A meeting must be an active session in which attendees learn, decide, and create things. An effective meeting is not just a discussion, it is a call for an action.
If you are a team lead, a project manager, or simply a facilitator of the meeting, you must first understand the above ground rule. But we all have gone through the boring experiences at our meetings. Most of the meetings kill our productivity. Hard to believe, right? If you have a simple google search, you may find many articles and surveys to prove this claim.
According to a survey of U.S. professionals by Salary.com, meetings ranked as the number one office productivity killer. (Dealing with office politics was a close second, according to the 2012 survey.) - www.forbes.com
And now the obvious question you get is how to overcome this issue and bring productivity into your meeting table. It’s simple, but you need a good practice and understanding. Here are the 8 ways of arranging a highly effective meeting. You can take these as the golden rules for arranging your meetings.
1. State your objectives clearly.
Either it is a meeting on a regular schedule or a special call, a meeting must have a specific and well-defined purpose. Also, the attendees must be purpose-driven, always! Knowing the purpose of a meeting helps you figure out what to discuss, whom to invite, how to prepare, and how to facilitate.
Stating a vague purpose like “status updates” is one of the most-hated subject lines I have seen in the meeting invitation emails. Use group emails for status updates of your function. Meetings are for making things happen collaboratively.
Now, clearly state the objective in the invitation and send it to the potential attendees at your earliest. If it is a workplace meeting, a simple group email would do. Never reply to the previous meeting threads, always start a new email thread for every new meeting.
The importance of an agenda comes when the attendees prepare for the meeting. They need to know why they must attend the meeting, what others expect from their presence at the meeting, and what others are going to speak at the meeting. A good agenda must contain all scheduling and venue details. (Include dial-in and video-conference information if applicable) Sending an agenda in the last minute before the meeting is useless. If you can send your agenda two days before the meeting, that would be the ideal time.
The most valuable asset we have is our people. Whatever the right decision you take, they are the ones who actually make your decision worth. So carefully prepare your attendee list.
First thing you must consider is, there must be a representative for each topic/function mentioned in your agenda. With this comes an important understanding: Avoid hostages and passengers in your meetings. Never let one or two persons monopolize your meeting, our life is too short for drama. Also, never invite a person who does not actively engage in the meeting, there’s no room for spectators in your meeting. Remember the first rule always, meeting is an active session to make things happen.
4. Watch the clock and stick to the schedule. Start on time. Finish on time.
Am I the only one who has seen late-comers in the meetings? Hopefully, you also have noticed these types of people at work. Late-comers are a pain to the meetings. This is very common in your college and junior level meetings.
Let’s first understand the root cause for this. Studies say that people get late to the meetings deliberately because they assume that the meeting would anyway start late. Also, they assume that attending a meeting 5 minutes early will cause them stay another 15-30 minutes idle until everyone comes and gets prepared for the meeting. If you are a good manager, the first thing you must do is killing this myth. Make sure you are punctual. Start the meeting right on time. Never wait for the late-comers if you wish to work in a professional environment. From the second meeting onward, people would be on there seats 5 minutes before the meeting. Everyone loves being punctual, but they cannot do it alone, it must be a collective effort. You give them the first spark for being punctual and they will follow your rules.
Remember your college days? We all needed our lecturers to finish their lectures as early as possible. That’s our nature. People cannot stay more than 60 minutes remaining truly engaged. When the meeting takes more than the allocated time, your brain sends you the message, “Enough for the day, leave now!”. On the other hand, people appreciate it when you understand that their time is valuable and let them leave on time. Never let your meeting last longer hours. One hour is the ideal time duration for an effective meeting. If it lasts more than one hour, divide the meeting into two sessions, and have it in two different time slots (preferably take two separate days for this).
I have seen people sharing the functional updates first and then recall the previously-shared updates again and again when it’s time to discuss his topic. This is actually an outdated and less effective approach. What is the purpose of throwing so much of information to the table at the beginning and wait till the right time comes to discuss them? The best moment to share the updates is right before the topic. Then you can refer to the updates easily. Also it will give a better image of the situation to your other attendees.
When you come across an issue which needs attention, never brainstorm during a meeting. Brainstorming is a homework. People can work together as a group, but their brains work alone. Ask your attendees to brainstorm later and come up with a solution at the next meeting. Don’t lose your focus on the pre-defined objectives of the meeting.Some topics can be very serious and decisive. They might need extra attention of everyone. On such background, you must “prewire” the important points and decisions. You can discuss with attendees and relevant personnel before the meeting, individually or collectively. Having a ready-made version of such actual scenarios will provide a right direction to the meeting, increase the chances of success, and avoid potential disappointments and misunderstandings.
6. Avoid technology. Encourage note-taking.
There was a time that people believed in multitasking. But now people have understood that multitasking could be a productivity killer. A person looking into his mobile phone or tab is always a distracting sight for the speakers. Make sure your attendees respect each other by keeping their mobile devices away as much as possible. The meeting time is not for emailing, surfing on the web, and scrolling social media feeds. Make sure all eyes and minds are up for the meeting.
Note-taking sounds like an old school practice. But it is one famous and effective way of remembering and organizing your things. If you are not familiar with this, try taking down important points in a notebook. There’s no need to be shy to keep a small notebook in your bag, people know that you are a well-organized person when they see you actively taking down the important points. Most of the companies distribute diaries and notepads for free-of-charge to their employees for a reason, you must understand it.
7. Wrap it up nicely.
Now take out the agenda, the notes you took down, and the parking lot. Confirm the decisions and the actions to be made in the future. Remind the homework. Suggest the schedule and venue details for the next meeting (if possible). Appreciate the contribution of attendees to make the meeting a success. Compliment them for their concern and interest on the meeting.
Want to win your attendees? Then finish the meeting a little bit early. And mention that you could finish it early because everyone went according to the schedule. Attendees will silently admire you and it is a good sign for the next meeting. Delivering the right satisfaction after a meeting is hard, but it is not impossible.
8. Follow up – send a memo email within 24 hours.
All went well. But people forget things easily. People get discouraged easily. So make sure you write an email to all attendees with a memo of the meeting within 24 hours. If you have decided on critical deadlines, save the dates in your workplace calendar, and send timely reminders.
In some workplaces, I have seen people using trackers and project management tools to monitor the progress levels. Such practices come with the company culture. If you think your attendees are comfortable with these, try those tools carefully! But always remember the ground rules, don’t let them lose focus on their objectives.
Meetings can be either good or bad. It is you who must drive the meeting to the success.
When I was 22, I got selected as the Director of Marketing for an old boys group of my school. All other members of our Executive Committee were senior to me. What I have mentioned above are my personal learning experiences from working with those gentlemen after the first quarter of our term. In my point of view, a man can get to know of many things by reading, but the right learning comes with the experience. Go join a non-profit board while you are young and strong, and experiment the things you find on books (and blogs). Rich experiences and better understanding on things always make good managers!