Quick Tips

Save Time, Improve Your Memory. Quick Tips From Australian Record Breaker Chris Lyons. 

A Rude Awakening
How To Run More Effective Meetings

You just can't beat a good meeting.

Or several for that matter. Especially if you're feeling a little tired and in need of some extra sleep.

Indeed, it's scary to even imagine what organisational life would be like without them. How would we fill our days? How would we cope with that deep sense of emptiness in our calendars? And what would we do with all that spare time?

Probably end up working, perish the thought.

Meetings, meetings, and more meetings... the perfect - and legitimate - opportunity to sit down, relax and take a well earned break from real work. Now unfortunately this isn't always the case. Some meetings you attend may be well planned, properly structured and effectively run. The odd couple may even be extremely relevant to you and your role. And on rare occasions they can demand your full and undivided attention.

But thankfully such aberrations are few and far between.

Indeed, many meetings are quite the opposite - poorly planned, poorly facilitated and often covering only one or two items of real relevance to many of the people attending.

The result?

Well sometimes you find that your mind starts to wander and focus on more immediate matters at hand, such as the following list of 30 words which I would like you to read right now - BUT only once...

Million Dollar Note
Pasta sauce

All done.

Now for reasons that shall become clear to you very shortly I need to distract you... but only for a moment. And although I don't in any way wish to temper your enjoyment of the rejuvenating nature of many meetings, I must just add the following cautionary note.

There is a fine line between blissful relaxation and deep sleep.

As I discovered to my peril while working as Marketing Manager for a large UK company many years ago. Now I won't divulge any more of my own career-limiting experience, other than to say that I experienced a rather rude awakening...

...and to add, in my defence, that the meeting in question began at the unmeetinglike time of 8am... and continued for well over 3 l-o-n-g hours without a single break or coffee refill.

But let's not focus on the negatives - or get distracted - because we should move on.

And downwards…

...to here.

Which means that - fingers crossed - the list of 30 words you read through earlier is no longer in view.

So please grab a pen and a piece of paper and quickly write down as many of the words as you can remember.

Do it now...

Welcome back.

Now the point of this little exercise is not to see how many you could recall, but instead WHICH ONES you recalled.

So scroll back up and take a look. Notice any pattern in the ones that you remembered?

Many people find that they remembered more of the words that appeared at the beginning of the list.

This is called the PRIMACY effect.

Which simply means that you naturally remember more information from the start of a meeting... or presentation or study session. Many people also find that they remembered more of the words that appeared towards the end of the list.

This is called the RECENCY effect.

Which simply means that you naturally remember more of the information from the end of a session - provided that you know that the end is in sight! Now this certainly isn't rocket science, but to paraphrase a dead French philosopher 'common sense ain't always commonly practised'.

So if you want to run more effective, more productive and more memorable meetings the message is simple... take more breaks.

Short, regular breaks every 40 to 60 minutes.


Because taking breaks naturally creates more beginnings and more ends, allowing you to extract maximum benefit from the natural primacy and recency effects.

Talking of which, I thought I'd finish up (yep the end is in nigh, so sit up, pay attention - the recency effect applies to stuff you read too) by sharing with you 2 observations from my own personal experience of attending and facilitating more meetings than I'd care to remember.

You see after 10 years working in senior management roles in large companies I decided that I needed a change. So I decided to take some time off. Now upon my return to the real world I worked for a UK management consultancy where I was fortunate to be trained up as a facilitator.

During this time I learned many really simple and effective techniques for keeping meetings on track, ensuring equal contribution and maintaining focus, energy, interest and momentum. Zeroing in on just 2 commonly overlooked yet key ingredients for running effective and successful meetings...

1) Engineer contribution!

Above all else, you want people to actively participate in meetings. To contribute. But sadly, many meetings consist of several people talking for 90% of the time while the rest of the participants - who may also have valuable stuff to contribute - sit in silence.

There's a whole host of reasons why people don't actively contribute to meetings. One common reason is that many meetings are not designed to foster active contribution. Good managers and facilitators know this and build in specific tools and techniques to ensure that they get people to contribute such as...

Round Robin - go once around the room to hear each person's comments on an issue. No interruptions allowed.

2 Minute Update - when people report back on an issue have them stand up and briefly present back the key points

Break Out - for big issues, split people in to small groups and give them several minutes to discuss an issue. Then have one member briefly summarise each group's views

Cocktail Party - great for larger groups. Write each issue or question on a piece of flipchart paper and hang them around the room. Give people textas and post-it notes and 10 minutes to walk around the room and write down any comments, ideas, issues or solutions and then stick them up. A great way to get a huge amount of contribution in a very small space of time.

And the second one is linked to memory...

2) Make it visual!

There's been a heap of stuff written about learning styles and how we all have different preferences when it comes to processing information. But one thing is for sure - to a certain degree we are all visual creatures. What's more, visualisation and mental images are at the heart of most memory techniques. Simply because pictures and images can be incredibly powerful - and easy to remember.

Yet many meetings are largely, as you might expect, auditory - people talking. And talking... a lack of visual stimulus. So one of the most effective techniques for engaging people and maintaining clarity and focus is to visually map your meetings.

This allows you to capture ideas, issues and actions as you go, building up an information map in front of people's very eyes. There are numerous benefits to this approach, not least your ability to quickly and easily reorganise, edit and add to things as the meeting progresses. And at the end you can even print out the map so that people have an immediate record of the meeting - one that they can relate to as they watched it form… and hopefully contributed to it!

Anyway, it's time to take a break... as I'm sure I've got a meeting to go to.

The Final Word: A good meeting can be just as refreshing as a bad one. So take more breaks, engineer in more contribution and make it more visual. Because it's kind of hard to fall asleep when you're alert, interested and actively made to contribute.

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