“If you were a fruit, what kind would you want to be?” That was the ice-breaker that kicked off the worst meeting I’ve been a part of. It took 30 minutes for everyone to contribute. The meeting ran 25 minutes long. Not only was it a complete waste of time, by the end I felt like I owed the company stockholders an apology just for attending.
In general, I tend to enjoy work meetings, but many business professionals dislike them – and often with good reason. Some detest them. Others bemoan their lack of ability to get any “real work” done when meetings pile up. Even the late Peter Drucker considered meetings a necessary evil.
Poorly run meetings can be exasperating. But productive meetings are essential for collaboration, decision-making and team effectiveness. Meetings are also expensive and can waste considerable time due to disorganization, lack of discipline and ambiguity. These best practices can help your meeting stand out, whether you are an organizer, presenter or participant – both for in-person and multi-site.
Before the Meeting
Identify the desired outcome. What is the purpose of the meeting? It is to inform, brainstorm, plan, persuade, decide, etc.? What do you hope to accomplish by the end?
Create the meeting agenda. If you are the meeting organizer, this is absolutely essential. The agenda should include items, presenters, and times for each item – and should be distributed in advance to allow all participants time to prepare. If you are not the organizer, make sure to ask for an agenda before attending a meeting to make sure it is a productive use of your time to attend.
Send invitations. The busier your audience, the earlier your meeting invitations should be sent. Always include the purpose, agenda and any critical materials.
During the Meeting
Begin & end on time. Respect everyone’s calendar by maintaining scheduling discipline. Meetings that run late can create a domino effect of late meetings for an entire day. Not only that, being late penalizes the punctual and rewards the tardy (Tweet).
State the desired outcome up front. Your participants should already know the meeting purpose and agenda when they arrive, but repeat them anyway.
Be fully engaged. If you are presenting, be intentional about the energy you project. You’ll get what you give. Solicit participation. Use the appropriate level of detail. If you are a participant, come prepared and be fully present. (Resist the urge to take phone calls or check emails). Capture your own key notes whether or not there is a designated scribe. (Meeting minutes are usually not critical.)
Follow the agenda. Maintain agenda discipline (this is why it is important to share the agenda upfront). Dial-down over-participation. If out of scope items come up, use a temporary “parking lot.” If new relevant items come up, suggest either reorganizing the agenda or addressing in a future meeting.
Summarize key decisions made and action items. Always leave a few minutes at the end of the meeting to review what has been decided and clarify next steps (who will do what by when?). If you skip this step, you risk wasting all the progress made.
Determine the next meeting time frame. You don’t need to have a specific date set in the meeting, but you should agree on the general time frame.
After the Meeting
Distribute a summary. As soon as possible following a key meeting, send a follow-up summary of progress made, key decisions made, action items (with names and due dates) and what they should expect next (e.g. a follow-up meeting).
Schedule follow-up meeting(s). If there will be a future meeting, schedule it as soon as possible.
Make it fun. Just by following these steps, your meetings should stand out from the rest. But anything extra you can do to help your audience look forward to attending your meetings will go a long way. One team I’ve worked with reserves the last two minutes for a semi-impromptu dance-off just to reinforce that it’s a fun team to be on. That may not be appropriate in other meetings, but a little creativity can add an engaging touch.
Meetings are here to stay. Productive, engaging meetings create a productive, engaging culture (Tweet). Organizing a meeting definitely qualifies as a leadership opportunity.
Nathan Magnuson is a leadership consultant, coach, trainer and thought leader. Receive his new ebook Trusted Leadership Advisor by subscribing to his website or follow him on Twitter.