Planning and communication for better meetings - with Jordyn Benattar

At the first-ever StartWell 'Company Culture Toolkit' event, communication consultant Jordyn Benattar joined us on stage to share some helpful tips that can yield better meetings.

*Filmed live in the StartWell Offsite Venue


Read the full video transcript

Improving meetings with clear objectives, agendas, and invitees.

Qasim Virjee 0:00
So if I can welcome you to the stage Jordan, it's a pleasure to have you here. Thank you for joining me, for all of us. Hi, everyone. So, Jordan, you've been here before, in a different space at start? Well, our first time chatting was really in our podcast studio. I think it's nice to be back. Yeah. And you're not you're with other people. This time. The podcast studios can be intense. It's just

Unknown Speaker 0:27
three of us. Last time three of us poncho,

Qasim Virjee 0:30
our producer was there as well. So welcome back. I would love for you to introduce yourself to our audience. Sure. And let's, you know, roll with it. And I'll ask you some questions. Okay,

Jordyn Benattar 0:44
tell me where the light the virtual audiences to.

Qasim Virjee 0:47
Oh, we've got cameras all over the place. So don't worry. They can see us there. Cool.

Jordyn Benattar 0:52
Okay. You all know my name. I am the president of a company called Speak. Well, don't confuse it with start while even though we do have a lot in common

Qasim Virjee 1:00
about well, yeah, being well speaking, well, Living Well, exactly.

Jordyn Benattar 1:04
Speak well equips executives and their teams to master their communication skills, so that they can really win more in business, in life, in their personal lives in their professional lives. And our clients range from lean startups, like companies that are raising money for the very first time to Global Fortune 500 companies. My background before pursuing coaching full time, and I've been in the coaching space for almost a decade and a half now. But it was a side hustle for a while, immediately preceding speak. Well, I worked at a couple law firms and a lawyer by training. And my favorite thing about working in law was being able to distill really complex information and make it digestible to someone who doesn't understand the law. And I loved the persuasive writing element. And then that's about it, which is why I left. I grew up acting in film and television. So that skill of memorizing lines, being able to put yourself into the shoes of someone else for at that time, for me, it was a character and now it's the audience's that I'm speaking to that, coupled with the legal training really, really influences speak well, it's approach. It's about storytelling. It's about connection. It's about authenticity. It's about persuasion. And then I also just have a long standing history of competitive public speaking, which was my nerdy, competitive public competitive. I represented Canada at international turns that

Qasim Virjee 2:34
involve gloves being slapped in people's face.

Jordyn Benattar 2:39
No, okay. It's really just fighting with your words. Right. So that's a little bit about me. I'm elated to be back here. Thank you for having me. It's a pleasure. And we're going to talk about the importance of communication. I'll give you some practical tips and tricks that you can bring back to your companies and answer any questions that you have, too. I love this open in formal forum for that totally

Qasim Virjee 3:02
man. And, you know, I think the thing that I didn't mention to open this is that I think for this first session of the toolkit, the company culture toolkit, such an interesting name we came up with, we'll unpack that later, but that for this first one, we want to talk about meetings a little bit, you know, talk about how people can improve meetings and the meeting experience, that's going to be kind of a theme, I think, between what we're talking about, and then afterwards with Michael. So meetings, better meetings, the context around meetings. Let's start with before the meeting, Jeff, stuff to say about that.

Jordyn Benattar 3:38
Yes, I will also say that so much, so much of meetings. So so much of the value of meetings, and how that you can set them up for success doesn't actually happen in the meeting itself 90% of a presentation and how well it's gonna go. Presentations are different than meetings, but they have similarities is dictated before that presentation, there's so much you can do to prepare to make the most of your time when you're with somebody else. Meetings, I'll get to what you can do before the meeting in a moment. But just to highlight some of the current issues that I hear from some of my corporate clients with their meetings, is that meetings take up way too much time. They are draining instead of energizing, meeting after meeting after meeting, and then people don't have time to do their actual work. And they're expensive. If you think of the salary of the CEO of your company, and how divide that by how many working days or in a year and then by the hour, and how much time he or she is actually spending in a meeting. It's their time. So that's just let's make sure that our meetings are efficient and productive and benefit everybody who's there. So before the meeting, the first question that I always think of is who actually needs to be here and does it does is a meeting necessary?

Qasim Virjee 4:56
I like this topic because this is this is the one that's been very new was worthy in the last couple of years? Right? I don't know my take on

Jordyn Benattar 5:03
it. Yeah, the whole Yeah, post pandemic stuff in the startup

Qasim Virjee 5:07
ecosystem. We also, of course, actually, Hassan, you know, you can leave it on because the cameras are corrected to having having it on right now. Anyway, thanks. But yeah, with this, this whole thing of like, you know, Shopify CEO announcing meetings are dead, we're getting rid of our real estate. We don't do meetings, and we don't do office. And you know, so the most horrible waste of time, and then having to double back on like, well, we have some offices, and they're going to be meeting rooms from now on, you know, and that didn't get covered in the news as much as the first announcement that did. But yes, it's true. How do you gauge who should be in a meeting? Well,

Jordyn Benattar 5:46
I think, ask yourself, what the objective of this is, if it's simply to relay information cannot be done in an email cannot be done on some sort of mass broadcast? Is it a conversation that maybe is dealing with some sensitive subjects, and it is better to in fact, have it in person? Even if you're just relaying information? Is it a one on one dialogue? Where really there's only one decision maker and only that person needs to be included in the meeting? Do you need to bring the entire team in? Can this be a phone call? Does it need to be a zoom call? I do so many phone calls. Now. It is so freeing? Yeah. Going? Going back to 1990? style, I guess. But that's that's my thoughts on doesn't meeting first and foremost as a meeting need to happen. Yeah. Then, okay, if so, let's prepare to make that meeting as successful as possible. And what are some things that you can do? Well, highlighting the objective of the meeting, we all need to have a reason for meeting there is no worse feeling than arriving and thinking, what so what are we here to talk about today? Has that happened to you alone? No, because I make sure it doesn't happen, okay. But you never want to be in that position, because then it's a waste of everybody's time where their materials in advance that you can distribute so people aren't flipping through the deck as they're sitting around the table. That's a waste of everybody's time. Also asking yourself, okay, what is the agenda? What is a realistic scope? For the amount of time that we have allotted for this meeting? Is it going to be a massive decision that's going to take hours of negotiation? Is it a quick discussion? Are we is the purpose to brainstorm is the purpose to arrive at a particular decision. So getting super clear on the objectives, the scope, the people who ought to be there, and how much time is necessary, that's vital before the meeting, and then sharing that information with the people who are invited so that they have a heads up, and they can do their own preparation? So everybody arrives at the table? Ready to chat?

Effective communication strategies for meetings.

Qasim Virjee 7:50
is super interesting, because I think, you know, and this came up in our preparatory calls for even this sort of meeting, it was that I'm I'm very much off the cuff person, like in the sense that I don't prepare all that much for conversations with people because I have, you know, like, 20 3040 conversations a day. Wow. Yeah, I'm like talking all day long. It's pretty crazy. And yesterday, I was in a podcast for two and a half hours, two and a half hours. And we had tons more to say. So it is it's it's very interesting to think about things as being, you know, intentional and spending the time to plan. But at what time, I know, this sounds like a stupid question. But how do you balance the time spent on preparing versus the time spent in a meeting? Is there any correlation? Or what's a rule of thumb for, you know, how invested people should be in preparing?

Jordyn Benattar 8:46
I think it's completely contextual. Okay. And everybody prepares differently. So the facilitator of the meeting will probably spend a little bit more time than some of the attendees or the participants in the meeting. Depends on the industry depends on the prep required depends on the objective of the meeting. But to your point, people have different styles of preparation, some don't really feel the need to prepare at all. Yeah.

Qasim Virjee 9:10
Well, yeah, I mean, it depends, right? Because if the if the goal of the meeting is to brainstorm and apply yourself in the moment, versus we have these particular bits of information, we have to co process that we need to know intimately before we walk into the room for

Jordyn Benattar 9:27
sure. And to come ready to share those ideas and how you're going to communicate those ideas in a clear, concise way. Yep. So that you're also not rambling and wasting other people's time. Let's

Qasim Virjee 9:36
talk about that communication, just like a little bit. There. Well, you just said,

Unknown Speaker 9:42
Oh, what about it?

Qasim Virjee 9:43
Yeah, well, what are some things people can keep in mind as rubrics for maintaining clear communication?

Jordyn Benattar 9:51
I always say to start with the headline. Don't take the mystery tour bus to get to your point, lead with the headline, then you might Want to explain what you mean? Then perhaps provide an example and then circle back to your point, because then it's crystal clear. So that model is called peep, PE, P point explain example point. Spiegel has dozens of models, but that's just a super clear, easy to one.

Qasim Virjee 10:16
I forgot it already. Sorry.

Jordyn Benattar 10:17
What is it? Point? Yeah. Explain. Okay. Example. Point. Okay. It's it's highly malleable, not applicable to every single point you want to make. But it makes sure that you get the message across, right. And also back it up with a little bit of evidence. It's so

Qasim Virjee 10:37
interesting, you know, because I come well, I come from many worlds. But one of them is about, you know, copywriting and copywriting for marketing. And what's really interesting is that, you know, fundamentally, yeah, clear communication is about structured kind of information reliance. But at the same time, it's weird for me to hear that this asynchronous kind of means of communication, which would be copy on an ad or a website, is something also that you want to kind of bear in mind to articulate with people.

Jordyn Benattar 11:14
The goal here is not to stress you out that you all have to speak in a super structured manner. And we don't want to make perfect the enemy of good like to your question about how much prep is required? Yeah, you're going to over prepare, it's just you need to be prepared. And what I see is a lack of that in organizations, people just showing up, it's a time to scroll on Instagram, when you're sitting in a meeting. That's really not a good use of your time or anyone else's, especially because it's so tough to get every all the butts in seats at the same time. Yeah.

Qasim Virjee 11:44
Yeah. And again, there's different purposes for meetings, like, I'll color this with a little bit of anecdotal experience here at start. Well, of course, because that's our function, right? Like, we provide space for all sorts of organizations to come together to gather the nature of organizational needs for collaboration and for communication in person in flesh space has changed in the last four years, definitely in Canada, right, like. So now, there's a huge social function that teams who are distributed or otherwise remote as a primary weak way of organizing themselves, they don't have a physical office, if they don't see each other. Often, we're finding a lot of companies coming to us for a social function, the way that they still want to maintain work, and they want to come together and collaborate in life sessions. But do it in a way that's less formal, again, still productive, for sure. They want to communicate, they don't want to just sit there and play video games. But it's really interesting how. Now this is getting in a quagmire, but how companies can work towards having collaborative culture that relies on clear communication, if the people that are communicating aren't regularly together, you know, and is there anything you can say about that? Because you did mention the zoom thing. So like, how different right or how headspace can be managed between this sort of like virtual communication and virtual meetings? And then physical meetings? Like, is this something that requires a different means of communication? Or, cuz I keep going on, like my assumptions on this topic, but I'd love to hear your thoughts on like the virtual, versus to paint the picture of the hybrid reality, right, and the new workplace, but like, communication, in this direct to screen zoom way, versus like, now we're sitting with people,

Virtual vs in-person communication, time management, and active listening in meetings. 

Jordyn Benattar 13:37
and how you can succeed in either setting or possibly even the nature of it,

Qasim Virjee 13:42
the nature of it, any recommendations from your angle on like, types of communication that are better? By being in person versus solely, you know, on on calls? I

Jordyn Benattar 13:54
think it's easier to brainstorm in person. I think it's easier to have difficult conversations in person. A lot of this stuff to me is just common sense. Like you think about when am I going to meet FaceTime somebody? Is it the same as being in the same in the same room as them. And then when you are in the same room, I will say that it's, it's just so much better, like have loved being able to look at all of you, I imagine not looking at all of you and only having a virtual audience. It's tougher for the person who's facilitating the person who's speaking. I will say though, Zoom makes meetings quite efficient, because nobody wants to excuse my language, but shoot the shit on Zoom. They're there for a reason. They have to get to our next call. You see that timer when your meeting is about to end?

Qasim Virjee 14:44
You're a lawyer. See, so you love that? I hate that stuff.

Jordyn Benattar 14:48
Well, it just it keeps you I guess in check. I was so sorry. Go for it. Well,

Qasim Virjee 14:54
like check this up. theropods. Me, please. I was on a call last week where I was is seven minutes late. Okay. I five minutes before the scheduled time to meet someone on a call, message them to say I'm running five minutes late. So my net net was I was two minutes late. And I saw their face off the camera and they turned it off right then I got an email like one minute later, right? So eight minutes into our scheduled call time saying we cannot work with someone who does not respect our time. And I was thinking, I mean, I laughed, that was my natural reaction, right? Of course, I'm like you want I don't want to work with you, either. You're crazy. If they were here at start, well in person, they wouldn't be having. They'd be like, don't come down for the meeting yet. I'm having a great conversation with Hassan at the front desk, having a cappuccino. You know, and so setting that kind of expectations for the means of communication when it's always online being very functional, takes away from what can be exchanged as well. I feel it's

Jordyn Benattar 15:59
a delicate balance is people I am with you though. I do find though that when people are late to a Zoom meeting, sometimes I worry they're not going to show you know when it's been eight minutes and you're like, Did they forget do I resend the calendar invite? Well, it's interesting because if the expectation

Qasim Virjee 16:15
and if you block half an hour, I don't know. I mean, I've been doing this stuff. This is the other thing, okay. I'm not that old, but I've been doing video calls since 1999. This is not new. Right? It's since 1999. If you shedule half an hour for a call. Okay, you sheduled it like they might be half an hour late. And you'll say Hi, sorry, I don't have time because we just ran out. But you're you don't have anything else for that half an hour. You know, but that's not anyway, I don't think that's that's people's read on it these days. Okay, so we talked about time management. What about intentionality? In a meeting? You're there, you're together, let's assume let's just talk about it face fossa fast in real life. You're together with people. How can you be better in a meeting at interrelation? And what's the relation? I guess? What's the relationship between being there together and being present together? Let's say?

Jordyn Benattar 17:21
Well, active listening is a key skill. Yeah. In terms of being intentional and being present? It's, I think it goes both for the facilitator of the meeting, as well as for anyone who's a participant in the meeting, when I think about the fit. Is this more of a question about intentionality or about engagement?

Qasim Virjee 17:43
You tell me roll with intentionality. And

Jordyn Benattar 17:47
I will interpret this as about being intentional. Yeah. staying on track is really key, making sure that you have that roadmap at the beginning, relaying the agenda. And then as you move through the agenda, I mean, this is Michael's areas of expertise. So he's going to speak to this, I'm sure more than I will. But it's okay, we just finished the first part of the meeting where we were giving you some context on what happened last week. Now let's move on to the decision making portion. It's that signposting along the way that keeps everybody in check, and their intentions in the room as well and just really conducive to a more productive conversation. Now, to shift toward being intentional, and also impactful. Yeah, as someone who's present in the meeting, that's where I would hint at the skill of active listening, okay? Because

Qasim Virjee 18:41
break it down first, what is active listening,

Jordyn Benattar 18:43
it's being really present, and also kind of clearing your mind so that you can be in the moment and that you can respond articulately really digest what's being relayed to you. It's a bit of a problem, to be honest, because we speak at 125 words a minute, we lose, I never, I didn't know that, on average, on average. And then we listen 400 words a minute, but we think, at 900 words a minute, so we are as human beings always skipping ahead, we always assume that we know how the other person is going to finish their sentence. And as a result, we jumped to conclusions, there might be a little bit of bias that clouds our judgment. And the key is to slow down, slow down your thinking, not your speaking, slow down, you're thinking so that you can really digest what the other person is saying. appreciate it for what it is, and not rush to rush to the end. Let them finish Don't interrupt. So being an active listener is key to staying true to what meetings are all about, which is having a conversation that cannot be had over email that cannot be had over text and collaboratively bringing your brains together to realize a magnificent outcome.

Effective communication strategies for meetings.

Qasim Virjee 19:57
Mm hmm. Do you know that you've had a magnificent outcome?

Jordyn Benattar 20:02
Well, you've achieved the objective of the meeting. And hopefully it doesn't end with. So let's schedule another meeting to talk about this.

Qasim Virjee 20:10
Oh, my God, the endless meeting the rabbit hole meeting. It's like, Yeah, let's put a pin in this. Let's circle back

Jordyn Benattar 20:14
unless that's part of the plan, of course, because of course, we talked about what you can do before a meeting. Yeah, in terms of what you can do after a meeting, send that recap, highlight next steps, make sure people who are responsible for various agenda items are accountable for those and they know what they have to do. Yeah. And that might involve having another meeting, but that should all be part of the plan. If it is, in fact, what's best,

Qasim Virjee 20:38
you know, I think there's a lot of meetings that happen recurringly or things that don't get resolved in particular meetings that from we see, like bird's eye view, you know, bird's eye view, wallflower, I don't know. But like, from our vantage at start, we'll hear that come from confusion, you know, like, people being confused in meetings, not, again, part of that is not articulating, clearly, maybe coming into the meeting, without intention, not necessarily knowing what they're there for. figuring it out, that takes too long. They only have a set amount of time, especially here, if they've booked a resource. It's been booked by someone else afterwards, or whatever else they have more in their agenda. But confusion around Yeah, goals, but also expected outcomes. And then yeah, you see this in corporate culture a lot. You see some corporate culture was

Jordyn Benattar 21:33
that communication? Because it wasn't communicated to them, obviously, or in the meeting invite. There was no agenda attached, or there were no notes in the meeting note. Maybe they didn't know who other who else was attending.

Qasim Virjee 21:45
I find that that was an interesting one. So it's like you spend a bit of time getting to know like, this is this is a crazy thing to talk about out loud. It sounds so nuts and Anglo to me. But like, you spent a bunch of time getting to know someone and it's like, Well, why don't I do that? I don't need to know you. I just need to discuss this topic. Like you don't matter. We're here to solve something. But yeah, we have a question. Yes. Right. The question is just just for the recording and for our audiences to that's not in the room. Correct me if I'm wrong, what I heard was, as a creative and someone that's doing work that may need explanation that you assume you won't need to explain. People might be confused, because they want your they want you to be more succinct. Because perhaps even what you're talking about, they don't conceive. It's not even about the specificities of the project or something that you're that you're going through as a list, they might just not be on the same page as you going into the meeting, and then be struggling a little bit to figure out how to apply themselves. So that what do you what do you do you have anything to add on that kind of situation?

Jordyn Benattar 22:55
Well, first, I'm sorry, that that's, I think, not to generalize, but creative industries are very loose. And sometimes people are, it's just very different than corporate culture. What I would say is one thing you can do, and I know you've exhausted many options, is to put some of the onus on them in the preparation. So it's sending an email, please come prepared with a BRC, I know you've done the calendar invitation thing, and solicit a response to make sure that they've done it. And then maybe even instilling a little bit of accountability on their end, which will also increase engagement in the meeting, people will feel engaged when they feel that they have a role, or maybe they own an agenda item. So you might say, all right, Steve, you're going to be responsible for talking about Project XYZ, I'm going to talk about Project ABC, and Cheryl is going to own project 123. And then everybody knows why they have a seat at the table and what their role is and why they're there. That's interesting,

Qasim Virjee 24:01
actually, like, you know, instilling this participatory culture in a meeting, so it's not just about like, two sides are exchanging information. We're all here together. That's very cool.

Jordyn Benattar 24:12
That answers your question. I don't know if it'll solve your problem, but it's worth a try.

Qasim Virjee 24:19
Yeah, we have another question. Oh, and there's a mic. There's now a mic. Oh, thank you.

Speaker 1 24:26
This feels like a lot of pressure now. So I really like the PEEP point that you mentioned, like leading with a point and coming back to the point, which makes a lot of sense. But in my current role, I'm doing a lot of influencing at the moment within teams because we're in a transitional phase, and people are very much on different pages. So that's what I'm doing a lot. So I feel like I can't lead with a point because the point is very much against what they are thinking or it's a change in the team where which I feel like there is a lot of reluctance and you In the team for so how would you recommend communicating? And that's nice because I know leading with a point, it's just going to set me up for failure because they were disengaged, listening to the explanation and the examples following after.

Jordyn Benattar 25:12
Yes. So I'm happy that you brought up that alternative context where people are not necessarily bought into that point, or really influence and persuasion is the goal. I would start with an active listening exercise, which means asking open ended questions and gathering as much information about your audience, and their values, their motivations, their needs, their frustrations from the outset, so that those actually become your talking points. You ask them to unpack them with short, open ended questions like how so or really tell me more about that? What's an example where you've experienced that before, and then you draw on those and say, I think I might be able to help you. And if you come from the angle of service, and helping as opposed to selling, that is the structure that I would recommend in order to win them over because they need to believe you. And gaining that trust from the outset is paramount. Welcome.

Clear communication in meetings, using simple language and technology to improve speaking skills.

Qasim Virjee 26:14
Cool. Anyone else have questions? All right, I have at one point, so like, on this idea of being on the same page, and making sure that people kind of can communicate, it's a tough thing. It's a tough thing, especially for meeting people for the first time to ensure that like, you can communicate clearly with them. And cross organization or between multiple organizations, if you don't work together, and you don't even share the same nature of work, if you're in the creative industries and their granting body, or anyone else that you're meeting with. So I think I think this is kind of funny. I know, this is like a bit ESL. Okay, but for me, if you have clicker, let's play a game. If you have something to say, and you don't say it, simply, this is that whole copywriter analogy that I had, and you know, and you and you speak in ways that I do you confuse people. So I'd like everyone in the room to just like on the count of three, I'll count to three. Just Say this with me the sentence que in quotations. 123. Difficult discourse. dedans dreams? Wow. You know, this is weird. Do you like my sentence? Let's say it again, really, really quick, as quick as you can 123 Difficult discourse debtors in the right, alliteration. That's a problem. You know, it's tough. The words is consonants in there, there's around it's there's all these dead ends. Okay. Very complicated, like people, are people going to remember that? I mean, my six year old would, you know, because she loves this stuff. But what about this one? Hard Talk is sold, crushing, you know, like, hardcore, that's probably not even linguistically Correct. Is that good English Hard Talk, like Hard Talk is a thing. soul crushing. So I think like, speaking in a way is that makes sense to say, let's say with me, I'm kind of 3123 Hard Talk is soul crushing. And it's fun. So I think that's another thing that I feel, like, you know, is a learning that I've had is that it's easy to speak in ways that you're used to, which in a corporate context, may be the vernacular of your organization. We see this a lot with engineering teams. So if this software engineers, the way they communicate, is sometimes not even English, you know, because there's shortcuts to what they're taught. You know, and especially if you're talking in it with the lexicon of like, you know, I don't know, what are the what are the verbiage but like, if you're, if you're basically making references to code, and you know, scaffoldings, and architectural terms, and then you go and speak with the marketing team about how to sell that software, you know, they're gonna be like, yeah, what, what is it? So, speaking in clear ways, helps, and levels the playing field, right?

Jordyn Benattar 29:20
Always catering. I always try and cater to the common denominator, the bottom of the totem pole, because there's nothing worse than something going over your head and then you think you sound smart, but no one understands you anyway. And

Qasim Virjee 29:34
here's a lesson from search engine organized search engine optimization, SEO. This is crazy guys in Canada, the indication by all SEO experts, currently including Google's own published documentation that recommends how people should be writing copy to be indexed correctly by the algo in like the Google Search algo is like, right for grade six English at Max Max. That's a bit scary to me like as a social critique. You know, like if you're if you're speaking so simply that you can't perhaps articulate complex things you know? Anyway, I'll leave that there. Thank you. Thank you. It's a pleasure chatting.

Jordyn Benattar 30:25
Anyone else have any questions? I'll be here for a little bit. So please feel free to approach me. And I will say there are so many more resources that I'd love to share with you. I shared like two frameworks out of what I can probably think of hundreds. So anything related to even AI public speaking coaching that will simplify your language or make it more complex if you want it to Yeah, things around structure will speak well has bots, essentially, that will prompt you to make sure you hit certain points in your meetings, it will catch your filler words, it will tell you if you're speaking too fast or too slow. It's absolutely amazing. So technology can be really, really helpful in meetings. That's number one. And then number two, there's that human touch component. So if you want to speak to myself, a coach, somebody who specializes in public speaking and communication, I will be sitting right there for a little bit. Yeah, and of course your website is just speak well.no I wish it's Let's speak well.com

Qasim Virjee 31:26
Let's speak well.com

Unknown Speaker 31:27
Yeah, that's awesome.

Qasim Virjee 31:29
Thanks again.

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