Most of us despise meetings, and for good reasons. A typical meeting is unnecessary, annoying, has the wrong invitees and sucks energy for little or no benefit. We’d rather keep working on our priority projects than going to a meeting. However, when done right, meetings can be very productive, engaging, and fun. Throughout my career, I have collected a few tips, and now I genuinely love productive meetings. You can easily meet your objectives when you incorporate several of these tips to your firm.
1. Avoid meetings
Before scheduling a meeting, determine if you need to hold a meeting. Save time for yourself and your coworkers. Often a five-minute call, an email, an instant message, or a quick one-on-one informal meeting would suffice. Keep in mind that formal meetings are very costly. If you have ten people in the meeting, each making an average of $40 per hour, then a one-hour session would cost $400. Keep in mind that, in addition to their salary, the company pays a few more dollars on benefits.
Determine if you need to attend someone else’s meeting. When you are invited to a meeting, ask yourself the following questions:
- What value would I add to the meeting?
- What valuable information would I gain?
- What would I have to give up to go to this meeting?
- Who will be disappointed if I don’t attend?
If you don’t see value on this meeting, politely ask the facilitator if you could skip it.
2. Have a goal for the meeting
As the meeting facilitator, you should have a clear objective for the meeting. Otherwise, you should not have a meeting at all. The goal could be as high as the completion of one or more tasks, reaching a decision, or as simple as just bringing awareness or informing the team about a new policy. Regardless of the meeting topic, there must be an outcome. Otherwise, the attendees would rightfully feel that they have wasted their time.
Towards the end of the meeting, check to make sure you met the goal. Accordingly, measure the success of the session based on whether or not you achieved the purpose of the meeting.
3. Invite the right people
Keep the meeting small. If you invite too many people, the meeting will get more expensive. It will take longer for everyone to give his or her opinion, and it may be harder to reach a consensus.
Before you call for a meeting, think about who really would contribute or need to be informed. Ensure that these people understand why they are invited and how they would participate.
4. Provide an agenda
Create an agenda and email it to attendees in advance, preferably when you send the meeting invitation. If you need more time to prepare the schedule, be sure to post it one day or at least two hours before the meeting.
In the agenda, include the required attendees, materials, topics to be discussed, meeting objective, date, start and end times, and location. Add other information such as conference call number and link for the web conference.
Be sure to clearly state the purpose of the meeting and put it in the context of the people required to attend. Make an effort to associate the purpose of the meeting with one of the business strategies or priorities.
Show the agenda at the beginning of the meeting to remind people of the purpose and topics. This will keep them focused.
5. Offer Incentives
If you are concerned that some key people may not show up for the meeting or if you want to increase your chances of people coming on time to the meeting, you can do a few things. You can offer snacks and beverages or even full meals. You can give them a small gift, such as a keychain, a USB memory, a mug, a paperweight, or movie tickets. On significant events, you can raffle things like a Bluetooth speaker, quality earphones, a gift card for a restaurant, or one of your company’s products or services. There is a company in the prepaid card business that puts a bunch of debit cards worth $5 and $10 into a bowl. By having each attendee pick one card from the pot, they get 100% attendance.
Remember to tell the attendees in advance that you will provide these treats or gifts.
6. Provide a comfortable environment
Make sure that chairs, lighting, and temperature are comfortable. Also, have the necessary equipment and material readily available. For some meetings, you may need to provide bottles of water.
7. Be prepared
Research the topic and documentation before the meeting. Be sure to review prior emails, reports, and statuses.
Make sure your slides would look good and are easy to look at, not only on your computer but also on the projector. Some colors may look different on each device.
Decide how deep you would go into each topic.
Anticipate a few specific questions and prepare to answer them. If needed you may invite specialized members for additional expertise.
Get familiar with the names and roles/positions of the invitees. For some people, you might want to look them up on LinkedIn to learn more about them.
Have the necessary equipment such as a projector, board, markers, professional speakerphone, connectors, Wi-Fi, and power strips.
Familiarize yourself with the equipment, such as the conference telephone, web conference application (GoToMeeting, WebEx, or other), the projector, and the video conference equipment.
Arrive early and start the conference call, video conference or web conference as applicable. Allow enough time to resolve technical issues, which occur from time to time.
8. Have backups
Sometimes things go wrong. For instance, the projector may not work, or your clicker may run out of batteries. Therefore, it is important to have backups. You might want to do the following things:
- Store a copy of your presentation on a USB memory or in the cloud.
- Print the presentation slides, so you have a hard copy.
- Bring extra batteries.
9. Make it convenient and avoid distractions
Avoid scheduling meetings towards the end of the day or right before lunch. Otherwise, you would see people looking at the clock instead of paying attention to the meeting. Also, if people are hungry, they won’t be able to concentrate.
Don’t schedule meetings too early in the morning, as some people may be late due to the traffic, or they may need a few minutes to get coffee or look at their emails.
If you need to schedule meetings first thing in the morning, provide some breakfast and tell people in advance. That way they can skip breakfast at home and be on time for the meeting. Similarly, provide lunch when you schedule a meeting during lunchtime. Tell people in advance and ask them if they have any preferences (e.g., sandwich or salad) or any restrictions (e.g., vegetarian).
Be mindful of people who might come to your meeting right from another session. Give them a few minutes to go to the restroom, get coffee, and walk to the conference room.
Today, as we get more and more surrounded by technology, people tend to use their phones, laptops and other gadgets during the meeting, and sometimes for things not related to the meeting. Try to keep the meeting lively and encourage people to participate. In some crucial meetings, you might want to ask people to leave all electronics back at their desk, unless they need them to present or do work related to the meeting.
10. Record decisions, action items, and next steps
People are busy, and they may forget things in a few days. Therefore, it is essential to take notes of the discussions, decisions, action items, due dates, and persons responsible for the tasks.
It may be hard for you to present and make notes at the same time. If possible, assign a person to write down the minutes of the meeting and take pictures of the things written or drawn on the board. This way, by the end of the meeting, the minutes would be almost ready for distribution. The minutes will help tremendously with communication and accountability. They provide a historical record that people can refer to as needed.
11. Keep it short
Most of us dread long meetings. Even with our best intention, people tend to lose energy and focus after one hour, and some after 30 minutes. Therefore, we should have our meetings no longer than an hour long. For workshops that have to be longer, we must have a quick break about every hour, or at least every 90 minutes.
Ideally, our meeting should take between 15 to 30 minutes. We can accomplish this, especially if we do some pre-work before the meeting and come well prepared for the meeting. For instance, the attendees might need to spend a few minutes reviewing a report in preparation for the meeting.
Ideally, discuss a single topic, but no more than three. If you have multiple issues, they must relate to the same project or theme.
12. Read sparingly or not at all
Meetings tend to be boring, especially when you read too often. Even if you have presentation slides, you should avoid reading as much as possible. Rehearse your presentation a couple of times, so that you feel confident about the final performance.
The purpose of a meeting is to offer insight on a particular topic. Sharing a document or presentation deck can be done with a simple email. Therefore, during your presentation, offer people something additional to the report and the slides.
13. Foster participation
Don’t lecture by being the only person talking. Even if the purpose of your meeting is merely to inform the group, you want to foster participation. Encourage people to ask questions and share information. This will bring value, improve the relationships, and create an exciting and fun environment.
14. Be mindful of virtual attendants
Remind yourself during the meeting of remote participants. If needed, put a reminder in your calendar or a slide in the presentation so that from time to time you ask virtual attendees if they are still on the line and if they have any questions or comments.
Also, remind yourself and other people that virtual attendants will not see gestures and things that people draw on the physical board. Make appropriate adjustments, such as explaining in detail what you are drawing.
You and the local attendees may need to speak near to the microphone to have adequate communication over the phone.
Ask the remote attendees to put themselves in mute when they are not speaking. Better yet, familiarize with your equipment and put them in mute from your end.
15. Stay focused
Often the conversations go off topic, or people start discussing things in too much detail. Give them a minute. After that, don’t be afraid to intervene and bring the conversation back to the outlined topics. Table any relevant points raised for a future discussion.
16. Ensure you meet your goal
Towards the end of the meeting remember your meeting objective and make sure you have accomplished it. Otherwise, spend the last few minutes of the meeting to ensure that.
17. Do a quick recap at the end
Spend the last two minutes of the meeting to do a quick recap. Go over the list of decisions and action items. For each action item indicate the person responsible for its completion, and the target date. Better yet, have each assignee state their action items in their own words. That way everyone in the meeting could verify that each assignee understands what he or she is accountable for. People will leave the meeting with a sense of purpose and accomplishment. They will feel great about your meeting.
It is hard to change the culture of the company in regards to meetings. It will take some time. However, by following the tips described above, you and your company will be able to increase productivity, engagement, fun, and employee satisfaction.
About the Author: Art Torres is an IT Quality Champion and Change Agent in the Finance and Insurance industries. Builds high-performance, customer-centric teams that enable swift completion of strategic projects with zero critical defects; resulting in higher profits and enhanced customer and employee satisfaction. Improves processes by developing and implementing policies and procedures, best practices, standards, and methodologies.
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