HubSpot’s Kipp Bodnar Says the Best Meeting Is the One That Doesn’t Happen at All
By now, it’s clear that remote work is not just a stop gap to a post-COVID future – it is the future. Nobody knows this more acutely than Kipp Bodnar, the Chief Marketing Officer at HubSpot. Since his team went fully remote, he’s had to navigate the ups and downs of remote work while keeping his distributed team unified.
Editor's Note: The following article is an excerpt from our book Better Meetings Every Time: The Secret to More Productive Meetings in a Digital World. You can access the entire book here.
That involves a lot of communicating.
In fact, his whole job is communicating. He oversees strategy and marketing teams worldwide and wrote the book on B2B social media. He’s a public speaker, a blogger, and a marketing advisor. His work is focused on sharing information, providing feedback, making decisions, and executing strategy – and communication is fundamental to all of those aspects.
It should come as no surprise, then, that Kipp spends a lot of time in meetings.
How much is “a lot”? He estimates that 75 to 80 percent of his weeks are spent in meetings – though he wishes that figure was closer to 50 to 60 percent.
Though there are a lot of upsides to remote collaboration – convenience, accessibility, more channels for feedback and engagement – the learning curve can be steep, especially when it comes to internal comms.
But when a meeting goes well, it leaves everyone involved feeling better informed and better prepared.
“That’s what a meeting is for; to get real in-depth perspective and knowledge in a compressed period of time,” Kipp says.
And when a meeting goes poorly?
“Endless charts, updates on data without context, without summarization and without clear decisions or actions that need to be made from looking at it,” he says, before adding: “Those are the worst.”
In other words, the worst meetings are the ones that would be better served as an email, a video, or any form of asynchronous communication that doesn’t require an immediate response.
Here’s how Kipp runs better meetings that justify their own existence every time.
The virtual advantage
Since HubSpot’s offices closed, all of Kipp’s meetings are now spent online; a new development he says that has actually improved his team’s internal communications. Before, they were split across offices around the world.
But when his teams went fully virtual, they quickly saw the upsides to this new mode of work.
Previously, meetings often entailed one group of people in one office meeting virtually with another group elsewhere in the world. Now everybody reports to the office virtually, cycling between Slack, email, and video meetings as their primary tools of communication. Kipp and his team members have found that there’s much less information lost between disparate participants these days than before.
“If a few people are in a room and you’re in some remote meeting, you feel very disconnected,” he says. “You feel like they’ve had some type of conversation before the meeting has started, they’re going to have it after you hang up, and you’re disadvantaged because you don’t have that perspective and that insight.”
From the very beginning, HubSpot eased into the transition by carefully and deliberately establishing communication protocols so that no piece of information, no matter how small, granular or casual, could fall between the cracks. At HubSpot, emails are for information and feedback, Slack is for casual conversations and urgent messages, and meetings are for decision-making and in-depth feedback.
“We try to be very explicit about the way that people can collaborate, and what the best way to do that actually is,” says Kipp.
With these new guidelines in place for how to best collaborate with each other, once people started logging on from their homes, those interstitial casual conversations no longer took place in closed-off quarters. Instead, it didn’t matter if one team was in one city and a second was in another. Individual team members were now all equally present and empowered to collaborate with all parties present, using whatever medium worked best for what they had to say. Most importantly, says Kipp, this shift has made people much happier.
Leading a meeting with intention
Prepping for a virtual meeting isn’t so different from prepping for its in-person equivalent. You have a person running the meeting, a list of topics and action items, and a time frame. But the difference is how you manage the meeting. Making use of the right tools and aligning your goals are more crucial than ever when it comes to virtual meetings.
Every step should be approached with intention, says Kipp. When it comes to meeting size, first consider the purpose of the meeting. If the goal is to make a decision, keep the meeting as small as possible (he recommends no more than five people). If the goal is to solicit feedback, open it up to more people.
“When in doubt, don’t invite somebody,” he says. “They will be thankful for the time back.”
In-meeting tools also offer opportunities to engage, solicit feedback, and give subtle cues to people. Kipp and his team rely heavily on chat – nudging someone when there’s a good opportunity coming to jump in with an idea, or to supply some data – to contribute to a meeting without disrupting its flow.
But time is also of the essence; if a meeting runs long or gets off-topic, it’s an indication that participants may not be aligned on the expressed goal of the meeting. In Kipp’s experience, when a meeting goes off the deep end, it’s likely because either the right goal wasn’t set from the beginning or there is an issue of conflicting priorities.
In either case, it’s up to the person leading the meeting to acknowledge the issue and guide the conversation back to its original purpose. In virtual meetings, this means recreating the physical cues and body language of traditional boardroom meetings to get people’s attention.
“I will raise my hand until the person who’s talking is like, ‘Oh, what’s your question?’” says Kipp. “And I’ll go, ‘This is what I think about the thing you’re talking about, but I think it’s time we go back to the core thing that we need to decide on in this discussion.’”
When words fail, let your body do the talking
While everyone on Kipp’s team has been content working from home and collaborating virtually, certain key elements of communication are harder to replicate. Body language, eye contact, and other subtle physical signals can get lost in the mix when you’re communicating via webcam to a grid of faces spread out on a monitor. And for Kipp, who many turn to as a source of feedback and direction, that nuance counts for a lot.
“I think being a leader is about how you show up,” he says.
While previously he could signal approval or disapproval by simply leaning forwards or backwards in his chair, these days he finds himself playing to the camera to communicate his reactions – applauding when he’s excited, leaning into his monitor to show engagement, and widely gesticulating with his hands to emphasize a point.
“I’m trying to communicate that this is how I’m feeling and reacting to this thing, which is the whole reason that we’re having this meeting – so that we can feel and react to this thing together,” he explains.
Make meetings magical, not monotonous
Kipp’s work week is spent in and out of meetings, so he’s become something of an expert. A great meeting for him is one that combines inspiration with education. A personal favorite is HubSpot’s annual Field Trip, where they line up a day of experts to talk about a developing aspect of their business. They take this opportunity to fire off questions, receive feedback, take notes, and debrief.
“It’s inspirational and educational all at once, and to me, those are the two criteria for a great meeting,” he says.
For Kipp, a successful meeting boils down to having a clear goal, making thoughtful use of the tools available to keep a meeting on track, and leading with intention. Most importantly: Cull that guest list! If you have to ask yourself whether or not you should invite him – or anyone at all – to your next meeting, the answer is simple: Just don’t.
“I’m way more thankful for the meetings that I don’t get invited to than the meetings that I do get invited to,” he says.
Maybe you can relate.