For a lot of employees, meetings are just obligatory formalities they’ve learned to accept. Too many meetings are filled with more hot air blowing, thumb twiddling, clockwatching and daydreaming than anything else.
That’s not just a harsh reality for the employees who have to struggle through them. It’s also a harsh reality for the business managers and owners who are faced with lost productivity because of poorly planned or completely unnecessary meetings.
So, how can managers ensure a successful, productive meeting? Here are some tips:
Establish the Objective
This seems so obvious, yet a surprising number of meetings have no clearly stated purpose. What do you want to accomplish? Are you trying to solve a specific problem? Are you trying to get everyone on the same page? Are you informing people about a change? If you don’t know the purpose of the meeting, no one else will either.
Don’t just have a meeting for the sake of having a meeting. Meetings often happen at regularly scheduled times, but if there’s nothing to discuss, what’s the point of pulling people away from getting their work done?
Be Smart About Who Gets Invited
If you’re going to talk about marketing, does the guy from accounting really need to attend? It’s important to think about whether there’s reason for certain people to be there. If you think there is reason, it may be a good idea to let them know what that is, if it’s not obvious.
In addition, having more people in attendance than necessary can hinder the success of a meeting. People can assume they don’t need to pay attention if half of the office is there. On the other hand, with a more selective group, it’s much more obvious there’s a reason why the people who are there are there.
If you’re announcing an important change, invite the people who need to know about the change. If you’re trying to solve a problem, invite the people you think have the skills and knowledge to help.
Be Smart About Scheduling
No one wants to have a meeting last thing on Friday afternoon when most people are trying to wrap up the week and get home. Chances are good that they’ll be thinking more about what they’re going to do over the weekend than about whatever information you’re trying to cover.
Likewise, first thing Monday morning is probably not an ideal time either, as people are trying to wake up and get the ball rolling.
Be prepared! No one will appreciate being called to a meeting to hear you fumble for words and spit out a bunch of “umm”s and “you know”s. Make sure you know what you want to say beforehand and bring copies of any materials that would be helpful to hand out. Being ill prepared can be as bad as not having any reason to call the meeting in the first place. If you’re going to ask for your employees’ time, you should do what you can to not waste it. Plus, preparation will prevent you from being embarrassed. It’s a win-win.
In some cases, it might also be good to ask employees to prepare for the meeting, especially if you want good input from them. And this might be especially beneficial if employees are more introverted.
Make a Schedule
This goes along with being prepared, but it can be helpful to make an agenda with all the topics you plan to cover at the meeting and send it out to attendees beforehand. Allot a certain amount of time for each item and try to stick to it, though that can be hard. Try to be realistic about how much time each topic will take and think about which items should be prioritized. Letting attendees see the schedule is a good way to stay organized and keep people focused.
Also, you should start on time and end on time. Try to avoid having meetings that last more than an hour because most people have a hard time concentrating longer than that.
Don’t let one person monopolize the time and get the meeting off track. If it’s apparent that someone is taking over, say something like, “Thank you for your input, but we need to get to the next item on the schedule.” Make it clear who’s in charge.
Don’t Allow Technology
Letting people bring their iPads, laptops, etc. to the meeting pretty much guarantees at least some of them will be distracted. Some meetings require technology, but for those that don’t, it’s probably best to ask people to make do with pen and paper.
After the meeting, it’s often good to email a summary of what was discussed. That eliminates confusion and cements what you wanted people to take away. Also, if someone had to miss the meeting for some reason, they’ll be filled in.
With preparation and organization, meetings don’t have to be a waste of time.