In today’s world, business leaders and entrepreneurs are inundated with meetings. We have formal meetings, informal meetings, ad hoc meetings, all-day meetings, breakfast meetings, lunch meetings and dinner meetings. We use meetings to plan meetings and we have meetings to follow-up on the meetings we have had.
Meetings are a great way to improve information-gathering and decision-making, brainstorm, share ideas, motivate and inspire our team. However, long, boring and unproductive meetings can demotivate and lead to confusion and apathy.
The key to success regarding meetings is to have fewer of them, to shorten the ones we have and to put a strategy in place so that meetings are more productive.
Your time and the time of the meeting attendees is valuable. You should be sure the business investment is worth it. Before scheduling a meeting, ask yourself the following questions to determine whether the meeting is worth your time, both in preparation and attendance, and worth the valuable time of your attendees:
- What is the purpose of the meeting? Consider how strategic this time investment will be to accomplish the goals of the business.
- What are the objectives of the meeting? Be sure there is a desired outcome which can be clearly defined.
- What preparation must be completed in advance? Advance preparation adds to the meeting’s productivity.
- Who should attend the meeting? Eliminate courtesy invites. Invite only those necessary to meet the meeting’s objectives.
- What specific topics need to be discussed to meet the objectives? Provide the meeting attendees with list of topics to be discussed. This will aid in their preparation as well as your own.
- How much time is needed to meet the objectives? Time is money and wasted time is a business killer. Set a specific time duration and stick to it. Single topic meetings should be limited to 30 minutes and multiple topics to 45-60 minutes.
Send a formal meeting request to all attendees. When sending the meeting request, include the information above in a structured format so attendees know there is an intention for the meeting, and they are to come prepared:
Own your meeting! When hosting or facilitating a meeting, be aware of the common pitfalls that can derail meeting progress. These include mismanagement of time and attention, lack of focus and careless follow-up. Avoid these pitfalls by following these guidelines:
- Start and end on time: Respect the time of those in attendance. Start promptly, even if everyone is not present. Over time, even the stragglers will begin to arrive on schedule. Ending on time will communicate that you respect the time of others and would appreciate the same courtesy.
- Eliminate distractions: Require attendees to silence phones, stay off social media and close email. It is critical that attendees stay engaged and focused.
- Stick to the topics: The biggest time-wasters in meetings are often the unrelated conversations before the meetings begin and the stray topics during the meetings. Have the general conversations over a coffee break or lunch and stay on track during the meeting so you make the best use of the meeting time.
- Utilize the parking lot: Any topic that comes up that is not part of the agenda and does not contribute to meeting the defined objectives should be added to the “parking lot” to discuss at another time. This communicates that the topic has importance but should be addressed at a later date.
- Track action items: All action items must be captured, assigned and given a due date. Take time to review the action item list just prior to closing the meeting. Action items should then be tracked independently so time is not wasted obtaining action items status during follow-up meetings.
- Summarize the meeting: At the end of the meeting, review the meeting purpose and goals to be sure they were met. Also review any decisions that were made and be sure everyone is aware of necessary next steps.
As important as the meeting preparation and execution are, the meeting follow-up is equally important. Formally document the meeting and distribute the minutes to those in attendance as well as to any sponsors and/or stakeholders that would need to know the outcome and decisions made. Circle back with your attendees to be sure they have the information they need to complete their action items and follow through on next steps.
Conducting a well-planned and well-executed meeting will make your meetings more productive and save time and money for the organization. Good meeting follow-up will also save time and money by eliminating the need to track people down to determine the status of action items.
Meetings will become a tool of productivity and efficiency as you accomplish more, meet less and own your meeting!
Mike and Tricia Battistella are the owners of Solutions3 LLC, an IT management company focusing on IT service management, cyber security management, network & systems management, critical notification management, and technical training. Mike and Tricia also partner with EDC Communications LLC, where they are Value-Added Resellers and instructors for their Communication & Leadership Training offerings.