Recently, a colleague said to me, “I guess there really is an art to running a meeting.”
The comment came after we had spent two hours that felt like several days in an airtight room with blinding fluorescent lights where the chair of our volunteer committee not only had trouble keeping to the agenda but also used valuable meeting time to engage in a side conversation with another member of the committee about the whacky things his dogs had done over the weekend. My colleague and I left the meeting feeling that our volunteerism had been violated and that we would never get those two hours back. On the way back to our cars, we engaged in our own conversation about the things we’d like to see our dogs do to the chair’s dogs. That wasn’t so productive either.
So yes, Virginia, there is an art (and skill for that matter) to everything — even running committees.
Yet, it’s interesting how often we simply do certain aspects of our work rather than figuring out the skill and the art required to do them well. Let me give you an example from the world of comedy.
Brian Regan is one of the funniest comedians working today. His humor is clean, smart and perfectly delivered. And it is that combination of skill and art that makes him so successful.
Take a look at the following clip:
At one point, he’s discussing the challenge of reading a confirmation code back to the airline agent and having to come up with words to represent each letter in the code. He says, “B, as in…..uh….baked beans.”
On the surface, that line doesn’t sound very funny. But when you watch the way he says it, the look on his face, and the way his body moves, you begin to realize skill and art are definitely coming together in his performance.
The skill of Brian Regan’s comedy is writing humor that he knows is funny. It’s the diligence of writing, rewriting and then rewriting again. This is demonstrated wonderfully in the Jerry Seinfeld movie Comedian.
The art of Brian Regan’s comedy shows up when he performs the material. His delivery is an artistic interpretation of the humor he has written. Together, the skill and the art combine to create comedy magic.
Now, let’s go back and examine the committee meeting to see how skill and art can be combined to create a more successful outcome.
The skill in running a committee requires knowing the goals of the committee, gathering the right people, and managing the agenda. But it’s facilitating the human interaction that actually involves skill and art. The chairperson has to make sure that this group of distinctly different personalities can successfully work together for hours at a time to produce results that are then summarized in a document ironically called “minutes.”
If you don’t understand this integration of skill and art, you are less likely to be successful. And let’s be clear, unsuccessful meetings are the reason that the vast majority of employees hate them.
So how does the skill and art come together in running a meeting?
It’s comparable to an concert during which musicians are responding to the conductor, the percussion, and the other musicians. But it is the conductor who facilitates the process. He comes to the concert with skills in music and knowledge of the particular pieces the orchestra will play and then artistically delivers a musical performance.
Similarly in a committee, the chair comes to the meeting with the knowledge of the goals and the agenda for the meeting. Then, as topics are discussed and opinions are offered, she responds by fluidly facilitating the interpersonal dynamics towards a decision or resolution.
I suspect that many people think that all it takes to run a meeting is to show up. But, in reality, running a good meeting requires good administrative skills, some psychological knowledge, and a touch of conducting.
The same is true for many processes in our work and personal life. When we look at the steps required to achieve success, we will see opportunities for this interplay between skill and art. That’s what Do it Well, Make it Fun. means.
So, pay close attention the next time you go to a meeting, listen to a concert or watch a comedian.
If you do, you’ll notice that there is an art…and a skill to everything.