Think about the last time you were invited to a business meeting. How did you feel? If you’re like a lot of people, your immediate thought might be that the meeting is going to be a waste of time, you may complain to your colleagues and expect to be bored.
Let’s get the bad news out of the way first: meetings are an essential part of communication in any business setting. The good news is, by learning some basic meeting skills we can have the biggest impact and stop the cycle of boring, pointless meetings. Whether you’re leading the meeting or you’re just a participant, you can impact whether the meeting is a success.
According to authors Kathleen Allen and Peter Economy, there are eight ways to make a meeting more effective:
- Be Prepared
Meetings are work. So just as in any other work activity, the better prepared you are for them the better the results you can expect. This is even more important if you are leading the meeting. Start with the meeting’s purpose and build the agenda around that purpose. You might want to even try to envision how the meeting will go in order to stay laser-focused on that purpose.
- Have an Agenda
We all know an agenda is a list of the topics to be covered during a meeting. But did you know having a fully prepared agenda is crucial to the success of your meeting? It shows participants not only the purpose of the meeting, but where the meeting will end up and what will be covered along the way.
The most successful leaders distribute the agenda and any pre-work before the meeting so that participants can prepare for ahead of time. As a result they will be immediately engaged in the business of the meeting and far less time will be wasted if everyone is clear on the agenda items, purpose and goals in advance.
- Start on Time and End on Time, EVERY Time
Everyone has suffered through meetings that went beyond the scheduled ending time. This shows a lack of boundaries and poor time management by the meeting leader. If you announce the length of the meeting, you MUST stick to it. It will keep your participants engaged and invested in the meeting, and shows you respect their time.
- Have Fewer Meetings
A simple rule: Don’t call a meeting unless it’s absolutely necessary. And before you call a meeting, ask yourself whether you can achieve your goal in some other way, perhaps through a face-to-face or one-on-one discussion, a conference call or a simple exchange of a brief email. At the very least, having these conversations in advance will improve the quality of any resulting meeting.
- Include, Rather Than Exclude
Meetings are only as good as the ideas the participants bring forward. Great ideas can come from anyone in an organization, not just managers, high-level executives or people directly involved with the focus of the meeting or project. Great leaders know that some of the most important and impactful ideas come from team members who may have limited involvement in a project. In these situations, the more the merrier. A word of caution, however: if you’re not sure that everyone you’ve invited is relevant to the project, let those specific people know you’re tapping into them as a brainstormer, so the expectation is set and they can opt out if they feel they can’t or don’t have time to contribute.
- Maintain Focus with a Parking Lot
Meetings can easily get off track and even more easily stay off track. And when that happens everyone knows it. Leaders must keep meetings focused on agenda items. Sometimes important topics come up during the meeting but are not related to the agenda at hand. You want to capture these ideas and topics – remember, include, don’t exclude – so put them on the parking lot to discuss off line. Most importantly, make sure you find time to follow up.
- Capture and Assign Action Items
Most meetings result in action items for everyone involved. And just like you, everyone is busy! Don’t assume that participants will remember all the details; instead, save a few minutes for the end of the meeting to summarize the outcome, as well as go over assignments and deadlines. Then once the meeting is over, email a copy of the summary to everyone. (Make sure you send this to those who were invited but couldn’t attend – they’re still important!)
- Get Feedback
Every meeting has room for improvement. Be sure to solicit feedback from meeting attendees on how the meeting went right for them — AND how it went wrong. Whatever the problems, you can’t fix them if you don’t know about them. You can use a simple form to solicit feedback, or you can informally speak with attendees after the meeting to get their input. The more questions you ask, the more ammunition you have to make your next meeting even better.
Those are the basics for running or participating in great meetings. Follow these eight simple tips and you’ll be on your way to breaking the cycle of boring, pointless meetings!
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