Are you, your company, your team or your employer susceptible to “death by meeting”? Absolutely! Here are 8 ways to maximize your meetings and minimize the pain:
8 Ways To Maximize Your Meetings
1. Circulate an agenda and supporting documents before the meeting. It always baffles me when I’m invited to attend a meeting and the only clue as to what the meeting is for is the topic in the subject line of an email invite. Respect people’s time by sending a meeting agenda and supporting documents ahead of time, and, ideally, mention the desired outcome you, as the meeting organizer, want.
2. Make sure key people are invited; don’t invite non-essential participants. You ever been in a meeting where the meeting organizer invited people who really didn’t need to be there and ended up contributing little to nothing? Often times, these people try to justify their presence by stating an opinion that ends up being nothing but a distraction. Remember the desired outcome you want and invite only those that are the relevant decision makers to that end.
3. Start the meeting on time. I will often set a meeting time to start on the quarter hour for two reasons: it subliminally sets the total meeting time to no more than 45 minutes and it gives those chronic late ones a built-in buffer. Regardless, begin at the set start time. Soon those who habitually run late will be on time or be left behind. By the way, full disclosure…that used to be ME!
4. Silence mobile phones and take calls and messages outside. What a distraction this is! These days we find ourselves constantly plugged in and are tempted to read or respond to email right there at the meeting table. Not only is it rude to others in attendance, but those who do so often miss salient points and the meeting lingers while bringing them back up to speed. The other day I was in a meeting of over 10 in attendance and could not believe it when someone not only answered a call but began to speak to the caller right there in the meeting! Take it outside people! As the meeting organizer you MUST enforce this rule.
5. Empower the Facilitator and Designate a Note Taker. In this day and age TEAM rules in business circles. Standing meetings on recurring topics tend to cycle through a Facilitator so you may soon find yourself the meeting organizer/facilitator next time. The elected Facilitator should be the one calling the meeting and circulating the agenda. Give that person respect and it will keep the meeting on track. Also, designate a Note Taker to chronicle salient points, especially action items and responsible parties, to circulate to those not in attendance or to refer to later.
6. Have One Meeting (No Side Conversations). I once was called in by a client to attend a meeting to assess how their meeting conduct could be improved. One obvious improvement was to cut the side-conversations taking place among attendees. Not only does this cause chaos with the sound quality in the room, but often times these side-conversations are spot-on in their relevance to the meeting decision/outcome and should be heard by all.
7. Keep A Countdown Clock, or Timer, Clearly Visible. This is a trick that works wonders for moving a meeting along. Another idea is for the Meeting Organizer to state in the meeting invite the meeting ending time. Like I said in number 3, I advocate meetings that are 30-45 minutes long. That range tends to be adequate for relevant discussion and decision making. Here’s another aside: when I was in my mid-thirties I was invited to apply as a White House Fellow to learn the inner workings of the White House. Though I did not end up with the job, I did learn a valuable insider lesson, that is, the White House calendar is managed on 15 minute increments. If you couldn’t state your case in such a way for the President or Cabinet member to make a decision, you hadn’t prepared well enough. So as meeting organizer, it is your job to be sure to have the relevant information in the hands of the attendees long in advance of the meeting to allow them to review and comment on the materials so that by the time the meeting takes place everyone is familiar with the needed decision points and desired meeting outcome (see number 1 above).
8. End The Meeting On Time. Respect people’s time, they may have other obligations or projects to get to, so end the meeting on time. As with any other agreements, if you find the meeting running long, re-negotiate the ending time right then and there or set a follow-up meeting and let people get out on time (re-negotiating may be much easier with fewer in attendance).
Combine all these tips and tricks and you’ll soon have your business meetings running smooth and efficient. I’d be interested to hear your additional ideas by leaving a comment below.
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