Episode 158 – How to have GREAT meetings with Elise Keith

Steve: Welcome to our Becoming Your Best podcast listeners, wherever you might be in the world today. This is your host Steve Shallenberger. We have a terrific guest with us today. I’ve been excited to visit with Elise. She is one of the founders of Lucid Meetings where she leads research, publication, and product management efforts. And she is constantly seeking the best way for people to have highly productive and successful meetings. So welcome, Elise Keith!

Elise: Oh it’s a delight to be here. Thank you for having me.

Steve: Well we’ve been so excited about this and before we get started I’d like to tell you a little bit about Elise. And when she isn’t working on the industry-leading Lucid Meeting software platform, Elise shares her meeting expertise and presentations that audiences say are inspiring, full of practical methods that you can apply and fill in all the gaps that I didn’t even know I had. And with a combination of experiences, it gives her a unique perspective on meetings. Elise brings the awareness of a business owner, a software developer, a service provider, a researcher, and a person who doesn’t like to have her time wasted. All combined with deep expertise in meeting practice. So Elise as we get going today, tell us about your background and especially including any turning points in your life that have had a significant impact on you. Like what’s your story?

Elise: Right I’d be happy to share. Well, so let me start with a little bit of the punch line and then we’ll go back up from there. First, I want everybody to know that the secret to successful meetings is not better people skills. It’s also not using an agenda or keeping them short. That’s not it. And finally, it’s not getting a better manager. And that was a big shock to me because when I started my career back in, well you know, back in the day, I worked in a company that had terrible meetings. They were just awful. Everybody fought, we were supposed to be on the same team. And I thought for sure if only my manager was had better people skills. If only he knew how to listen. If only, if only then we would have better meetings. Then I got a new manager and that didn’t change it. And then I thought well if only this other guy over there didn’t talk so much then we’d have better meetings. And that didn’t change it either. What happened for me as I got involved in working with the International Standards Organization and these are these groups of people who bring folks from all over the world together to decide how, you know, the fundamental standards of how things work are going to are going to go down. And they don’t agree. These are folks who, you know, nobody knows who’s going to show up. So when you’re bringing somebody from multiple companies and multiple countries into the room you certainly can’t hope and guarantee that they’ve all come with lots of people skills. What they did instead is they had a highly defined structure. They said this is how our meetings work. This is what we need to do. This is who comes. This is what we’re going to get at the end. And this is how we’re gonna get there. And they got work done. And it blew my mind. I was like, oh it had nothing to do with all of the things I’d been told were key to success. It had nothing to do with that. So I had that revelation and then back at my office, I worked in a product team. Our team started to adopt Agile Methodologies and these are a way of, for those who don’t know, of deciding how you’re going to work on a project and then managing that work until it gets done. And like the work I saw with the big international committees, Agile has a well-defined sequence of exactly how you meet, what happens in each meeting and what you get out of it. And that team went from being the team that fought all the time and showed up late and had one guy who talked all the time and one other guy who sat with his feet on the table on the cell phone to a team that worked together to quickly and excitedly, with passion, make stuff happen. They became a better team and we didn’t change any of the people out and we didn’t go through you know disk training or lots of sensitivity work. We had a way to run our meetings. And that changed everything. So that was my beginning. Aha, those were my epiphany that led us to start Lucid Meetings eight years ago. And since then I’ve gone out and I’ve researched and we’ve worked with thousands of companies to help them find that path, find the way to make their meetings work for them.

Steve: Oh that’s a great background. Thanks so much, Elise, for giving that, that puts it in context. And so a lot to talk about on this what are some specific meeting practices high performing organizations use to create a healthy culture and drive results?

Elise: That’s part of what’s so exciting when you start to look into and you realize that there are in fact these practices. You go into a really high performing company like Pixar or some of the big restaurants, Gramercy Tavern in New York, one of the, you know, the top end restaurants on the planet and they have a very specific way that they run their weekly meeting. They have a very specific way that they get together to talk about what worked well and what they can improve. And each of these meetings not only is it prescribed. So everybody who shows up knows exactly what they’re going to do. They know why they’re there. They have a reason to participate and they know how to participate and what they’re going to get out at the end and they use those opportunities while they all have they all share the commonality that they have a way and they meet every week. The way that they meet is then tuned to reflect the values and the culture they want to create. So here’s an example of how somebody might do that. In Starbucks, they begin their meetings with a coffee tasting. So what’s this doing? Well, coffee tasting for Starbucks helps them learn their product in their executive office, in their product office. They all get a chance to see the kind of and connect with the product they’re delivering to their customers. So it embeds that knowledge and that caring about their product into their group. But it also is this moment, this opportunity where their teams get to like relax a little bit, talk together, share a bit about themselves and share food and sharing food is just, you know, a deep human cultural ritual that tells us that we are in a place with other people where we’re safe and we’ll be taking care of. So they found this way to start their team meetings that not only helps them be better and more focused about the service they’re delivering but it also helps them be stronger together as a team and you can see examples like that in high performing cultures all over the place. You know the Navy SEALs ritual is very different than Starbucks ritual but they have one. And it’s very much about who they are as a culture. It’s very cool.

Steve: Ok. Awesome. So Elise has been talking about highly defined structure and a sequence of how to get the right results out of the meeting. So what are some things that, what are some of these steps that our listeners can take to increase the effectiveness of meetings? How do you do that? What’s what are the specifics on that?

Elise: You know I get asked that question a lot. I had a group in New Zealand that called us up and they said, Elise, you know are our team we are really passionate about what we’re doing. But we meet every week for three hours and our conversations go in circles. You know our decisions never stick. And we’re starting to lose passion. We’re starting to feel defeated. So one of the first steps is to recognize that there are different kinds of meetings. There are actually 16 different kinds of business meetings. And each one of them serves a different purpose. For example, our call today is an interview. The purpose of this is for me to learn about you, you to learn about me. For both of us to help share our message with larger audiences. We know why we’re here. We know how this is going to run. The same can be said of every meeting that you have within your company. So once you learn what those types of meetings are you can separate out those conversations so they don’t run in circles. With the director of this group in New Zealand. We help them find a pattern where they were able to have their meeting for setting their strategy separately and they did that once every three months and then help them define a way to run the meeting that they have once per week so that it’s very focused on tactics and operations and making sure that the things they’ve decided to do in their strategy are actually getting done. It’s very much about solving problems. But once you look at your business and you look at, okay, here’s where we’re starting and where we need to go, you can pinpoint the meetings that you need to have and start to lay those out. So that’s really one of the first key or the great unblockers of massive success.

Steve: Ok so first is identifying the type of meeting, so that you really are laser-focused on how you approach things, are there other things that you ought to do in that meeting when you’re in it? That is different from other meetings.

Elise: Well every type of meeting has a way that it works better and a way that it runs. So once you know the type that’s really it’s really a magical unlocking key because the minute you identify “okay, I’m going to I’m not just going to get into a room I’m not just having a meeting, I’m having a one on one or I’m having a meeting where we’re trying to solve the problem.” You can instantly Google that and you will get a very specific example of how to do it. I write about this extensively in my recent book about the different types and how each of them works and there are templates online that show you exactly how to be successful in each one of those conversations. So it’s a radically different starting spot than the kind of advice you get which is things like using an agenda and keep it short and make sure everybody talks, all those things are great, but they don’t tell you what kind of agenda. And they don’t tell you what does it mean to have everybody talk. But once you know that you’re doing a problem-solving meeting, for example, exactly how you get everybody involved and who needs to be involved become really, really easy to figure out. It becomes really clear.

Steve: Good stuff. OK. So how is technology like especially artificial intelligence, transcription tools helping people to run better meetings?

Elise: There is a whole gamut of technology that’s being applied to the problem of meetings because it’s just one of these things that everybody struggles with and there is the kind of technology we’re familiar with. You know web conferencing and Zoom and things like that, that make it possible to have fabulous meetings across distance and then there’s a whole sequence of technologies that are called augmented meeting technologies and they help you do things like brainstorming, like taking a group through a complicated decision where you want to get everybody’s input and rank your options and really come to the best possible decision you can come to. So there are a lot of technologies out there like that that people don’t necessarily know much about. And then A.I. comes in, right? And A.I. is starting to make it possible for us to get really, really honed in on our craft, especially for those of you who work in sales. In sales or customer service. There are now these A.I. technologies that you can have listen in on your phone meetings, they’ll record the meeting, they’ll do their best to transcribe it and that that part of the technology is still developing, but they’ll give you a text version of what was said and then they start to do things like coach. Oh, it looks like you’re doing all the talking, perhaps you should take a pause and let the other person talk. Oh, it looks like, it sounds like the customer on the other end of the phone is expressing frustration. It’s time to empathize.

Steve: Elise, you’re kidding me. You mean A.I. can do this?

Elise: Yeah, yeah they can. They do. It’s called sentiment analysis and it does it in real time and then it gives you little coaching prompts. It’s pretty crazy stuff and the stuff of the sales teams, will if you put a whole team on it will give you comparisons. So when Sally gets on a call she talks less than Fred, and Sally sells more stuff. Let’s learn from Sally right. Let’s listen to Sally runs that call and use that as a model for other agents. That’s powerful.

Steve: Wow that is really good stuff. Augmented meeting technology. How do you locate this, this kind of a resource?

Elise: So there’s a gamut of augmented meeting technology and some of the big tech analyst firms: Constellation Research, Gartner Forrester, they all have listings of their top picks. Our company is on there as well. So Lucid Meetings provide software. Our software is not A.I. software, our software is about helping people identify which type of meeting they’re in and then having the agendas and the timers and the note-taking and all of that automated for them. So there’s a spectrum of augmented meeting technology from things like what my company does, out to the virtual intelligent robot listening in on the sales calls, to all kinds of things in between. It’s a wonderful world. But to take advantage of any of it you must know what kind of meeting you’re running and what you need to accomplish as a business.

Steve: Right have a clear vision of your purpose of why you’re doing it and what you want to get out of it.

Elise: Absolutely it’s always a tool, right? And you never know which tool to pick up if you don’t know what kind of job you need to do.

Steve: Yeah. Perfect. Okay. Well, this kind of really takes things to another level, Elise, and so why should we be focusing on meetings as part of the business operating system rather than meetings as an isolated set of events?

Steve: That’s really the secret to turning it all around, right? I think it’s important to hold in your mind that there really isn’t such a thing as a meeting. If you have something on your calendar that’s just called a meeting, that probably is a time block for a conversation that may or may not get anything done. So when we approach meetings, in general, we don’t know what we’re doing there. It’s too big, it’s too generic, it doesn’t mean anything. However, if you look at your business process and let’s say you’re trying to train people up to work effectively with the board of directors, a board meeting is something very specific. You can get good at that, right? Planning for a big conference. That’s very specific. You can get good at that. The only way to really be truly successful with meetings is to understand what they are and what they’re for and then how you use them to achieve goals. And once you know that, once you have a sense of what you’re trying to achieve there, each and every one of them is something that you can get really good at. And what’s fabulous about having this perspective about looking at meetings as a business process is that nobody else does it. I gave some examples of really high performing organizations that do but they are by far and away the minority. And yet we invest these huge amounts of our people’s time and our money into meetings. So if your business is one where you understand that you need to look at those as a part of the business process and design each of those meetings to achieve a goal be really specific about what it is, it conveys this massive competitive advantage. You’re using your people’s time and your workforce more effectively than 90 percent of the other competitors out there.

Steve: Oh that’s great. Elise and I had the chance to visit before the podcast and I was just sharing some of the work we’re doing throughout the world. And I’ve got to tell you that this is this is an area I think that is of great need that can be a real transformational impact on an organization. And frankly, I don’t see it being discussed a lot.

Elise: It’s not. It’s an interesting and difficult conversation for a lot of people because they start where I started. They look at their meetings and they feel that they’re wrong. They feel that it’s not a great use of their time and when they try and identify what’s going on here, what’s the problem, we tend to look at somebody else in that room across the table and think it must be them. It must be them, they need skills. And I’ve talked to so many leaders I talked to a lady at a workshop I gave last week and she said, “oh I’m here for another meeting to workshop but Elise, we’ve tried this every two years. H.R. brings in some consultant to teach everybody how to use an agenda and to how to manage conflict. And we talk about the dead moose on the table and she says if I see that dead moose one more time I swear.” And I told her I said you know I understand and I hear you and said but the problem with that, those kinds of approaches is they’re teaching individuals skills and that’s not what meetings are. Meetings are not an individual activity they are a team sport which means you need a play.

Steve: Well that’s really fun stuff. Well, tell us about your book.

Elise: Yeah, I’m excited to share. So my book is a combination of a lot of the research and the work we have been doing with clients over the last eight years. It’s called Where The Action Is: The Meetings That Make or Break Your Organization and in it I explore not only some of this psychology this, you know, terrible catastrophic doom loop we get in that prevents us from being successful but then also look at what does it mean to be successful. Where are the examples, the kinds of organizations, the kinds of meetings that actually work, right? Where can we see how people are using meetings to create that competitive advantage and drive their businesses forward. So lots and lots of stories, lots and lots of very practical examples so that, you know, we can start with a vision of where we ought to be going rather than just stories of how it’s not working.

Steve: I can’t wait to read it. I’m excited to get it and read it.

Elise: I’m excited for you to read it too!

Steve: I’m going to order it today. Well, time always just go so fast it just blows my mind. Any final tips you’d like to leave with our listeners today, Elise?

Elise: My final tip for today I want you to next meeting you go in, I want you to get really clear on what the purpose of that meeting is. You can express that as a verb. Why are people there? To make a decision to something, and then I want you to find what the nouns are. What are the desired outcomes? What are you getting? That should be a decision, next steps, something. Look for those, and when you can spot those and you can write them down you’re on your way.

Steve: That is a great start, good going. So repeat that one more time you get into the meeting and what do you do?

Elise: You look, you look and you find the purpose and you articulate that as a verb a statement. Why are people there and it’s gonna be to make a decision, to find the answers, to interview this person, and then you also write down the desired outcomes. What is that group they’re meant to achieve together? What are they going to get that’s going to be a decision. A sense of whether this guy’s a good fit for our team. A recording of this call that I can then publish. What do you get? If you can articulate those two things. Then you can start to see OK, that’s what kind of meeting that is and start to see how to make it better.

Steve: Ok. Good stuff. Well, that’s great that those are really excellent points. And how can people find out about what you’re doing? And I’d like to have you repeat the title of your book one more time so we’re sure we’ve got that logged in and then we’ll wrap it up.

Elise: Wonderful. So you can learn more about me, my company, our work, our software and our training on spelled just exactly like it sounds so and the book is called Where The Action Is: The Meetings That Make or Break Your Organization.

Steve: All right. Well, fantastic. Thank you, Elise, for being part of this show today. What a great and productive visit this has been great ideas. I can’t wait to go back and start using these and applying them right off and being more thoughtful about our meetings as a business operating system as part of the bigger whole. So these have been great ideas. Thanks, Elise.

Elise: Oh thank you so much. It’s been a lot of fun.

Steve: Well great. Well, we wish you all the best as you’re making a difference in the world. And to all of our listeners, never forget you too can and are making a difference every single day of your life. This is the very heart and soul of becoming your best and in the process, we radiate a difference. Not only does it bring us greater happiness peace and success in our lives but it also radiates out and it impacts other people. This is Steve Shallenberger with becoming your best global leadership. Wishing you a great day.


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