Meetings are the most expensive periods of time we spend together. Try, for example, adding up the loaded employee cost of a simple weekly status meeting. Your answer will make it immediately clear why meetings need to be highly productive to justify the expense.
Effective Meeting Elements
Let’s focus on the components of a meeting, and how you can use a new structure to produce more effective and efficient meetings that get the job done. These seven simple steps make every meeting more productive:
1. Set an agenda. How can meetings occur without an agenda? It’s like scheduling a business trip without an itinerary! Agendas are simple to construct and distribute. The road map they provide not only prepares attendees for what will be covered, but agendas are a terrific way to keep the meeting on track. The more specific, the better the road map, and the more likely you are to accomplish the stated objectives.
2. Make sure there is a hard start and hard stop. Meetings need a physical structure, which means predetermined start and end times. The old saying that “work fills the time allotted” is completely true. Always state the start and end times at the beginning of a meeting. This serves as a reminder and sets the parameters for everyone involved.
3. Prepare necessary materials — only. A lot of work can go into preparing for a meeting, so prepare (or instruct others to prepare) only what is truly necessary to communicate effectively during the meeting. One thing that should be eliminated from virtually every team meeting is PowerPoint slides! Read that sentence again because it’s important. Most people use PowerPoint to put their speaking points on the screen. BORING! We can read speaking points, so why are we here in a meeting? Moreover, creating a list is much easier to do in an email or Microsoft Word than in PowerPoint — and there’s no setup time required to fiddle with the projector and such.
4. Distribute materials in advance. Send out materials well before the meeting — preferably, the day before — with a request people review them and come prepared to discuss the items listed. You don’t want to waste everyone’s time by reading your summaries to them! You want to leverage that time for input.
5. Moderate the discussion. If this is your meeting, it’s your job to “run” or moderate it. That means staying quiet most of the time and acting as a guide to keep everyone on course (topic-wise) and moving forward (productivity-wise) within the time allotted. Think of it as a referee or facilitator role. You want to marshal these valuable resources (people and their ideas) toward an effective end. If you, as the leader, participate too much, you’ll run the risk of commandeering the meeting, which is not an effective use of team members’ time.
6. Confirm decisions and action items. It’s the moderator’s responsibility to confirm, out loud with everyone in attendance, the decisions made, the action items determined (if any), and the people assigned to those action items. This can be reduced to a follow-up email and placed on a future agenda for updates. This is a huge point of failure for many meetings — the failure to articulate decisions, action items and attendant responsibilities. Ironically, it is generally the stated reason for meetings! Fix this hole by stating things clearly before everyone disperses.
7. Identify follow-up expectations. The final point of any effective meeting is identifying and stating the next point of follow-up, if there is one. Place parameters around the work so people have relatively short-term goals for producing a result. Make the follow-up period reasonable within the context of the work to be performed, but make it date-certain.
The Path to Meeting Productivity
Group leaders and managers are charged with using their own time effectively, as well as leveraging their team’s time. Meetings are a perfect opportunity to do both! Make a checklist in Microsoft Word or Evernote so you have this meeting checklist available whenever a meeting is approaching.