Do you often feel rushed from meeting to meeting, arriving a couple of minutes late, still processing the last one? Do you find that meetings tire you, lack focus and output?

After my session with you Meeting Hell goes on for the rest of the day 10am – 4pm,” a client said to me recently. Sound familiar?

Again and again my clients show up to their coaching sessions a few minutes late and out of breath. When I am physically in one of their offices, I see people running from meeting room to meeting room, telling others to leave and rushing to start the next one.

Clearly the current meeting culture isn’t working for anyone!

So what can you do? In my coaching I do a lot of work around how to choose what meetings to be present at, how to say no to meetings and so on. But that takes deep work and courage because it is about shifting the organisational culture.

So if you don’t feel quite ready for that, here is a quicker intervention that can make a massive difference:

Start your meeting with silence!

Yes, I am serious. Just 60 seconds of silence will make a massive difference. And there are businesses already doing this. At Eileen Fisher’s fashion company, founder Fisher always starts meetings with “the ringing of a bell and a moment of quiet”. And although the ding of a bell isn’t an essential, the moment of silence is definitely worth it’s time in gold.

Both in one-to-ones and in workshops I so often ask people to stop and breathe for a moment. I ask them to simply feel their feet on their ground and to just let thoughts be thoughts.

It always makes me smile when people say “I don’t think I can breathe for 60 seconds,” because of course all us human beings are breathing all the time – just mostly unconsciously. Then a  couple of minutes later, when we have done the mini-exercise together, they remark how much calmer and better they feel and how they are already clearer about their next step of action.

Here are 5 reasons to start your meetings with a minute of quiet:

  • It gives people a chance to catch their breath. Most people will be rushing from something else to arrive at your meeting.
  • I gets people more present. So many meeting rooms are full of bodies but people’s minds are elsewhere. By allowing people a moment to breathe, you can get them more mentally and physically present.
  • It allows people a moment to let go of what they were doing before and therefor helps them become more focused.
  • It is a chance to get people to get clear on why they are in your meeting and what they want from it.
  • It creates more calmness in people’s mind and body and with calmness comes better clarity of thoughts and increased likelyhood of useful contributions in the meeting.

Exercise: How to set up your meeting with a productive silence

There really is no right way to set up the silence, but if you have never done it before, you can use the steps below as a guide.

1. Tell the meeting participants that you want to start the meeting slightly different. Ask them if they are up for doing a 60-second experiment. Ask them to put everything they have in their hands down and tell that they can have their eyes open or closed, whatever makes them feel most comfortable. If you want you can close your own eyes to role model.

2. Then simply invite them to feel their feet on the ground and breathe. Tell them that it is OK for their thoughts to still be there, but for the next 60 seconds there is nothing for them to do but breathe.

3. You can time the silence on your phone, or what I do, is just notice the room and let the silence stay for a minute or so until the room gets more calm.

4. You can invite people to keep their eyes closed a moment longer while they think about their purpose in this meeting and what a successful meeting outcome would be for them.

5. Then tell people to come back into the room at their own pace. At this stage, you can ask people to do a quick round sharing a couple of words about what they want from the meeting. Or you can just start the meeting with stating the official purpose.

NB. A lot of people are uncomfortable with silence, so it may take a few meetings for people to get the hang of this. Try the starting-with-silence at least three times before dismissing it.

What tricks do you have for getting a good start to a meeting?

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