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Meeting Management Lessons From "The Great Yokai War"

Yesterday we summarized “The Great Yokai War” In 10 Screencaps Or Less™. Today, we extract a product management lesson from the strangest, most violent children’s film I’ve ever seen.

Once the young hero of the film, Tadashi, and a handful of Yokai understand the menace threatening them all, they convene a meeting with the other Yokai to enlist their aid.

Inviting the right people to the meeting is crucial

Together, it is argued, they have a chance of winning. Separately, their chances of even just surviving are close to nil. The Yokai hem and haw and eventually reject Tadashi’s offer. How could Tadashi have run this meeting more effectively and maybe ended in his favor?

Meetings are a fact of everyday life for many people. For product managers, meeting management is a critical skill that often gets overlooked. Here are some tips on running a successful meeting:

1. Know Who To Invite. And Get Them To Show Up.
Tadashi invited a large group of Yokai to his meeting. Was that the right thing to do?

Knowing who to invite to a meeting is an essential element of meeting management. Some people treat meeting invitation like cc:’s to an email chain–the more the merrier. However, when it comes to effective meetings, generally, the opposite is true.

For a meeting to be successful, you need the right mix of people present to accomplish the goal of the meeting. You do not want, or need, anyone and everyone with an opinion on the matter. You want people with the correct depth of knowledge on the topic–who can make decisions–and execute the tasks assigned.

Make sure the people that you invite understand why they’ve been invited. If possible, before sending out an invite, call each person to inform them about the meeting and why their attendance is important. In your meeting invitations, be sure to include the purpose of the meeting–if you can’t summarize this in 100 words or less, stop what you’re doing and think really hard about whether this meeting is even needed.

Feeling bad about not inviting someone even though they’re not 100% germane to the conversation? Remember: People who are not required for the actual meeting can be kept in the loop via summary email or meeting minutes.

2. Guide The Discussion With A Clear Agenda
How many meetings have you been in that lacked a clear topic or point?

If you’re chairing a meeting, make sure you have an agenda–and, if possible, distribute the agenda 24 hours ahead of time so participants can gather their thoughts and be prepared for a fruitful discussion.

During the meeting, keep agenda points time-constrained. Don’t squander time arguing minutia or allowing long-winded people to dominate the conversation. Keep the meeting moving.

In the film, Tadashi gets big points for having a clear agenda: Join with us to stop Armageddon. So why does his offer get rejected?

3. Open Strong, Stay Strong
People (and Yokai) naturally dislike meetings because meetings are often tedious or awkward or lead to more work that you don’t want to do.

In the film, the Yokai who reject Tadashi’s offer are lazy… bored… scared. And Tadashi, frankly, does not inspire much confidence being, you know, twelve.

How can you ameliorate those kinds of feelings, and get the most out of your meeting’s participants?

Develop a good reputation as a meeting organizer:

  • Start your meetings on time. Don’t waste the time of the people who show up when the meeting is scheduled to begin. This demonstrates respect for those who can meet their obligations and serves as a reminder to late-comers that you’re serious about sticking to the schedule.
  • At the start of the meeting, review the agenda so everyone’s on the same page. And remember to thank everyone for attending–it’s another sign of respect, and a style point that helps develop your reputation in a positive way.
  • During a meeting, it’s only natural for people’s minds to wander. Don’t let this happen: Be a role model for the kind of energy and participation others should demonstrate.

4. Stay On Topic
Many meetings have at least one participant who tends to drift. Sometimes it’s a tangent to the conversation. Sometimes it’s a complete non sequitur. Sometimes it’s a funny story that adds color but goes on for way too long.

Nip it.

Stay on topic.

But don’t be a jerk about it–just gently guide the discussion back to the agenda. Remember, you’re all in that room for a reason. Levity is fine, and stories related to the business at hand can be illuminating, but you must keep the meeting focused and prevent it from flying off the rails.

Not the chairperson for the meeting? Don’t let that stop you from helping to get the meeting back on track. Part of being a meeting participant entitles you to help keep things moving.

5. Close Effectively: Make Sure Everyone Knows What To Do Next
At the end of the meeting, summarize the key points, review the action items and assignments, and set the time for the next meeting. Follow up immediately with an email so everyone has that information in writing.

Want to earn more credibility as a meeting organizer? End your meetings on time! Triple bonus points if you can also end on a positive note.

Managing meetings effectively won’t necessarily make you the next Kirin Rider–or win you a magical horse/dragon to ride on–but it will make you a hero in the eyes of the people who attend your meetings.

Additional Meeting Management Resources

Good Luck With Your Next Meeting!

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