5 ways to hold a productive EMS meeting

An EMS leader who uses these techniques to ‘flip the meeting’ will have a more engaged and efficient staff and a more agile and effective agency

Not many people love meetings (especially people who got into EMS/public safety because they liked the excitement and hated sitting at a desk), but they are critical to organizations, including EMS agencies. I’ve been in many meetings where each person gives a report, but few listen to what others are saying, and nothing is accomplished.

On the other hand, I’ve participated in meetings that truly drive an organization forward and energize everyone in the room. A great meeting brings leadership teams together and ensures that everyone is working toward the same goal. They provide a safe forum for open and honest conversation, including divergent viewpoints that need to be heard. Often it’s during the breaks in those meetings when real innovation happens, because people are in one room and talking face-to-face.

So how can a leader keep meetings engaging and productive? One way is to “flip the meeting.”

The idea of “flipping the classroom” is not new to education, including EMS. Some EMT and paramedic programs have adopted the strategy, which has students watch or listen to lectures on their own, and then spend more classroom time on problem-solving and practical skills learning. In some cases, that means they go to “class” at home and do their “homework” in class.

EMS leaders can learn from what teachers have already discovered. Here are five ways to flip a meeting and make it worth everyone’s time to be there.

1. Avoid technology during the meeting

A lot of leaders have a tendency to use technology during meetings. They have conference lines set up to allow people to participate without being present. Projectors and PowerPoint presentations are always used.

While conference calls are sometimes necessary — for instance when clients are several time zones away or employees are traveling — they should be avoided when possible. You’ve all been on conference calls where you can barely hear the conversation and where you’re doing other work while barely listening. If calling in is offered as an option because it seems like a burden to make people attend the meetings, think about having fewer meetings or find ways to make them more engaging, and have people attend in person.

If a PowerPoint is necessary so information can be displayed, use it — but not in order to present information that participants could have easily read on their own.

2. Use technology — before the meeting

Part of the magic of “flipping” is to use technology to your advantage before the meeting. Send PowerPoint presentations out prior, or even better — have the presenter record the presentation. For example, a leader of an organization that is considering implementing a new disciplinary policy could send the policy out before the meeting along with a short video of a summary and explanation by the policy’s author. The meeting could then focus on any points of discussion raised by the proposed policy.

Many organizations utilize learning management systems that allow them to assign videos or documents to members of the organization. Send out the agenda, relevant documents, and video presentations prior to the meeting. Meeting attendees can read or view them on their own time, and come to the meeting prepared to ask questions and offer feedback.

3. Come prepared

If you, as the meeting leader, come prepared with questions to spur discussion and receive feedback, then others will come prepared as well. One fear of flipping the meeting is that no one will actually read or watch the materials prior to the meeting. But once they see that you’re prepared, they will be too. Give people assignments that are easy and not time-consuming but create discussion. Tell them to come with a question, and to be prepared to answer yours.

4. Don’t set a time limit — but don’t allow time wasting

We’ve all worked with people who say “a meeting should never last more than an hour.” But I’ve been to meetings that were productive for several hours — and others that were only 45 minutes but served no purpose. If a meeting needs to be longer, let it be longer — but ensure that minutes aren’t being wasted. Allow for discussion, but keep control of the meeting.

5. Accomplish something during the meeting

Instead of having a meeting in order to decide what should be accomplished later, use the meeting to accomplish something. In other words, make decisions. Yes, at times more research and deliberation will be required. But almost any meeting can have a resolution of certain items and agenda setting for the future. The meeting agenda should not just list topics to be discussed — it should list decisions that need to be made.

Flipping a meeting and focusing on having an open discussion and accomplishing goals will create an environment where employees feel that you are listening to them and not just lecturing them. If your leadership team dreads coming to meetings, those meetings will not be very productive. An EMS leader who uses these techniques will have a more engaged and more efficient staff and much more agile and effective organization.

About the author

Jay Fitch, PhD is the founding partner of the EMS public safety-consulting firm, Fitch & Associates. He leads multiple projects each year, regularly writes and lectures on leadership and serves as the program chair for the Pinnacle EMS Leadership Forum. Contact him at jfitch@emprize.net


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