Pit bulls are beautiful pups, but they don’t always make great content. Neither do chocolate chip banana pancakes. Nonetheless, pups and pancakes were center stage at our editorial meeting, which started ten minutes late for the fourth time running.

Sound familiar?

You Can Have More Productive Editorial Meetings

Our team spends a lot of time together. We have to feel like a team. But if we don’t generate fresh content at a dizzying pace, we’ll end up freelancing. Our interests, observations, and eccentricities have to work for us if we want to stay in the storytelling business.

But without structure, the best of us find ourselves freewheeling. With Facebook, Instagram, and every other digital rabbit hole, we are armed for distraction. Without a system, our creative introverts would have no say in our editorial direction.

After dozens of unproductive editorial meetings, I decided to get them right. To do so, I changed the way I thought about these gatherings. In my mind, I was no longer dealing with mere storytellers: I was dealing with freaks of nature.

Vintage Hipster Circus, freak show icons and characters

Vintage Hipster Circus, freak show icons and characters

Welcome To The Circus

Next time you’re sitting at an editorial meeting, look around the table: before you are some of the most curious, talented, weirdly analytical people on the planet.

By nature, they are misfits. They’re here because they see the world differently. They challenge the status quo.

Some have bigger personalities than others. And each person comes with a smartphone, breakfast, anecdotes, and weekend plans. There are many variables at play. Something as little as simple as Facebook can be the difference between success and failure.

If you pull their attention away from the mundane and the everyday, you can help them find stories to live by. These are stories worth sharing.

You Are The Ringleader

When you truly appreciate who and what you’re dealing with, you can harness the potential of your team. When you create an environment where your teammates will be celebrated for seeing the world in their unique way, you can help them be great.

Look around the table again. An editorial meeting is a circus, but here, the acrobatics are mental, more than physical.

Where do you begin? Or rather, when?

The Meeting Starts Before The Meeting 

Every circus needs an Announcer to keep the show moving. The Announcer provides organization and order. When people know why they’re there, and what to expect, they naturally trim unnecessary discussion and keep each other in check.

Send out conversation starters before the meeting and designate a moderator to sift through ideas beforehand. When you focus the actual discussion, you’ll walk away with more great story ideas than if you rely on luck alone.

Remember, brainstorming only works for some teams. While many people think on the fly, others thrive on silence. Groups are easily swayed by one or two charismatic (or loud) people. Cull these natural group dynamics.

We know that the best stories are often found in the corners and the cracks. The more prepared the attendees are, the more likely a range of good ideas will be discussed and developed.

Remember, the Contortionist is just as important as the Bearded Lady and the Strong Man. The Announcer makes sure each has a place and time to shine.

Be Selective

In content marketing, quantity matters, but quality is king. If you pack an entire troupe into one room, you may end up with a mixed performance.

Before you block out time on anybody’s calendar, ask yourself who needs to be there.

When you have a list of attendees, ask yourself if their time is better spent somewhere else. You’ve been to thirty-minute meetings where your presence was needed for all of five seconds. It’s simply unproductive. While everyone has a valuable opinion, only invite decision makers. Stars don’t like to share the spotlight or hide behind the curtains.

Stick To The Facts

Magicians never share their secrets with the audience, but they are much more open with their colleagues. After all, fellow performers need to know how substantial the other acts really are because the entire troupe’s reputation is on the line.

The same is true of content marketers: a bad story reflects on the entire brand. To this end, content needs to both human and data-driven. It must be backed by something more substantial than a quip and a heartfelt opinion.

Sometimes, emotion overpowers reason. Many times, the truth is counterintuitive. Warped perceptions form in the same way that economic bubbles grow and eventually pop. We must remember that everything we read on the Internet isn’t necessarily true.

Look at Meerkat, the Periscope competitor that was touted to be a revolutionary social media tool. Experts felt strongly about it. They talked about it incessantly. But it never lived up to the hype they’d manufactured. They would have found better stories had they looked at the facts.

No matter how objective we try to be, we will be biased without knowing it. That’s a good thing. Our human bias brings facts to life. And fortunately, statistics take a longer view that keep our tendencies in check.

Start On Time

People who see the world differently may have a unique sense of time. Don’t let it affect you or anyone else. If you have a dozen people in a room, ten minutes is two hours.

If the Pitchman is perennially late, let him walk in late. He’ll do it twice before he realizes that punctuality actually matters.

Have Fun

The Acrobat doesn’t want to walk across coals. The Monk doesn’t want to throw knives. The Magician doesn’t want to wrestle a bear. Make sure everyone is matched to their talents and interests because their work shows when they care about the subject matter.

As you strive for order and productivity, remember that the best stories are human. Keep your performers happy. The structure you provide should amplify their humanity. You may not spend as much time in the meeting talking about brunch or pets, but you can always suspend the rules during happy hour.