Meetings don’t have to be painfully inefficient snoozefests—if you design them. Meeting Design will teach you the design principles and innovative approaches you’ll need to transform meetings from boring to creative, from wasteful to productive. Meetings can and should be indispensable to your organization; Kevin Hoffman will show you how to design them for success.
I was a technical reviewer for this book, and I used to work with the author, Kevin Hoffman, years ago.
Kevin was the first person to teach me how to run a successful meeting. I’ve used those meeting skills ever since. I’ve moved many projects forward by leading a structured discussion or a workshop, all thanks to the foundational soft skills Kevin taught me.
I believe Kevin's book can help you become more effective at meetings as well.
It’s exciting to see how far the book progressed since I reviewed the manuscript a while back. My favorite takeaways from the book include:
1. While in a meeting, you can write down visible, short notes of what the meeting attendees discuss. Do this on a whiteboard or on a large sheet of paper. This visual recording helps people remember what was said and helps them move the conversation forward in a productive way. This is an easy, yet powerful technique you can use to improve frustrating meetings. 2. You can make large meetings (10 or more people) more effective by breaking attendees into small groups. Those groups can hold discussions or engage in activities. Then, you have everyone reconvene as a larger group. Kevin explains more about how to do this in chapter 3. 3. To lead a remote meeting effectively, you’ll need to use different techniques you don’t typically need when all meeting attendees are in the same location. Kevin gives some great tips for remote meetings in chapter 4. 4. You can run a post-mortem meeting using a diagram of things that went well and things the team can improve. I had never heard of this post-mortem structure until I read the book. I look forward to trying it out at the end of my next project. (See chapter 9 for more details on how to do this.)
Thanks to Kevin, I’ve learned to lead effective meetings and workshops. Kevin taught me skills I will use for the rest of my career. This book can give you a foundation in those invaluable skills. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did!
Early in Adam Connor's career, he led a day-long workshop where the goal was to nail down an idea that could be quickly prototyped. It was costly: a full day's salary of everyone present. That included people from his design agency and many stakeholders from the company they were working with. And at the end of that day, he found that they didn't have the information they needed to move the process along. He says he was shocked that anyone even let him run a meeting again. From that failure, he learned the importance of designing meetings, starting with the end goal and working backward to figure out how to structure the meeting to get there.
Connor is one of several industry leaders who contributed their thoughts to this book. The author, Kevin Hoffman, weaves in their stories to bring life to an unusual topic: meeting design. "After one aimless meeting, I decided that meetings themselves could be reframed as a design problem. This simple premise—a meeting is something that can be designed to be useful and compelling—opens up a world of possibilities."
For those in a hurry, I recommend reading the Introduction, "A Better Definition of 'Meeting'" (p. 14), Chapters 3–5, and whichever specific meeting categories in Chapters 7–9 align with what you're currently trying to accomplish. Personally, I like the sections on project kickoffs (pp. 150-161), presentations (pp. 175–178), and UI design critiques (pp. 179-181)
Hoffman begins by mapping four steps of the design process (defining a problem, considering options, selecting an option to improve, and delivering the result) to the process of planning meetings. He then outlines human cognitive limitations and gives some guidelines for how those impact meeting design, including how often to take breaks, and how to approximate the duration for a meeting based on the number of concepts and number of attendees.
He emphasizes the importance of individual pre-meeting check-ins before large meetings, getting key stakeholders' expectations for what will be accomplished so that the meeting can be designed to fulfill those expectations.
Hoffman also gives advice on how to structure the meeting once it arrives. He emphasizes the importance of note-taking in a visual way, such as on a whiteboard to enhance the memory of the meeting attendees. He says that a meeting should have a facilitator who is not vested in the outcome. The facilitator should allow conflict to develop diverging ideas and then bring them back together. He identifies three spectra that facilitation styles fall along (scripted<->improvisational, spoken<->visual, and space-filling<->space-making), identifying the weaknesses of each and how to overcome them.
In the second half of the book, he provides recommended structures for various types of meetings. I'm exited to try his large project kickoff workshop format for my next major project kickoff; I like the structure it uses for prioritizing features by feasibility and importance. His structure for a UI design critique was interesting too, using the meeting not only to compile a list of problems, but also to prioritize which are most important to resolve first.
For presentation meetings, he says "Do not read the deliverable during the presentation. Do not read the deliverable during the presentation. [...]If you are reading a deliverable to your audience in a presentation, you are doing the audience and yourself a disservice." Instead, he recommends gathering questions and using the meeting to answer the questions, ideally through telling stories.
Been reading this on and off for the last half year so finally put the time into finishing it today.
It's fine but really it made me want to never work in a company that has so many meetings. I've been lucky in my work history but omg if anyone out here is doing half of the meetings in here I fear they are wasting their time. The 2nd half of the book is mostly template for different types of meetings and there are just so many. And really I don't feel like templates are all that helpful, people will rarely follow them, meetings are more about finding what works for you team.
TL;DR for the review (not the book). This book is not directed specifically at designers. In fact, it's for everyone at your organization. It contains a lot of useful advice on how to improve your meetings. I would highly recommend it to anyone who sighs at the sight of their calendar and thinks "When will I have the time to do the thing they pay me for."
The author goes through several types of problems one might encounter during a meeting and offers potential solutions. I especially like the format where at the end of each chapter there is a short summary of "What do you need to know." I read the book a month ago, and whenever I have a new meeting where I have an opportunity to improve something, I just go back to those sections and remind myself author's suggestions.
This book will help you save time and money. Think about all the unnecessary hours spent talking about a project where there is no clear purpose and actionable outcomes. Next, multiply it by the wages of each stakeholder... Need I say more?
One thing to remember though. You will not improve your meetings in a day or even a week. It's not an easy task. Some people in your organization will be very stubborn. This book is only a guide, a set of suggestions. It's your job to implement and modify them accordingly.
Why I didn't give it 5 stars? I think I would want to read more insights from various leaders in exchange of part 2 of the book.
I hope you'll enjoy it as much as I did. Thanks for reading.
I thought this book was going to be about applying design principles to meetings in any field, but a lot of the content (especially some of the examples in the middle section of the book, and a few of the meeting templates) were too specific to design to be applicable to my own work. Some of the examples also didn't seem very clear to me. I did enjoy the introductory chapters on how to design meetings to optimise memory formation, and some of the other meeting templates are useful. I would have liked a little more text on how to facilitate meetings when you're a relatively low-level person in a very hierarchical organisation full of very strong personalities who just don't want to conform to an agenda, regardless of its design, and don't read anything you send them before a meeting!
Having worked for companies that think about processes, I didn't learn a lot of new concepts while reading this book. With that said, I wish this book years ago. It is a good collection of the important elements of a number of different types of meetings. It is also a fresh reminder to not be in meetings that don't matter, and to make the meetings you are in matter to everyone who needs to be involved.
There's a lot of good content in this book, but I really had trouble engaging with it for some reason. A lot of the suggestions boil down to having a lot more formality and structure in meetings than I typically see, which means either I am doing meetings all wrong (entirely possible), or the intent is towards different meeting types entirely.
In any case I do think it's a valuable read, and will probably refer to it in the future in setting up more productive meetings.
Read this on a goodreads recommendation from a friend here. Enjoyed the approach from a designer's perspective (meetings being a design problem to solve) and the way of describing people in meetings as "brains that exchange information". Lol.
This is a great book that covers meeting design, facilitation and sample agendas for the different types of meetings. Very well written and with lots of good insights and content, will keep going back to it!
The big idea here is that you should design meetings in the same way you might design software, or a website, or a building, or anything else. Start by thinking about what the people who will be in these meetings need or want and work from there to, well, design your meeting.
Like almost all of the books published by Risendfeld and Two Waves, 'Meeting Design' is a practical, tactical, and totally accessible font of knowledge and down-to-earth 'know how' for anyone that is serious about doing business.
My favorite section of this book was the part that discussed the different ways information is processed in the brain and how memories are formed, and the related implications for meeting design. The interviews with various industry professionals are also interesting.
I believe this book would be most useful to people working in design agencies and custom software development firms, as many of the examples draw from that world.