Meetings are tricky. When done correctly, they can communicate information to the right parties or hammer out a sensitive issue. When done incorrectly, they can waste people’s time, make the meeting host look bad and de-motivate the people in attendance. It’s not overly difficult to have productive meetings; you just need to follow some basic guidelines.
Have a goal:
Never have a meeting for the sake of having a meeting. If you can’t list one or more outcomes that you expect from the meeting, then you shouldn’t have it.
Keep it small:
Only invite people that are needed to achieve the goals. If someone necessary to reach the outcome, such as a decision maker, can’t make it, reschedule it. There’s no sense in turning your meeting into a pre-meeting for the real McCoy.
Watch your time:
Respect everyone else’s time and make them respect your time. Start on time so people learn to not straggle in. End on time because people are busy and have places to go.
Stay on target:
Create an agenda with time limits and stick to it. If someone brings the conversation out on a tangent, reel it back in.
Narrow your focus:
If you don’t think you can get to everything in one meeting, then split it into two ahead of time. Then apply all these rules to each meeting — especially about only inviting those needed.
Request attendees do work prior to the meeting such as reading a proposal. The meeting should focus on getting to an outcome, not reading through a document as a group.
Take side discussions offline:
Respect the time of all attendees. If something comes up in discussion that only affects some attendees, set up a new meeting to discuss it.
Consider an email blast:
If your meeting is simply to communicate information, consider an email blast. Status and procedural changes can often be communicated this way. If you’re looking to get people to ask questions and you feel the face to face time is needed, then a meeting is more appropriate.
Keep it short:
Try to keep all meetings under 30 minutes if at all possible. Meetings have a habit of stretching to accommodate the length of the room reservation. When attendees know they have limited time, they’re more likely to stay on track and focus on the topic.
Meeting minutes are a great way to keep people in the loop without having unnecessary people in attendance. People always feel the need to chime in at meetings so by not having them in attendance, you’ll save time.
Close the door:
If your meeting space has a door, close it. It cuts down on noise and makes people think twice before interrupting.
Give plenty of notice:
Sometimes this isn’t possible, but when it is, give people at least two days notice so they can do any prep work they need to ahead of time. Also, don’t schedule it too far out as people might put off any prep working figuring they have plenty of time.
Follow up with attendees:
Confirm with each attendee the day of the meeting that they’re planning to attend. You don’t want to have everyone gather only to find out that key person is out sick or had something else crop up.
Set up ahead of time:
If you need a projector or other equipment, give yourself 15 minutes to set up. You don’t want to have everyone sitting there waiting while you’re fumbling with your computer.
So these are just some ways you can have more effective meetings. Keep in mind that not all of these tips may apply to all situations. The key to any successful meeting is to focus on your outcomes and stay on target. Just doing those two things correctly are a huge step in the right direction.
James Feudo owns the Boston Web Design Agency JVF Solutions and loves blogging about personal development and communication in his spare time.