and dates or providing story contacts. I don’t recall anyone’s phone every ringing during meeting. I honestly think access to email, Facebook, calendars, and contacts make our meetings more, not less productive. Again, it depends on your staff.
Start on time
Your meeting should always start on time. Failure to do so makes you look unprepared and wastes your staff’s time. Start the meeting exactly when it’s schedule to begin. Also have a clear ending time, based on how long it really takes to perform the necessary business. We schedule an hour for our meetings, but they don’t always take that long. When all of the business on the agenda is complete, end the meeting. There’s no need to continue meeting just to meet a predetermined completion time.
We all have little rituals we perform before class. I gather my materials, making sure I have my phone, a pen, my laptop adapter, and my remote. Then I make sure I have a drink and go to the bathroom. Doing all of these things helps me feel confident, prepared and ready for class. You should do the same before a meeting. Don’t race into the meeting and start. Take time to review your materials, make sure you have the necessary handouts and to go to the restroom. You’ll be much more relaxed and confident when the meeting begins, helping you appear organized and in control.
Look the part
This is probably my favorite piece of advice Mat gave. You should dress professionally for your meeting. If you dress professionally, you automatically act more professionally. Your staff also will notice your professional attire. It will instill confidence and encourage them to follow your example.
I understand that the college students reading this do not want to wear a suit to editorial meeting. I really don’t think that’s necessary. However, leading a meeting in sweats and a hat doesn’t evoke confidence.
My current editor-in-chief typically wears jeans, a nice sweater and boots or flats to meeting. She fixes her hair and puts on make-up, which is worth noting for some college students. She looks polished and natural leading the meeting. Note: Advisers, you too must set the tone here. Don’t come into editorial meeting in jeans and sneakers if you expect more from your editors.
Your meeting probably has failed if you don’t allow for questions or new ideas to emerge. You also want to stick with your agenda. The best way to do this is to create an announcements section on your agenda. This allows your staff the chance to make short announcements or bring up new ideas. If a staffer begins talking about something that belongs in the announcements section, take note of it and politely tell him or her that you will come back to the topic during announcements. Then, don’t forget to do so.
It’s ok to laugh and have a good time in the meeting, as long as it’s not at the sake of productivity. Most people prefer useful meetings to fun ones, Mat said. I’d really like our meetings to be both. When something funny happens, go ahead and laugh. Your meeting is not a funeral. Just don’t spend too much time on the joke—laugh and move on.
Provide a summary
Send your staff a summary of any decisions made or agreed upon action items immediately after the meeting. Mat suggested that you schedule 15-30 minutes after every meeting to do this while it’s fresh in your mind. This means you’ll need to take good notes during the meeting. The summary serves to remind the staff of what you accomplished during the meeting and what they agreed to do. Also, be sure to assign deadlines and accountability measures to those items assigned during meetings.
Our editorial meetings certainly still aren’t perfect, but I saw a noticeable change after sharing Mat’s advice with my editor-in-chief. Many of the items Mat suggested are common sense, but we still weren’t doing them. If you actually follow the advice above, you will see a marked difference in the success of your editorial meetings and your staff’s attitude toward them.