Despite a clear agenda, purpose, outcome, structure and timing, have your meetings/presentations been hijacked or derailed with questions? If you answered YES, you are not alone.

The number of meetings added to our calendars or the ones we call for each day and the amount of time we spend (or waste) is becoming rife. To a point where we have to do our jobs – the one we are hired for and get paid to – between meetings! Ineffective meetings create more work and stress, lots of it.

How can meetings/presentations become ineffective or spiral out of control? What can we do to make them effective?

The Ripple Effect:

A ripple effect is a situation in which, like ripples expanding across the water [The Effect] when an object is dropped into it [The Cause], an effect from an initial state can be followed outwards incrementally. – Source: Wikipedia

With a mindful observation of meetings, you will notice that – it all starts with one question from one attendee. Then from another who builds on top of the first one; and then another and so on – A Ripple Effect. Reasons for such concentric questioning may span a spectrum – to be inquisitive; to learn more; to contribute for the betterment of the discussion; to demonstrate their knowledge; to prove to their boss & everyone in the room that s/he are participating and more. In a cause-effect scenario, this is the EFFECT. So, what can CAUSE this effect?

It would be hard to ignore the fact that this ripple effect does not happen for all agenda items in your meeting or for all slides of your presentation. Only certain slides/topics/‘stop me anytime’ type expectations the presenter sets attract such concentric questioning [The CAUSE]. The solution lies in addressing this CAUSALITY. Let us see how.

Example – If you are presenting a proof of concept you just completed for your company (ex: a software), you want the attendees to consider the SCOPE of the problem, WHY a solution was sought, HOW the proof of concept (software) could be the first step to a potential solution, WHAT it can do from a feature/functionality/usability standpoint, way it measures against other options in the market and LIMITATIONS (if any).

In this example, the SCOPE, WHY, HOW parts of your meeting may not trigger a ripple effect. The WHAT, LIMITATIONS parts will. Remember – If you highlight the limitations more than their fair share, the limitations become the highlight of the meeting.

Ripple Effect Strategy – To control the ripple effect :

  • Think of each agenda item/slide you are about to present as an object
  • List objects which or attendees who can be triggers of a ripple effect
  • Prioritize those objects from least to most possible triggers
  • Plan ahead, prepare a list of all potential questions and answers. Share it proactively at the beginning of the meeting.
  • Prepare, Rehearse (don’t improvise) – the more the better when it comes to presentations or take 5 minutes alone before your meetings to gain full focus
  • Set clear expectations when you start your meeting/presentation. Unless you have all-day to spend in the meeting, do not use the please-all phrase – ‘Please stop me anytime for questions’
  • Set clear boundaries for when the room is open for questions and for how long.
  • For questions to which you don’t have answers for – say so. Don’t improvise. Promise to get back and do.
  • For left-field questions, ask to clarify relevance. If irrelevant – say so or ask the attendee to reach out to you offline
  • Recap the meeting (key takeaways, open questions etc.,) and the next steps before your close.

In a nutshell – Knowing who, why, how, what can cause a ripple effect and having a plan to control the same is key.