Love ’em or hate ’em, meetings are a reality for companies of any size. In an organization made up of independent people, a meeting can be the best way to ensure cohesive communication among them all.
Yet you’ve doubtless been invited to gatherings that aren’t necessary or go nowhere — and no one likes that. Whether you’re the planner or just an attendee, here are some tips to make the most of your many meetings.
Formulate an Agenda
To keep the discussion on track, you’ll want to create a meeting agenda that covers all necessary points of conversation. Ask yourself: What is this meeting for? What are we trying to achieve during this time? Send the agenda to participants beforehand so they can ask questions and suggest necessary topics for discussion.
It will be helpful to divide up segments of the meeting according to your answers to the questions above and the input of attendees. Set aside time to introduce and explain each topic and field responses from participants. Most importantly, stick to the plan — otherwise, you’ll fall into the same time-wasting traps you’re trying to avoid.
Only Use the Time You Truly Need
One of these traps is the unintentional use of an implied minimum time limit. When a meeting is scheduled for an hour, it can cause people to subconsciously stretch it to fill that timespan. This tendency is exacerbated by the common practice of scheduling meetings in 15-minute increments, which can lead to lots of wasted time.
To prevent this, schedule your meeting for the time you think you’ll actually need. A 40-minute minute discussion doesn’t require an hour-long meeting. Heck, it doesn’t even require a 45-minute meeting. Let your information-sharing and decision-making needs determine the meeting length, not vice versa.
Where possible, try limiting meetings to 30 minutes max. Discussions that drag on can cause drifting attention and, thus, missed information. Shorter meetings, on the other hand, encourage efficiency by limiting extraneous commentary. Fifteen minutes may be all you need to introduce your topic, discuss it, and make a plan to move forward.
Limit Attendance to Key People
You can condense the conversation further by limiting the number of people who are engaging in it. Those nice-to-have but not truly necessary invitees can give the meeting a miss and spend more time working instead.
With your meeting now centered around essential participants, it can take a more direct course toward accomplishing its goals. Decision-making time will drastically decrease along with the number of decision-makers.
When seeking to limit your meeting’s attendees, it’s important to consider feedback. If a colleague can make the case for participating, by all means, invite them. On the other hand, if an invitee believes their attendance isn’t necessary, note their reasoning and respond appropriately. You may decide their presence is required, but if not, they shouldn’t have to spend time in a meeting they don’t need to be in.
Tackle Issues Head-On
If the meeting’s purpose is to discuss a problematic issue, there should be no shying away from it. After a quick intro, invite discussion, invite criticism, invite solution proposals — just jump right in. The meeting will be more meaningful if you directly acknowledge and focus on the topic at hand.
If an employee has a criticism regarding a certain decision, action, or idea, give them the chance to share it. You’ll find that morale rises significantly when feedback is noted and everybody has a stake in their role. Your attendees’ direct feedback can be the difference between a project’s failure or success. Transparent communication keeps people inspired to make that impact.
Let a Picture Tell the Story
Open, unfettered discussion is an important baseline, but it’s not the sum total of effective meeting communication. To get your points across better — and likely faster — clarify attendees’ understanding of the situation with visual elements.
Any design that aims to essentialize the topic, whether a graph, a chart, or a timeline, will suffice. The rising arrow on a profit graph may be simplistic, but it’s a good representation of a straightforward visual representation of data. A good graphic can take reams of sales figures and explain at a glance: “This is where we were; here’s where we are.”
Nor do you need to spend hours preparing charts and graphs. The visual aspect of your presentation can be minimal if it’s well-thought-out. The important thing is that it draws attention and encourages more rapid comprehension. As with words, concision is always key.
Create Action Steps for Moving Forward
Remember the point of this article? Leaving a meeting feeling you’ve accomplished something? Well, that requires making decisions and executing on them. So when you’re formulating your agenda, designate time for determining how you’ll take action.
Without a concrete goal at the end of a meeting, it’s easy to move on and forget about its content. In order to keep everybody focused on the goal at hand, create and assign action steps. These should be specific to each attendee and provide defined objectives to meet.
If your discussion concerned a long-term goal, break it up into smaller steps. Completing concrete steps, even if they merely chip away at the ultimate goal, can keep employees feeling productive. They’re more likely to persevere in working toward the larger goal if they experience intermediate successes along the way.
Speaking of which, take a moment during your meeting to celebrate your team’s successes.
A HubSpot survey found that 69% of employees would work harder if they felt they were appreciated. So show appreciation for the work employees are doing for the company and make your appreciation tangible.
That tangible appreciation could take the form of a gift, a bonus, or maybe an extra day off. Even a public shout-out will make employees feel valued. Either way, acknowledgment of past accomplishments will inspire future ones.
There are numerous meeting practices that could be improved for the sake of time, efficiency, and morale. The more your meeting manages to stick to the topics on its agenda, the more productive it will be. Scheduling shorter meetings, inviting only essential participants, and assigning action items are other tactics you can use to ensure meaningful meetings. When attendees leave a meeting feeling they’ve accomplished something, they’ll be primed to do the same in pursuit of your company’s goals.