When you were a kid, “fun” was not a dirty word. If your mother asked, “How was school today?” and you said, “Fun!” she was probably delighted. In your head, you connected “school” and “fun”—so that meant you were predisposed to go back. So what’s the harm in connecting “staff meeting” and “fun?” Maybe you’ll end up liking your job more.
Begin the meeting with an entertaining communication exercise and end it by finding the practical value of the exercise. On each end of the meeting, you’re talking about less than five minutes, unless you have giant staff meetings.
Here are examples:
Dean Hohl, a former U.S. Army Ranger who runs an experiential learning program for professionals called Leading Concepts, came to a meeting I hosted. He kicked it off by writing the letters B-O-W on a white board and then asked each of the 30 people at the table to write down his or her definition of the word. When he asked what they wrote down, he got:
Take a bow
Bow of a ship
Bow and arrow
Half a dog’s “hello”
At the end of the meeting, he got up again and asked them if the B-O-W exercise meant anything to them. This group of very serious technical professionals got smiles on their faces. Many said they had more fun listening to each other—tuning in a little more carefully to their colleagues’ word choices and the meaning of what they said. What seems like an unrelated exercise helps people focus on each other and puts them in a more collaborative, innovative frame of mind.
Improving communication in any context means avoiding hackneyed phrases. Make the process a little more fun by beginning a meeting with everyone writing down his or her most hated cliché—the ones that make people at the table turn down the volume on the speaker. Some of them might be:
at the end of the day
back on track
reached out to him/her
a level playing field
in the final analysis
par for the course
think outside the box
avoid someone or something like the plague
in the current climate
the path of least resistance
in any way, shape, or form
At the end of the meeting, read each cliché and laugh: You can bet that at least one of them made its way into the conversation. Put the most-hated clichés that were used in that session on a “forbidden” list for the upcoming meeting—or longer. This can bring a little levity to otherwise boring meetings and can make sure people are listening and not tuning out.
At the opening of the meeting, have each person share a stupid tweet; there are plenty of sites that feature inane tweets. This is just a way to loosen people up and get them thinking in terms of 140 character messages.
Take one minute at the end of the meeting and have people draft stupid tweets of their own that capture some aspect of the meeting that just occurred. Have each person read it, or when necessary, write it out on a white board.
With all three exercises, you can keep the meeting on track, but frame it in a way that gives attendees something to look forward to on both ends of the meeting. All three are designed to perk up your listening throughout the meeting, inspire creativity, and provide an opportunity to be both playful and productive in your meeting conversations.
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Maryann Karinch, author of 20 books and ACE certified personal trainer, is a veteran business insider and communications consultant. Her previous books include Diets Designed for Athletes, How to Spot a Liar, I Can Read You Like a Book, and How to Become an Expert on Anything in 2 Hours. She lives in Estes Park, Colorado.
Don’t underestimate feedback. As Marshall Goldsmith said, “People will do something—including changing their behavior—only if it can be demonstrated that doing so is in their own best interests as defined by their own values.”