Many employees dread office bulletin board notices or e-mail invites to meetings. Why? Unclear objectives, uncomfortable meeting rooms, countless distractions—these are but a few of the problems that cause people to avoid meeting if they can help it. To get the most out of your meetings, here are a few tips you can follow.
1. Establish the meeting agenda
Nothing can be more frustrating than calling for a meeting without a clear purpose.
Determine this early on, and send it out early, to the people or departments that are relevant to the agenda. Doing this helps you avoid pulling out people who may not be needed for the meeting. For instance, why pull in Ted from Sales if it’s a meeting about office renovations? Unless there’s something on the agenda that may affect his department (like an interruption to phone services in the office).
Make it clear from the beginning what the meeting is for, what will be discussed, and who needs to attend.
2. Eliminate distractions
If the meeting is small and you have a suitable venue on-site, make strict rules about not allowing interruptions. Send out an official email to everyone that the participants are unavailable for the duration of the meeting and can’t be disturbed unless the issue is very important. Make it clear to both the participants and other people in the office that it’s a closed-door meeting by hanging a “Do not disturb” sign on the door. Also, insist that meeting participants hand over their “ultimate devices of distraction” – their smartphones.
Stash them away in a box in the middle of the conference table and return them after the meeting. It may sound a bit extreme, but it does wonders for the meeting’s speed and productivity.
3. Take it off-site
If the meeting requires only a few people, you can have it in the office or a nearby venue.
For larger meetings with more important matters, it’s a good idea to have it at a venue other than the office. You can use the venue as a way to put people at ease, get them to focus on the matter at hand, and can set the tone for making a big decision. If announcing company milestones, making ambitious projections, big client wins or big promotions are part of the agenda, having the meeting close to something grand makes it more memorable and fun.
For instance, let’s say your office is in Seattle. You can find a meeting space in the Lower Queen Anne district that’s close to one of many famed landmarks, like the famous Space Needle. It’s ok to choose a memorable venue, but keep it within a reasonable budget.
4. Stick to the agenda
Getting lost in other topics during meetings is surprisingly easy to do. Set specific time allotments to each topic on the agenda, and adhere to them strictly. Once a topic has used up its allotted time, agree to discuss it separately, at a different venue (also called “parking,” or “putting it in the parking lot”), and move on to the next item on the agenda. If the participants go off-topic, politely remind them of the agenda and move on.
5. Have a moderator and a transcriber
<>It’s easy to get lost and go off-topic when the agenda has points that need to be discussed among several participants, and the topic is serious. If there are more than 10 participants, it would be better to assign a moderator to assist you in sticking to the agenda and have someone to transcribe the meeting. A transcriber is vital in recording and summarizing points that were discussed and agreed to for future reference.
6. Be flexible
Even though the meeting is pressed for time and being efficient is important, make room for breaks. Allow participants to have bathroom breaks, coffee, cigarette or vape breaks. You can even insert a couple of “ice-breakers” like a quick round of charades. Giving a few minutes for them (and you) to take a break will refresh and extend attention spans and focus for the duration of the meeting. This is especially important if the meeting takes up most of the day.
7. Summarize points, move forward
At the end of the meeting, point back to your agenda. Sum up what was discussed and what the salient points were, cite any new insights or suggestions, acknowledge participants’ contributions, and repeat how the issue or topic was resolved. Make it clear which goals have been set, and who will do what by when. These are all important for the transcriber to take note of, so clear trails of accountability are established, and these meetings propel the teams forward.
Meetings don’t have to be boring or tedious. With enough preparation and flexibility, they can become dynamic, productive affairs that everyone can look forward to because they become the collaborative, success-driving activities they are meant to be.