People spend so much time in meetings that turning meeting time into sustained results is a priority for successful organizations. Actions that make meetings successful require management before, during, and after the meeting. If you neglect any one of these meeting management opportunities, your meetings will not bear the fruit you desire from the time you invest in meeting.
We all know the basic tips for running an effective meeting. But if it’s so simple, how come so many of our meetings still feel like time-wasters? Here’s some uncommon tips to make you a meeting master whether you’re hosting — or participating — in the meeting.
- Explain before scheduling: Send out a short note prior to scheduling the meeting explaining the purpose and desired outcomes. Is this an update? Are you seeking input? What decisions will be made in the meeting? Answer these questions up front, and you won’t get a bunch of inquiries asking about the meeting’s intent, and attendees can delegate to colleagues if needed.
- Send a reminder the day before: Prevent lateness by sending a note ahead of the call/meeting asking everyone to show up a few minutes early so the meeting can start on time. Reiterate the purpose, agenda and goals. Then start the meeting at the scheduled time and try not to get distracted when latecomers join.
- Don’t get tripped up by technology: Huge amounts of time are wasted when the presentations don’t open, e-meetings go down, or people get dropped from conference calls. If you’re using a presentation or website, send supporting files ahead of time and ask users to download or access them before the meeting so they are ready to go. Poorly run e-meetings are the most painful of all to watch. Find an e-meeting expert to “drive” the meeting or practice running an e-meeting in advance. It’ll be much easier than trying to learn the technology as you’re running the meeting.
- Factor in transition time: Schedule your meetings to end 5 or 10 minutes before the next hour or half-hour to give people time to transition to their next meeting. Instead of 30 minutes, schedule 25 minutes, instead of 60 minutes, schedule 50 minutes. This gives attendees an opportunity to check mail, take a break and still make their next meeting on time.
- Practice interrupting: When people get off track, it’s the host’s job to pull them back. Practice what you might say to smoothly bring the discussion back on track. Good interruptions include, “Let’s discuss that after we conclude with topic XYZ” or “I know that’s important, so lets take that offline (or discuss at the end of the meeting).” Preparing for this situation will make it easier to handle.
- Make Sure You Need a Meeting: Once you’ve developed your meeting plan, ensure that a meeting is the appropriate vehicle for accomplishing the set goals. To schedule and hold a meeting is expensive when you account for the time of the people attending. So, make efforts to determine that a meeting is the best opportunity to solve the problem, improve the process, or make an ongoing plan. You may find that you can accomplish the meeting goals with an email discussion or by distributing and requesting information through the company newsletter. Make sure the meeting is needed and not just convenient for you – you’ll get better results from attendees.
- Got budget? Get food: If you’re hosting a face-to-face meeting, and you have money in the budget, provide food. Even something small like cookies or donuts will be appreciated.
4 short tips for meeting participants
Set your timer: A good trick for being on time is setting your Notes alarm (see sidebar) to go off five minutes before every meeting. When it does, dial-in to the conference call, or walk over to the meeting room with your laptop. You can still continue to work until the meeting starts, but you’ll be there when expected.
Review meeting materials: Take a few minutes to review any materials sent prior to the meeting. This way, if you have any questions, you can ask the host what’s expected.
Practice interrupting: It’s the host’s job to keep the meeting on track, but if they aren’t prepared to, a skilled participant can help out. If the meeting is getting off-track, a gentle interruption can bring the team back in focus. Try a comment like, “I know that’s important to some of you, but could we discuss that after we’ve finished with the topic at hand?”
Just say no: Sometimes, between meetings and e-mail, it’s impossible to get any work done. Block off “meeting-free” zones on your calendar each week to reserve time to focus on work.