6 Tips to Make Your Meetings Rock
Meetings can be a great thing. They foster teamwork and brainstorming. They are a means to hash out tough decisions and help move projects forward. But not all meetings are effective. We have all experienced meetings that are unproductive or run longer than they should and leave you feeling like you just lost valuable time away from your work and accomplished nothing. A meeting can very quickly go from a valuable way to collaborate as a team to a frustrating exercise in wasted time. But don’t despair! There are ways to keep your meeting productive.
As with nearly all activities, it pays to follow the 80/20 rule: Spend 80 percent of your effort on planning and preparation and only 20 percent on execution. Keeping that in mind, here are six tips to keep your meeting on track.
- Be prepared.
Know ahead of time what you will be discussing. Review any pertinent information before the meeting begins. Be prepared with questions, comments and concerns. Send materials for the meeting out ahead of time so participants can review. One of these materials should be an agenda. As the time for the meeting draws near, remind attendees of the meeting and the need (if appropriate) to preview materials previously sent.
- Have an agenda.
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Having an agenda is a must for any meeting. It creates a clear framework which allows participants to know what to expect. Assign time to each of the agenda items and who is responsible for covering them. This leads to accountability and a more structured meeting. When attention spans wane, sticking to an agenda keeps people focused.
- Keep track of time.
Be the timekeeper. Make sure your meeting starts and ends on time based on the time frame in your agenda. Best practice is to periodically acknowledge how the meeting is doing on time. “We ran a little over on time on this item, so let’s move on to the next” or “We have 15 minutes remaining, so let’s proceed to the final agenda topic.” Mentioning the time makes your participants feel like you have respect for the time they are taking to participate in this meeting. A good rule of thumb is to try to keep meetings within 60 minutes. Any longer, and you risk losing the participants’ engagement. If you do have to conduct longer meetings, build in breaks and short distractions to re-energize the team.
- Stay on track.
Many times, a participant can derail your entire meeting. Don’t allow a person or topic to take your meeting hostage. When you find the meeting drifting off topic, it’s best to take control. Always refer to your agenda. It’s your tool for refocusing the meeting back on course. When participants try to bring up topics not relevant to the meeting, validate their points and suggest further discussion outside of the current meeting. If you need active participation in your meeting and a team member is quiet, reserved or appears disengaged, call on them for their thoughts. If someone is being obstructionist or overly cynical, publicly acknowledge their reservations but ask for a positive/constructive contribution anyway. And if someone is dominating the discussion, thank them for their contribution and state that you would like to hear from others. It’s best to call on participants by name and go around the room either clockwise or counterclockwise from the dominant personality. That will set up the expectation that everyone will be called upon to participate. If the dominant person becomes disruptive again, continue calling on people where you left off.
- Recap and assign action items.
Spend the remaining five to 10 minutes recapping the major points discussed. See if participants need clarification on any item. If follow-up action is needed, make sure this is discussed and assigned before the meeting is over. You want your participants to leave the meeting with an understanding of what they, and the team as a whole, are responsible for.
- Follow up with a summary.
Lastly, after the meeting, make sure to email participants a meeting summary. This includes what was discussed, who was assigned action items and what steps need to be taken next. Sometimes people can come away from the same meeting with completely different ideas of what was discussed. A summary helps everyone get and stay on the same page and helps drive your project forward.
You need not dread meetings and they don’t necessarily have to be a drain on your day. If you follow these steps, your meeting can be an effective way to move a project forward and a great tool in your account management arsenal. Just remember the 80/20 rule!