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Holding Successful Meetings with Caterina Kostoula

Updated: May 21, 2021

We can spend hours and hours of our working week in meetings. Caterina Kostoula argues we can make these meetings as effective as possible, through following simple frameworks which can turn meetings into a golden hour.

I interviewed Caterina for The Golden Hour podcast last month, and we discussed her new book, How to Hold Successful meetings . I wanted to get the detailed lowdown on the frameworks she recommends, and how she manages her own schedule. You can listen to the podcast episode here.

Here are the notes from our conversation on the nuts and bolts of great meetings:

Maya: What made you write this book about holding successful meetings?

Caterina: I used to associate meetings with being boring, internal and ineffective status updates, but then this title was suggested to me, and I realised that throughout my career I was actually being paid to hold successful meetings with clients!

Maya: Has becoming a coach helped you have better meetings in your career?

Caterina: It has, and I didn't expect this as I shifted my career towards coaching. When I was making this shift, all of a sudden I found my numbers and my sales job getting better and better even though I was moving away from the advertising world. My hypothesis for this was because of the coaching skills I was using with my clients, such as: being present, listening, creating a safe environment, asking questions, talking less, accepting other people and having empathy. All of these things create a better environment for a meeting, so coaching skills definitely help you have more successful meetings.

Maya: It's interesting to think about how we can cultivate our skills in meetings, and often a good set of coaching questions can be really valuable in a meeting. These kinds of questions get people to think a bit bigger and are more solution-focused. It's cool to think that with the right questions, you can open up your meeting and make it more powerful. I know you've got some fabulous frameworks in your book, and in particular I think getting off to a good start is a good place to start in meetings. It is hard to recover when you have got off to a terrible start. Is there anything you would like to share around your frameworks for starting the meetings?

Caterina: The way I think about it is that you need to answer 4 questions for your meeting participants:

  1. Centre the team around your purpose. Why am I here and why should I care (we need to start with the purpose of the meeting is x, and by the end we will have achieved y)

  2. Connect with each other. Do I belong in this group and am I a valued member in this group?

  3. Contract = how we are going to run this meeting. Set some ground rules for what is expected in the meeting.

  4. Consume the information you will need in the meeting at the beginning

Maya: Would you argue that consume should be the first C, because maybe some information would be circulated around before the meeting?

Caterina: So you either circulate it before, or do it at the start of the meeting. Amazon and Twitter read information for the first 10/15 mins at the start of a meeting and there are several benefits of having this information in written form; you can't hide behind slides or bullet points - there needs to be more depth in your arguments and everyone digests info at their own pace. This replaces the typical business review or presentation in the meeting.

Maya: In terms of order, how does it work? Do you consume that information first or do you centre first then connect and contract?

Caterina: You would centre first, then connect, then contract (sometimes you don't need to do this if you are a very close team and know what is expected in meetings) and consume.

Maya: That contracting part at the start of a meeting seems to link quite well to another one of your frameworks, which is called the 4D framework. At that contracting phase can you identify what kind of meeting your having, and do you want to share a little more about the 4D framework?

Caterina: I actually link the 4D framework to the first C, which is centre on purpose. The 4D framework is central to the whole book, because I argue that there are only 4 types of meetings. They are 4 outcomes you can pursue in your meetings, but they are also steps in a process to solve any problem. They are as follows:

  1. Define (define the problem or the goal)

  2. Develop ideas

  3. Decide

  4. Do

These are steps to solve any problem, and a lot of the chaos in meetings that happens is because everyone is on a different step. When I realised this I thought this is fascinating. Just by aligning your participants to the step you're on is transformational.

Maya: Are you saying that during that centring process you walk through those 4 D's or do you just highlight which ones you're focusing on?

Caterina: You highlight the one you're focusing on. For example, if you're having a "Develop" meeting, you would say to your participants, "our purpose today is to develop ideas to improve our sales", then you will come up with a list of those ideas.

Maya: Could you give an example for the purpose of the "Do" meeting?

Caterina: There are 3 different kinds of "Do" meetings. The "do" meeting is where the outcome is action. This can come during the meeting or afterwards. The three types are:

  • Working sessions

    • This should be about 2 or 3 people (this wouldn’t be a meeting with lots of people)

  • Planning for action meeting

  • Inspire action

Maya: Thanks Caterina, so great to just stop and think about what kind of meeting we are in, and how to set it up for success I cannot wait to change the world, one great meeting at a time!

Caterina: Thanks for having me!

You can find, and purchase, her book Hold Successful Meetings here.


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