I’m not a big fan of meetings, but I also understand how important they can be. Meetings are a great way to share ideas, set goals, and accomplish large tasks that would be complicated to do over the phone or email. But meetings can also be very counterproductive if they are unfocused and lacking executable goals.
Below are seven steps that can help you make the most out of meetings and yield excellent results through preparation, communication and follow-up.
1. Have an agenda prepared. Avoid having the “meeting before the meeting” by creating an agenda covering all topics you want to discuss, any materials or data you would like the attendees to bring with them, goals you want to achieve and a call to action. Send a copy to all attendees noting anything in particular they should be aware of. By notifying everyone of the purpose of the meeting and intended goals ahead of time, everyone can come to the meeting prepared and ready to tackle your objectives.
2. Stick to your time limit. Creating an agenda will allow you to estimate approximately how much time will be needed to accomplish the goals listed so use that as a basis for the length of the meeting. If you are halfway through your allotted meeting time and still on the first point of your agenda, decide if you can still cover all of the topics within the timeframe you scheduled. If not, consult with the attendees on whether they are able to stay for an extended meeting, if they can meet later on to finish the meeting or if the balance can be handled by email or phone. Remember, the longer you keep employees in a meeting, the less time they have to complete their work and the more they feel their schedule has been disrespected. Keep it relevant, on topic and on schedule.
3. Timing is everything. If you work in an office in which employees work different schedules, make sure you are aware of the schedules of those attending as well as what time of day you are scheduling meetings. You wouldn’t want to schedule an action-oriented meeting at the end of the day right before employees go home because they won’t be able to act on the meeting’s objectives until the next day. Meetings right before or after lunch may bring distracted hungry attendees or slightly sleepy siesta attendees, so try to avoid meetings around lunchtime. Friday afternoons can be one of the worst times for a meeting because employees are distracted, thinking about weekend plans and trying to tie up loose ends before they leave for the weekend. Avoid them at all costs. Early morning meetings may prevent employees from being prepared—give them time to get settled in, check email and prepare for the meeting.
4. Be punctual. Since you’ve taken the time to set an agenda and a schedule, make sure you start your meeting on time. This is out of respect to those who were prompt and to you as the meeting setter. If anyone has not arrived by the start time, start the meeting without them and let them catch up on their own time. If you continually blow off meetings or allow late-comers to delay your meetings, attendees will stop respecting the schedule you have set.
5. Stay on topic. Nothing is more stressful to employees than thinking about all the work they have piling up while they are stuck in a meeting. What makes it worse is when others in the meeting go off-topic and the objectives quickly get lost. The meeting has quickly become deemed pointless and a waste of time. Be aware if the meeting starts getting off-topic and nip it in the bud immediately so you stay on topic and respect the time of the attendees.
6. Set clear goals. The whole reason for having a meeting is to discuss an idea, set a call to action and delegate which team members will work to accomplish the goals set at the meeting. Make sure each attendee understands his/her responsibilities and deadlines. This can be written as part of the agenda or created in the form of a checklist, but make sure each attendee has a clear understanding of what he/she is responsible for completing.
7. Follow up. After the meeting, send a brief summary to all attendees re-stating the purpose of the meeting, the goals, responsibilities and deadlines. This reinforces the goals you clearly stated and serves as a reminder of what is expected by all attendees. This also a way to illustrate the big picture of the meeting and how all contributions will tie together in the end.
How do you make the most out of your meetings?