How many times have you left a meeting saying to yourself, “They really could have sent that to me in an email.” How many meetings do you attend that you feel are a complete waste of time? I’m sure you answered YES to one of those questions, now ask yourself, do people feel this way about MY meetings, or worse, do I feel like this about my meetings?
Well look no further. Here are some easy ways to give your meetings a total makeover.
The first thing you have to do is understand the purpose of your meeting because this typically governs how your meetings will be run. If you are facilitating a meeting, you’re usually doing one of the following:
- Providing information or company updates to others,
- Gathering business updates from various key players in your organization, or
Most meetings will fall into one of those three categories and I will tackle some of my best practices for each meeting type.
Before the meeting:
- Compose and send a meeting agenda. Every single time. As a senior project manager, I won’t attend meetings that don’t have an agenda sent in advance. I just don’t have time. For me, if you don’t have an agenda, then you don’t have a meeting.
- Send the agenda early enough for all of your contributors to come to your meeting prepared. Sending me an agenda as I’m literally walking into the boardroom doesn’t help me or your other attendees. Are you calling the meeting to get an update on Q1 profits (gathering business updates) and strategize for Q2 (brainstorm), then your key contributors may need 2-3 days to prepare.
- Organize your meeting to maximize time. If you are providing all of the information in the meeting (providing information or company updates to others), then organize the meeting by topic. If you depend on multiple people to contribute data or information, then organize the agenda by person – especially if they report on multiple subjects (payroll and P&L for example). Brainstorm meetings will be a bit different here. To keep the participants on track, give them the purpose and goals of the meeting ahead of time. Be as specific as possible.
| Side note: if you are the only one presenting, prepare talking points for yourself within the agenda for you to follow. An agenda for the agenda, you might ask? Absolutely. |
During the meeting:
- Start on time and end on time. Nothing (besides a meeting with no agenda) is more frustrating than a meeting that runs over due to lack of preparation. Again, I don’t have time – and out of respect for my colleagues, I know they don’t either.
- Before anyone begins the meeting, ask for a volunteer to take notes. If you don’t get any volunteers (it’s ok, it happens to me all the time), pick someone that you know is detailed and accurate. Then agree on a time to send the meeting minutes to everyone.
- Stay on track. I’m notorious for going off on a tangent. God is still working on me, OK?! Nonetheless, make sure you stick to the agenda items that you listed (and provided to your group ahead of time). When you’re facilitating a brainstorming meeting or a collective updates meeting, use one of these 4 tricks to get back on track:
- Use this line, “Let’s take this offline and we can finish this discussion later because I want to be mindful of everyone else’s time.”
- Interrupt the speaker, recap what he/she said, ask the note taker if they captured that dialogue, and move on. This works best when one person is rambling and losing your audience. I typically say something like, “So that I understand you correctly, you’re saying… am I right? OK, great. Mark, did you add that to the meeting minutes? Awesome. So the next item on our agenda is…”
- If people are trying to problem solve and things get a bit off topic, step in and suggest that they make time after the meeting to resolve said problem and follow up with you in 2 days (or another appropriately specified amount of time). That way, you acknowledge the problem with them and empower them to fix it while returning to your agenda.
- Let them talk it out. I know you’re probably asking me, how to I stay on track with my meeting if we’re letting people get off topic? Well the answer is simple. You can’t take EVERYTHING offline and table EVERYONE’S problems for a discussion after the meeting. Once you determine that you can interject and get things back on topic, mentally adjust the rest of your agenda to make the best use of the rest of your time.
- I typically pause my meetings for questions before transitioning to a new agenda item. This helps keep your attendees engaged. I also give the disclaimer that we’ll get to any walk-in items at the close if the meeting, only if time permits. If we run out of time (which rarely happens), I encourage people to stop by my office on Friday and I’ll make sure I block some time out to speak with them.
- Be energetic. Your audience will feed off your energy – and this is one of the quickest meeting killers. Before the meeting, grab your phone and take a video of yourself discussing one of the agenda items. Now play it back. Do you like what you see and hear? Yes? That’s excellent. No? Well, you can see exactly what needs improvement.
- Stand up when you speak; command the room. Keep their attention. The only time I don’t do this is during a brainstorm, although, I am known to pace the room periodically, especially during a video conference meeting.
- Finally, remember to keep your audience engaged. Ask them questions. Have them finish your sentence when possible. Get their opinions. You’ll be surprised at how much your colleagues can contribute when they’re engaged in your meeting.
After the meeting:
- Recap your takeaways and make sure everyone understands their action items and due dates before you end the meeting.
- Acknowledge everyone and thank them for coming – because it’s just the courteous thing to do.
- Touch base quickly with the person keeping the minutes to make sure he/she captured all the relevant information. What should your minutes include, you ask? Attendees, time started and ended, facts, and updates, action items, the person responsible for the action item, and the date it’s due to be completed. In short, the minutes should be an extension of the agenda and sent to all the attendees (and those that couldn’t attend) within 4 hours of the meeting adjourning. If the meeting occurred at the end of the day, the minutes should be sent within the first 4 hours of the next business day.
Other helpful tips:
- If I can’t put more than 3 things on an agenda for a reoccurring meeting, I’ll probably cancel the meeting and send an email with what I was going to cover, then refer my colleagues to my office on Friday if they still needed to meet about an agenda item.
- Give your attendees something to take away from your meetings. For example, a goal to achieve, positive reinforcement, or a short training toward personal development. In one weekly meeting that I facilitate with managers that report to me, I like to thank each of them for something very specific from the previous week.
All meetings aren’t set up the same and all of my tips may not apply to you and your organization or small business. After years of learning from my own mistakes and from the mistakes of others, applying these best practices will keep your meeting off the “this is such a waste of my time” list.