Workplace meetings were originally intended to improve communication and collaboration, and to resolve issues that affected productivity and profitability. Unfortunately, the overabundance of meetings in today's business world has led to a crisis of unproductive time-wasting that benefits no one. A recent study revealed that 91% of employees daydreamed during meetings, and a shocking 39% actually fell asleep.
So, how can you be a better leader and make meetings useful again? Don't worry, all it takes is a bit of extra thought, preparation and analysis to get more value from your time.
We've put together 10 essential tips to guide you through running a successful meeting.
1. Plan and Structure Meetings
Meetings run a lot more productively if you have a plan, starting with an outline of prioritised topics that need to be covered. Think ahead about how much time should be allotted for each subject. For example, if two bullet points are mostly informational, you can allow more time for discussion on other areas.
Just like any public speaking endeavour, you don't want to go in there and just riff on the agenda. According to SlackHQ, people decide if you're interesting within the first 30 seconds, so prepare something that will catch their attention immediately.
Knowing exactly what you want to say ahead of time also helps you sound more authoritative and knowledgeable. If attendees respect you, it's that much easier to keep control of the pace and direction of the meeting.
2. Choose Attendees Wisely
As you plan the meeting, think about who needs to be there. A presentation for a new client is not a party, so 'the more, the merrier' does not apply. Only invite employees who will have continuing contact with the client, or who have something to contribute to the presentation.
For informational staff meetings, consider the issues you'll be covering. If 90% of the data only concerns sales, there's no reason to have other departments standing around listening to something they have no interest in. Try covering the universal topics in the first 10 minutes and then releasing the rest of the staff to go about their day. Alternatively, meet only with sales staff and send an informational email or a memo to the rest of the workforce. Just like the meeting, take time to compose a professional email that will share the information concisely and won't be ignored.
3. Distribute Informational Materials in Advance
You're not going to get much useful feedback on 200 new line item budget if your team is seeing this information for the first time in a 30-minute meeting. Send an agenda and any informational materials to staff ahead of time. The attendees will then have time to look through them and be prepared with questions and ideas once the meeting commences.
4. Have Interactive Meetings
As LinkedIn reports, the motivational and wildly successful TED talks are engineered to fit within an average person's attention span—10 to 18 minutes. This is important to keep in mind for a meeting. If it's a bunch of talking heads droning on for a half-hour, your attendees likely lost focus halfway through and started thinking about dinner, the drive home, or how much they hate boring meetings.
One of the best ways to keep people engaged in a meeting is to allow them to contribute. A small team meeting of five to seven people makes an ideal discussion format and allows for a lively exchange of ideas. You can also keep attendees involved by asking questions but keep it on a volunteer basis. It's not productive to put someone on the spot when they have nothing to contribute at that moment.
5. Stick to the Agenda
One of the toughest rules of running a successful meeting is sticking to the agenda. You've already done the work of prioritising the issues that must be tackled, so don't let anyone derail you. If an attendee strays onto a tangent about their latest fishing trip, a good leader finds a way to gently steer the conversation back to the business at hand. As fun as off-topic conversations can be, spending an hour in a meeting that accomplishes nothing is ultimately frustrating for everyone involved.
When one of the staff brings up an important issue outside of the planned agenda, resist the urge to tackle it immediately. Acknowledge the issue, make a note to add it to the next meeting's agenda, then move back to the original topic. The key to this strategy is keeping your word and following up on those tabled problems. Proving to employees that their input is valued improves company morale and encourages further contributions for productive and successful meetings.
6. Don't Schedule Continuous Meetings
A department supervisor may have a daily meeting with their own team, then head to the conference room for a special committee catch-up session, then on to report to a team of upper management. A continuous run of meetings like this can negatively affect your business.
First is the problem of diminishing returns. Kevin Crump, an experienced project manager with management app Liquid Planner, warns that those who attend multiple meetings 'will lose much of what they took away from the first few'. With no time to reflect or quickly follow-up on a good discussion, the value of that time spent can be lost.
The other issue is productivity. After a staff meeting, everyone returns to work already an hour behind. If their supervisors go immediately into another meeting, that can further delay progress on the day's tasks. This is especially true for businesses where supervisors delegate and approve all projects or assignments. If meetings must occur on the same day, schedule breaks in between, and shorten the agendas, if possible.
7. Use Time Management Software
There is an absolute wealth of technology tools for managers these days, including calendar apps for scheduling meetings. Microsoft, Apple and Google all have free calendar programs, and there are several other popular systems like ScheduleOnce and Doodle. These essential time-savers make it easy to coordinate with other managers and staff to schedule meetings, send reminders, and confirm who's attending.
Having a universal calendar also allows managers to see the big picture on the number of meetings, including the purpose and participants, for the whole company. Maybe one department is meeting too often, or two groups are working on the same issues every week. Eliminating redundant or ineffective meetings will help reduce meeting overload for staff, and the remaining get-togethers should become more productive.
8. Sum Up the Meeting
This is a really simple tip for running a successful meeting, but it can have a considerable impact. Leave time on your agenda at the end of the meeting to summarise what's been covered. Focus on the final decisions on issues, new protocols, or tasks assigned to specific individuals.
Every leader knows that effective communication is essential to your business. If everyone leaves with a different conclusion, that meeting could cause more problems rather than solve existing ones. Take the time to make sure everyone is on the same page before sending them back to work.
9. Take Notes
If you're running the meeting, you're likely going to delegate the important task of taking minutes to someone else, but you should still take some notes for yourself. Keep a record of key points of the discussion, and any problems that require a follow-up. This includes the tabled issues mentioned previously.
If no formal minutes were taken, use your notes to compose a quick informational email to attendees after the meeting. It's another way to make sure everyone understands the outcome of the discussion and a good reminder to any staff that were assigned new projects or assignments.
10. Finish on Time
If you've only invited essential staff, created an orderly agenda and stuck to it, finishing on time shouldn't be a problem. Meetings that run long can cause several problems, including diminishing attention spans, information overload, and disrupting everyone's schedule. Some attendees could also be late for a conference call or an appointment with a client.
Running an efficient meeting and ending it on time shows respect for your colleagues and their responsibilities. You'll get better attendance and a more engaged group if you have a reputation for getting things done in the shortest amount of time.
As you can see, a little planning and some discipline can help you run successful meetings that help improve communication, morale, time management and productivity. By implementing these rules, then, you'll be able to achieve a lot more in a much shorter time! It's a safe bet that your staff will be grateful for it too!
Which rule do you think is the most important? Have you got any What other tips do you suggest for running an effective meeting? Let us know in the comments below!