How many meetings have you attended where there was no clear purpose? Poorly managed meetings are frustrating for everyone. You can often tell almost immediately whether a meeting is going to be a good use of your time.
All companies need to hold meetings for various reasons, such as to convey information, receive feedback, formulate strategies, promote collaboration and boost productivity. Those who lead these meetings need to do it in a productive, intentional and energizing way if they want it to deliver tangible results.
Here are some ways you can make your meetings beneficial for everyone.
Prepare and plan your agenda carefully
Agendas are vital as they not only prepare attendees but help you to stay on track. Sharing the agenda with participants beforehand makes sure everyone is prepared for what you will cover.
Meetings should be all about face-to-face discussions. To help ensure this, try to use questions rather than statements in your agenda. Ask the questions you think need to be explored in the meeting.
Consider sending out discussion topics the day before the meeting so the team is prepared with thoughtful suggestions and solutions for discussion. When a team comes prepared, it helps you to run the meeting within the required time frame.
Facebook COO, Sheryl Sandberg, evidently carries a spiral notebook into her meetings, and ticks off each item on her agenda. She says an agenda is crucial for a successful meeting.
You can be flexible with your agenda in the meeting — you may decide to skip an item that is not as important if you’re running out of time. What is not acceptable is adding to your agenda during the meeting.
Your preparations will also involve making sure that all technology works so that your meeting can run smoothly without interruptions. You don’t want to have to search for slides or find out that the sound on your laptop isn’t working.
If you organize yourself ahead of time, you’ll make sure you make the most of the time the group has together.
Start in a positive way
The attendees come to the meeting with their brains in many different places. First of all, make sure you start the meeting on time. Frequently restarting a meeting for stragglers sends the message that participants have more control than you do.
Starting late gives a negative impression. Meetings often take away valuable time for employees, decreasing their productivity, and they won’t respect you if you waste it.
You need to find a way to get everyone in the room energized and into a positive mindset. One way to do this is to get people to share something they’re excited about or where they have made progress.
Use a good video clip or share a funny story to focus attention and start off on a positive note. Playing a quick game is another way to focus everyone’s attention.
Every meeting needs a leader
If you’re running the show, make the purpose of the meeting clear from the outset. Begin with the end in mind is one of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People in the book by Stephen Covey.
It’s all about starting things with a clear idea of your destination, so that the steps you take always go in the right direction. The same principle applies in a meeting. If you start with a clear idea of where you want to go, you can keep the meeting focused on your objectives.
It may help to write on a white board or flip chart the topics you plan to discuss and the order in which you want to cover them. When everyone knows your plan from the very beginning, it becomes easier for them to stay on track.
If you open issues for discussion without having a very clear purpose, participants are likely to hijack them. You must be aware of instances that could cause people to become sidetracked or go down a rabbit hole. Don’t be afraid to bring people back to the agenda. Let them know that they are going off track or that a certain issue can be tabled and you’ll get back to it at the next meeting.
Sarah Jamieson, a team leader at AustralianWritings, says she finds it helpful to use a bell to bring back focus in a firm, polite way instead of adding her voice to the fray when people are talking over each other.
Have the right people in the room
Nothing can derail a meeting more than inviting too many people or the wrong people. Too many voices can be counterproductive. Amazon’s Jeff Bezos developed a strategy to make sure the right people attend meetings. The team should be small enough for only two pizzas to be necessary to feed every person in the room.
It helps if those who attend a meeting are the ones directly impacted by meeting outcomes. You want those with the necessary background knowledge and skills at your meeting so they can actively contribute.
For example, if you want to discuss a sales strategy for a new product, you’re likely to invite the product manager and sales leaders or no decisions can be made.
Before the meeting, decide who you want to attend and what strengths they have. Research shows that when we use our strengths we’re up to six times more engaged.
Say, for example, you lead strategy, status and brainstorming meetings. You know that one of your team members is more creative than strategic so you make sure you include her in brainstorming meetings.
You include another team member who is a good strategic planner in your strategy meetings. You have to be rather like a conductor in an orchestra, bringing the best out of each player and instrument.
Companies like Apple and Google have running productive meetings down to a science. These employers assign every employee a responsibility at a meeting to help encourage accountability. Each person is tasked with certain items on the agenda.
When you’re leading a meeting, it’s important to create an atmosphere in which people feel free to share without being judged or criticized. You can’t allow opinionated and dominant personalities to take control.
Everyone should have an opportunity to put forward their points. Mike Ashton who works for NSBroker says that being able to contribute in meetings and have that contribution respected is what makes him excited about attending meetings. The team at Microsoft uses Ralph, a rubber chicken, to toss around to the speaker and keep a balance of listening and speaking in meetings.
You should also fight against a too hasty consensus. You don’t want ‘yes men’ agreeing to everything. Team members should be able to challenge each other and debate an issue from all side before reaching a consensus.
The most energetic meetings are those where everyone is part of the discussion and is engaged in a genuine, organic way.
If you feel that your meetings are becoming stale, you may find changing venues helps. Sometimes a meeting held at a more inspiring venue can help to get participants into a more creative, receptive frame of mind.
Richard Branson believes that innovative ideas come when you’re in innovative meeting spaces. He suggests that holding a meeting in a café or in the park can bring fresh air into any meeting and is likely to generate new ways of thinking.
You may want to set aside time at the end of a meeting to let everyone share an insight they gained. You could ask a question like, “What new strategies did you learn from the meeting?” or “How will this meeting influence what you do next week?” This reinforces collaboration and ensures that everyone understands the value of what took place.
End the meeting on time and make sure everyone has clear responsibilities and actions to take. You could follow up with an email to communicate any action items that need attention. You may outline what was discussed, not extensively but in enough detail for the team to have a framework for what they need to remember or do.
Add some fun at the end of a meeting to finish strongly. You may give out a weekly team award, for example, to a team member who has done something that exemplifies the values of the team.
The Bottom Line
The last thing you want is for your meetings to be regarded as a waste of time or, worse, something that people dread and try to avoid. Implementing all the above ways to run a successful meeting is important but it may not be so easy in practice.
It may help to implement the strategies one by one over time, starting with what you feel is most important for your next meeting. It may not happen overnight but your meetings can be seen as a way to connect, collaborate, get creative, decide on strategies, celebrate progress and generate productivity.
Originally published at facilethings.com.