Zena Barakat, a journalism fellow at Stanford, has written a terrific blog post about how to improve your meetings. She lists eleven interesting ideas. I want to highlight two ideas here:
Ignite conversation: “Bring something into the meeting to provoke discussion” — a competitor’s work, for example – “for people to react to so you aren’t talking about abstract things,” said Jeremy Utley, director of executive education at the d. school.
Boss, know when to go away: If you want to encourage a debate and unrestrained creative output, sometimes the boss should not come to the meeting or know when to leave. “Even if you are the nicest, warmest, most likable leader, know what meetings not to go to,” said Sutton (Bob Sutton, professor at Stanford). “The status difference means that people are afraid to say things.”
I would add three other suggestions to this very good list. First, think carefully about what you want to accomplish at the meeting. Ask yourself: In the ideal state, when this meeting ends, what will have happened? What will we have accomplished? Consider sharing your vision with the team. Second, identify how the participants can best prepare for the meeting. What materials should be distributed in advance? What would you like to ask the attendees to do in advance so as to be ready for a meaningful conversation? Third, are there people that I might like to "warm call" before the meeting? A cold call is when you suddenly ask someone to speak during a meeting. For some attendees, that will be a shock, and they won't react well. They may be very uncomfortable speaking up in a room with more senior folks in attendance. A "warm call" may be just the trick to encourage their active participation. You call them aside before the meeting, and you inform them that you like to call upon them during the meeting. Let them know precisely how you would like them to participate. Do you want them to join in a brainstorming process, relate a lesson from their past experience, play the devil's advocate, bring a new option to the table, etc. The warm call can bring a new perspective to the table that might not otherwise be voiced.