With meetings taking up so much of our time, one would think that they would be consistently efficient and productive. Unfortunately, most meetings don’t live up to our expectations, and often leave us with more questions than answers. We want to ensure that our meetings are time well spent. The best way to do that is to plan out meetings in advance, and control the flow of conversation while the meeting is in session. Here are some ways to do that.
Rethink your attendance list
The first step is to analyse your attendance list. Ask yourself “Who really needs to be at this meeting?” Attendees should only be those directly involved, who have critical insight needed, or are the primary decision maker in achieving the meetings’ goal. Anyone else should not be involved.
Go even further, and prior to inviting everyone, use this flow chart to see if this even needs a meeting.
Preparation is everything
When you send your meeting request out, let attendees know what the objective is, and what they will need to bring with to the meeting. Send out any meeting notes along with any reference material that needs to be reviewed prior to the meeting. Allow everyone to be prepared, so that they are on the same page before they sit down together.
Preparation allows you to control a meeting before it even starts. If there are specific areas you would like an attendee to address, then let them know this in advance. Allow them to shine when the spotlight is on them, instead of causing them panic with last minute requests.
Have an agenda and stick to it
A meeting without a clear agenda guarantees a session of chit chat with no outcome. A detailed agenda with a fixed objective allows you to focus on accomplishing your goal with clear guidelines. Make sure your agenda is visible throughout the meeting either by writing it on a whiteboard, emailing it out before hand, or giving attendees a printed copy.
The agenda should outline topics of discussion to keep everyone on track and identify who is responsible for leading each topic. If you know that it will be a long meeting, include time blocks for each topic. Take it a step further and set a timer for each topic if it helps keeps conversations concise and to the point. Use a meeting agenda template to help you get organised.
Start on time – End on time
Don’t let one latecomer prevent you from getting started. Stick to your timeline. Once employees know that meetings start on time with or without them, they will either make sure to be on time or they will excuse themselves in advance. Punctuality requires zero talent but reaps great reward.
Respect all attendees time by making sure that meetings end on time, if not a couple minutes early. They have other tasks they need to focus on, and having your meeting hold them up will not endear you to anyone.
Keep the discussion on topic and capture notes as you go
Make it clear who is leading the meeting and have them identify the purpose and goal of the meeting before you start. It is up to the meeting leader to encourage participation. While they do so, they still need to make sure make sure that discussions stay on topic. Every conversation had in a meeting should be working towards the end goal of that meeting.
Assign a note taker to capture items as you go. Any notes taken should be done in the same document as the agenda. This way, if references are needed after the meeting, all the details are in one document.
As topics are discussed, assign follow up and action items as you go instead of waiting until the end. Make sure to include deadline dates for each action. This will make sure attendees know their accountability. It also keeps all expectations clear.
Schedule shorter meetings
Meetings will stretch to fill the space allocated to them. Just because Outlook calendars default to 30-minute increments, doesn’t mean that your meeting should take that long. Shorter meetings force you to stay focused and on topic. Ensure meetings are invigorating rather than draining.
For a quick meeting, try taking a walk around the office with the person you need to talk with. You will both make decisions quicker. As an added bonus, by moving, you will be avoiding physical stress. Just be aware of any office distractions that could derail a walking meeting, and avoid them.
End with a plan of action
If a follow up meeting is needed, schedule it while you are all in the same room. If you know that regular meetings need to occur, set a recurring date that is the same every week or month. It is much easier for employees to work around future plans, than to reschedule meetings.
Have the note taker send out the revised agenda with all follow up and action items detailed out. That way anyone who missed the meeting will be up to date and know what their responsibilities are moving forward.
If you are meeting regularly, review your meeting process by asking “What did we do well?” and “What can we do differently for the next meeting?” It will make sure that any hiccups are dealt with, and future meeting run smoothly.
Control a meeting
Keeping control during a meeting not only allows you to stick to discussion topics, but also keep to the timeline you have set. Holding an effective and productive meeting is priceless. With clarity and actionable items, everyone will leave knowing what was discussed and what is expected of them. You will be a meeting superstar.
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