The goal of a meeting is the same for both management and employee: going through a pile of information in the most effective way, so that everyone can return to their desks and get the job done. But whatever tips for productive meetings apply for the employer might not apply for the employee and vice versa. Nay, this discrepancy might actually lead to clashes between the two, which is just impractical, considering that, remember, the goal is the same!
So without further ado, brace yourself - this is going to be an extremely comprehensive article. Part I deals with what happens before a meeting, Part II is about the meeting itself and Part III explores what needs to be done after the fact.
Part 1 - First and foremost, preparation is key
It’s easier to bake a cake if you have every ingredient portioned, weighed and at your fingertips. (Mary Berry would approve.) You move quicker and there is less mess afterwards. Same goes for a meeting: prepare as much as you can, as best as you can, and reap the productivity rewards straight out of the meeting. Keep in mind that preparing for the less wanted outcomes often reveals ways of overcoming issues.
1. Should I really hold this meeting?
“We’ll just set up a weekly meeting to discuss everything on the agenda on a regular basis”, says the employer. “Great, another 45 minutes to listen idly to a bunch of stuff we’ve already talked about”, thinks the employee. If it’s not doing anyone any good, maybe the meeting shouldn’t take place at all. As we said in a previous article: the first step to holding better meetings is learning to say no.
When you find yourself in the situation of scheduling a meeting, take a moment to decide whether the meeting is the most useful way to go. Ask yourself if the information can be passed along through a faster, more condensed channel, if your presence and input are absolutely vital, and if it’s in everyone’s best interest. If you’re a manager, put yourself in your employee’s shoes and imagine what it would be like if you got interrupted from work for a meeting that you see as unnecessary. If it’s in the middle of the day, it disrupts your entire daily workflow. If you’re an employee requesting a meeting, think of all the myriad of sometimes dull tasks your manager might have. It might be easier to solve your problem in a 5-minute coffee break with your manager.
2. When is the best time to schedule my meeting?
As stated above, nothing is worse than a meeting set in the middle of the day, which can easily make one lose focus. Or even worse, make them lose an entire day. Having an event (i.e. a meeting) at a certain lunch hour can influence people’s entire day schedule: they procrastinate till the meeting start hour, and then it’s lunchtime, and then they do not feel energised enough to start anything anymore.
To choose the best meeting hour for everyone, think about what day of the week it is (if you want to hold a meeting at 16.00 on a Friday or at 8.00 on a Monday, you’re going to have a bad time), who you want or need to have around (from attendees to perhaps an IT guy to help you out in case something goes awry), or if you have participants that are on an entire different timezone. Choose a day and hour that seem fit for everyone.
3. Which meeting room should I choose?
To make sure everyone feels in their element, to have all the technology you need to keep the audience hooked, to convey the proper message and attitude, and the list goes on. There’s many things you need to consider when deciding which meeting room to use. We can’t promise it will go aces every single time, but we can give you some pointers.
First of all, when choosing a meeting room, think about the nature of the meeting. If it’s your first business meeting and you’d like to be able to meet your business partner in a casual, cosy environment, you can go for a coffeehouse, for example. If you’re going to discuss sensitive information, that cannot be shared with the public, do it inside the company. A coffeehouse is anything but private. We talked more about this in one of our articles here.
Secondly, do a quick assessment of the meeting’s requirements. How many participants will there be? What resources do you need? Does the room hold all the necessary pieces of technology? Pay special attention to the fixed or not so portable ones. Picture your meeting from start to finish and see if you can find any hiccups in the flow of the event. If so, write them down and find the best solution that answers all the questions.
4. Whom should I invite to my meeting?
If you decide who to invite to a meeting by simply opening the meeting system you use and ticking all the boxes you can find (because hey, you might need him or him or her or him or her), it might be a good idea for you to stop, take a moment, breathe deeply for 7-10 times, and start again. The attendees list might seem unimportant (or less important than other things), because you’re under the impression that the information should reach whoever is interested, or you know that most of them will deny the invitation (what’s in a click on the Deny button?).
In fact, who you invite to your meeting not only influences the participants’ schedules and workflow, but it also impacts the company’s budget. For example, for a one hour meeting between three people, a company pays up to $72, and that’s calculated only taking into account the employees’ salary!
In a nutshell, don’t invite more people than absolutely necessary. The more, the merrier does not work in meetings. Keep it between:
- the team members that play a vital role in the decision making linked to the respective meeting
- the ones that hold crucial information with regards to the subjects discussed
- the people who will be impacted by the outcome of the meeting.
If possible, the 3 groups above should only hold a meeting together when a problem can’t be solved in any other way.
Only after this indispensable analysis should you proceed forward and send out the invitations.
5. To use or not to use the miracle of technology
You have your meeting hour, you have your room and your attendees. Time to pick out the resources you’d like to have in handy.
Big pieces of equipment, that are fixed or not easily movable, should have already been included in the room choosing. And the time when a video projector and a speakerphone were the peak of meeting room technology has long passed. You now have to think whether you need a touch-sensitive whiteboard, a wireless screen projector, a digital flipchart, a conferencing sound bar and so on and so forth.
If you expect to have external participants, it’s obvious you will need a video call or web conferencing system. Whether they are working from home or they are your partners from another country, if their presence is required at the meeting, you have to be prepared to “transport” them into the meeting room. Lately, the technological developments enabled people to switch from a 2D meeting (through Skype, for example) to a 3D one, using VR (Virtual Reality). In areas such as architecture or engineering, having the option of seeing the models or projects in 3D is crucial. VR is a good investment for companies that operate in such domains.
As for the rest, you can simply weigh the pros and cons of having a certain piece of technology with you. Is a tablet going to help you pass along the information or would it be easier if you just printed a bulleted list to be handed to each participant? Would it be helpful to have a digital assistant (such as Siri or Cortana) close at hand or would it just distract everyone from the discussion? When in doubt, you can apply the KISS principle.
Of course, once you’ve decided, don’t forget to book all the resources you need.
6. Never go to a meeting without an agenda
To go in a meeting without having prepared both yourself and the attendees is productivity suicide. You should brief people on what the meeting is about. Compile a short presentation or email which gives the attendees an idea of the meeting’s structure, or at least what will be discussed and what is expected of them. This way, everybody knows what are the most important aspects to be tackled and they can form opinions or prepare questions and objections.
To put it in more formal words, prepare a meeting agenda. The more comprehensive and structured it is, the easier it will be for you to lead the meeting. The smoother the meeting goes, the faster you can get out of there and solve the issues at hand. But what does a structured agenda mean exactly?
When designing a meeting agenda, you can start with the topics that have to be discussed. Since you’ve already decided who the attendees are, you can go ahead and ask their input. Meetings are collaborative sessions, so make sure to listen to include everyone’s requests. Also, estimate what amount of time is necessary for each of the topics. Try to make it as realistic as possible, but don’t stress yourself out if you missed an estimation, the discussions will usually balance themselves out. Another thing you should do is assign a person responsible for presenting, moderating and ensuring follow-ups for each of the agenda items.
Part 2 - Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee (or what to do during a meeting)
Every person should create a meeting ritual etched on their personality and habits. You can start a meeting by asking everyone to state their goals and expectations or you can start it in complete silence, with a side of mindfulness. Regardless of the direction you choose, try to design your meeting ritual and stick with it.
It’s only natural to want to make the most out of your meetings. If you’re a company owner, you want to make sure that every meeting arrangement is money well spent. You’re paying the attendees, you’re paying for the space, for the markers, the notepads and the electricity that powers the laptops. You might as well ensure that everyone is working at full productivity. If you’re an employee, it’s in your best interest to hold an effective meeting, as it allows you to directly get the management’s input, requests and expectations, present yours, and go back to your work with fresh information. Either way, having high-quality, productive meetings is a win-win for both the employer and the employee.
1. Introduce people
Whether it’s an interdepartmental meeting or you’re simply having new people over at a certain appointment, it’s a good idea to start by introducing people to each other. This way, everyone knows who is who and what their jobs are. Plus, it’s a perfect way to lighten the mood, since most meetings start with a bit of a tension in the air.
You can also secure a smooth, uninterrupted flow of a meeting from the start by setting unanimously accepted agreements (let’s not call them rules, rules are meant to be broken), such as “every 45 minutes, there’s a 15 minute break” or “phones on silent mode”.
2. Be prepared for feedback. And remember feedback goes both ways
Throughout a meeting, it’s really important for you to be prepared for two things: asking questions and answering questions. In both cases, interrupting the person who is speaking and disrupting the meeting’s entire flow is not an option. Don’t worry, we have your back on both.
You can keep track of everything that’s happening in a meeting by taking notes. However, if taking notes implies that you lose focus on the actual meeting in your attempt to get everything on paper or on your computer, you might want to reconsider your technique. You can improve your note taking skills, be them analog or digital. If your preferred method is writing on paper, you can learn how to use a mind map or make thorough use of symbols. If, on the other hand, you’d rather use the computer, aim to master the touch-typing art and as much shortcuts as you can.
The same applies for the attendees. Disturbing the meeting constantly with questions, as they arise, should not be allowed. Instead, taking feedback during the meeting should be made through question sheets, that can be spread around to all the participants from the beginning of the session. Of course, after the meeting has ended, people should be encouraged to send feedback in the form of follow-up emails.
3. A break in need is a break indeed
Just because you’re well immersed in your presentation, doesn’t mean the others feel the same. Always be on the lookout for mental fatigue cues, such as daydreaming, playing on the phone or the classical yawn. If your audience is not hooked on your speech, you might just be wasting everyone’s time. To run a productive meeting you need everybody’s full attention, or else you will find yourself with a heap of ulterior questions, and a mess in the follow-up tasks plan.
You can freshen up the meeting’s atmosphere by simply telling a joke or sharing a funny event, prepping the public to go back to the important discussion with a reset attention span stopwatch. If you’ve set up a 45/15 minutes break rule in the beginning of the meeting, be sure to deliver on the promise. People have presumably shorter attention spans nowadays, so make sure to include breaks now and then, to benefit from their full attention.
Part 3 - One follow-up, two follow-up, three
One of the characteristics of a high-quality meeting is a smooth, uninterrupted flow from start to finish. Going through all the information prepared for the meeting, in the scheduled time, with everyone participating actively? That’s a total win. Who would want to blemish such an achievement? No one. And yet, it happens so easily, due to lack of follow-up.
1. “The world is run by those willing to sit until the end of meetings.” - Hugh Park
Ending a meeting is as important as starting it. Wrapping things up in a concise manner, making information easily understandable and accessible, and ensuring everyone is fully aware of the tasks that lie with them are all checkboxes that need to be ticked at the end of a meeting. You’re drawing an overall conclusion for the meeting and you’re setting the productivity bar high enough for the next appointment.
It’s undoubtedly a good idea to politely thank everyone for their time and attention. This way, you acknowledge their presence and input. Reinforce the tasks assigned to everyone and the responsible people for each item on the agenda. Establish clear deadlines and, if possible, set the date for the next meeting. Since everyone is present, they can express their preferences and availability, so it should be easier to agree on a time and date.
2. Don’t forget to hit Send
If you’ve followed the guidelines provided above, this last step should be a piece of cake. It implies writing up the meeting minute and sending it over to all the participants or other concerned parties.
You have the meeting agenda, your notes, the question sheets and the assigned responsible people for each discussed subject. The only thing you have to do now is put them together in a coherent order. You can use a template if it suits your needs, they’re one search away (e.g. https://templates.office.com/en-us/Meeting-minutes-simple-TM00002017). What should always be present in a meeting minute is who attended, what items on the agenda were discussed, what decisions were taken, the follow-up tasks associated to those decisions and their deadlines, and any other important matters worth reviewing or discussing in a future appointment. Always send out the meeting minute within 24 hours from the meeting.