EPISODE 65: On this edition of DHG's Growthcast, we brought back Chad Littlefield to discuss how to make meetings- whether they are 15 minute stand-up meetings or 3 hour strategy discussions - more engaging.
[00:00:09] JL: Welcome to today's edition of DHG’s GrowthCast. I'm your host, John Locke. At DHG, our strength lies in our technical knowledge, our industry intelligence, and our future focus. We understand business needs and are laser-focused on company goals. In this ever-changing world, DHG's GrowthCast provides insights and thought-provoking conversations on topics and trends that address growth opportunities and challenges in the current and future marketplace. Thanks for joining us as we discuss tomorrow's needs today.
[00:00:42] ANNOUNCER: The views and concepts expressed by today's panelists are their own and not those of Dixon Hughes Goodman LLP. Always consult the advice of your legal and financial professional before taking any action.
[00:00:58] JL: Well, those of you who were with us before on a previous edition of GrowthCast, remember Chad Littlefield who's the co-owner and the originator of We and Me. We talked to Chad about connection before content. Hey, Chad. We are back with us now. Talk to us a little bit about how we can be more effective in running an engaging meeting.
[00:01:21] CL: Yeah. First of all, if you would like to continue having exhausting and boring virtual meetings, I would actually suggest finding a new podcast, changing the station and not listening to the rest of this because my intention will be to actually share some very practical ideas, concepts, and tips to help make your virtual gatherings, whether they're one-to-one or small group or large group, more engaging. Because I don't think anybody needs any virtual meetings that are less engaging. I think there's – Human beings were not designed to be in a three-foot square box staring at a screen 20 inches away from their face all day. We did not develop that way. There's no like no fresh air. We have the world's most amazing camera auto focus device embedded in our head, and we use it all day to stare at something that's the same distance that's a bright light in our face.
One, just really practically, already if you're feeling like you're getting headaches, optometrists gave me the 20-20-20 rule, which is very simply uh looking at – Take every 20 minutes or so. Taking 20 seconds to look at something that's 20-feet away and then finding something that's 10-feet away and 3-feet away and 5-feet away. Let your eyes adjust. One of the very practical things with screen burnout, I’m not going to call it Zoom burnout or virtual meeting burnout but screen burnout that happens as our eyes glaze over or watering, it's just a sign that we've been on screen time too much, and so building those breaks in.
Now, going back to the beginning, let me do this, John. Let me try to give a master's degree in how to make virtual engagement easy by sharing five ingredients in like three minutes, the hyper speed version. Then whatever you and or Bob are curious about, you can follow up with some questions and dive a little bit deeper with what you think will be most interesting with folks at DHG.
[00:03:31] JL: Sounds good.
[00:03:31] CL: Sound good?
[00:03:32] JL: Great.
[00:03:34] CL: Five ingredients. I want you to imagine you're gathering. Whether it's a 15-minute stand-up meeting or a three-hour strategy meeting, imagine it on a timeline. So you've got the beginning and the end. Before the beginning of your meeting, the first ingredient I would say is the idea of an unofficial start. This is a phrase I got from Mark Collard in Australia, and the idea is we typically reward people for being late. We wait for them to show up. Unofficial start says, “Let's just begin right away, a few minutes before the official start time, with something to immediately and purposefully engage anybody who has shown up.” That unofficial start will carry on a few minutes after the official start time to offer understanding to people who are late, especially virtually.
Computers need to restart. Things need to be updated. Kids are throwing spaghetti at you while you're migrating from the kitchen to the office, to the living room, wherever you're meeting from. Unofficial start says, “Let’s begin right away.” A really great way to do that is with some sort of a question or personal share that helps people start thinking about what that meeting, what that topic is about but in a kind of playful, maybe unconventional sort of way. I’ve done things as creative as saying, “All right, everybody. It’s 3:00 PM right now. Go find a link to an image or a gif or a video that represents how you're feeling right now and paste that into the chat, just so we can get a quick visual pulse check of how everybody's doing before we start.” One example of an unofficial start.
Second ingredient is context, and this is the hook for your meeting. If you've ever found yourself leading or participating in a meeting halfway through and you're like, “Why wasn't this in email,” or, “Oh, my gosh. This is terribly mind-numbingly boring,” I would argue that part of the reason, a big part of the reason that is the case is because the context was not set clear enough. Context takes up a lot of space in our brain. If I tell you both right now to think of something red, what are you thinking of?
[00:05:36] BK: A red ball.
[00:05:38] JL: Red bird.
[00:05:39] CL: Red ball, red bird. Now, if I tell you to think of something that is red and within 10 feet of your location right now, what are you thinking of?
[00:05:51] JL: Cincinnati Reds baseball cup.
[00:05:54] CL: All right. John sees a Cincinnati Reds baseball cup. Bob?
[00:05:58] BK: The building behind John on the video.
[00:06:01] CL: The picture behind John. That is context. What I did with just that one phrase is I took your brain from thinking about lots of possible things and went really, really narrow. The easiest way to do that to set context is to get clear about your intention and share it. If you want to deeper dive on that, listen to my other episode where we unpack what an intention is in different types because I would say it's one of the most powerful tools that a leader can use at the very beginning of the meeting to get everybody onto the same page right away. A really good intention gets everybody not only on the same page but working toward the same end in one sentence. That's a pretty powerful tool to have as leader.
Third ingredient, connection before content, we talked about that in the episode previously as well. The fourth ingredient is content. Now, this is 85% of most of your meeting times, and your meeting timeline is the actual agenda, the task. My tip there, thinking about making content more engaging is is your content designed for consumption or contribution. Because most meetings are designed for consumption, not contribution, and that's a really good way to make sure that a meeting is disengaging is to say, “The purpose of this meeting is for you to just listen.”
One way to do that is to ask for people's feedback, especially virtually. Give them a second job while they're listening. If you do have content that you do need to just report out or share, ask them to get three blank sticky notes. By the end of what you're sharing in seven minutes for them to write down three key takeaways that they heard you say. That gives them a very deliberate job in listening, which is useful because we speak at about 175 words a minute, but we can listen at 300 to 400 words a minute.
Then the final ingredient is – It was taught to me by a woman who introduced herself to me as a professional storyteller, and she told me that her number one tip for telling really phenomenal stories was – All she said I needed to do was know the first sentence that I was going to say and the last sentence that I was going to say. The engaging virtual meetings variation of that I would say is know the first experience you're going to start out with that you're going to invite people to contribute, and know the last experience that you're going to close with.
So often our meetings rush right till the end, and this fifth ingredient of closing really deliberately says, “Whoa, whoa, whoa, pause.” Let's stop five minutes beforehand and close really deliberately by going around and sharing one action that each of us is going to take. Or type in one word in all caps in the chat that represents the state that you're leaving this meeting or one question that you have lingering that you want to pick up in our next meeting. That can make that meeting in particular and the next five meetings much more productive if you close really deliberately. There's your master's degree.
[00:09:07] JL: That's great. Hey, and I know we got to wrap this up but I have just a question for you on the integration of analog into a digital experience. You do that so well, and I’ve seen in your videos at weand.me, just to remind everybody of the website where the great videos are, that you really are very adept at challenging people to integrate analog activities into the digital experience. Is there neurochemistry behind that? What's the value in really doing that?
[00:09:40] CL: Yeah. Yes. Our brains are wired to take language and numbers, and toss them into short-term memory, and let them leave. It is actually the reason phone numbers are chunked by hyphens because back in the day, when we used to actually dial phone numbers, we don't do that quite as much anymore. But when we used to dial phone numbers on a rotary phone or something, our puny little brains could not hold a 10-digit number long enough to actually dial it. So we had to chunk it by degrees, whereas visuals and experiential experiences tend to get encoded into long-term memory.
It’s the reason that you could close your eyes right now and walk through the entire neighborhood or place that you grew up in, but you might not remember your neighbor's name that live way down the street. Name, language, and numbers. When you say blending analog, let me be clear about that, what I am doing is utilizing something that we actually don't have access to in in-person meetings. In an in-person meeting, you're in a conference room. You're all in the same context which is great because it smells the same, it's the same temperature, and people aren't all on mute. So you can hear laughter and chuckles and all the side conversation.
But what you don't have in an in-person meeting is the context of somebody's home, which carries so much useful data about who someone is, how they operate. I might actually kick off a meeting with some connection before content by saying, “All right. This is a little bit odd but take – You have 60 seconds. Go run somewhere else in your house away from arm's reach and grab one object that represents an intention that you have for this meeting. Or grab one object that represents a strategic goal you hope our team can accomplish in the next three months. Bring that back but don't show it to the camera.”
As soon as you invite people to show that to the camera and share that strategic goal or what it is they're intending for the meeting or whatever that is, that gets locked into everybody else's meeting 10 times more than if they were to just share it verbally, whereas if you did that in a conference room, it'd be a really boring exercise. Go grab something that represents a strategic goal, and everybody comes back with a pen.
[00:11:58] JL: Oh, my gosh. That's great. Well, listen. We know you've got tight time this afternoon and we just, again, appreciate so much you sharing your passions and your gifts and your knowledge around this topic and helping us all think differently about how we can run an engaging meeting. Again, give us the website and give us how we get to the YouTube channel.
[00:12:22] CL: Yeah. I don't think that people should spend their time and organizations shouldn't spend their money sending people into unproductive boring meetings. I give a ton of free resources a way to help virtual and in-person meetings go better. If you go to weand.me/ideas, there's a whole bunch of free resources, video tutorials, things you can download, virtual backgrounds for Zoom that have questions that spark some connection before content, and all sorts of fun creative stuff.
[00:12:49] BK: I love that.
[00:12:51] JL: Well, Chad, thanks so much. Bob, this was a real gift today, wasn't it?
[00:12:55] BK: Yeah, it was. It was. I’ve been looking forward to this so much. So thank you, Chad.
End of Interview
[00:12:59] JL: You've been listening to DHG GrowthCast today with DHG's Director of Executive Coaching, Bob Kunkle, and our special guest, Chad Littlefield, Co-founder of We and Me. We hope that you have learned a few practical tips on how to create meaningful, memorable, and productive virtual meetings. I’m your host, John Locke, and I look forward to reconnecting with you again soon on another episode of DHG GrowthCast.
End of Episode