5 tips for more effective meetings
When you hear the word "meeting", many images and scenarios probably run through your head, all of which can be linked to meetings you have attended before. And how many of these images are positive? There are probably a lot of negative connotations for the word "meeting", and if you're the one holding meetings, there are probably even more. And that's a shame because meetings can be very effective and rewarding if you manage to do them right.
But what is an effective meeting? For most people, an effective meeting is one that achieves a goal, a decision, a consensus or a result that meets the purpose of the meeting. But in reality, it is up to you to determine what an effective meeting means for you and your business. The results will, of course, vary according to the company and the purpose of the meeting.
Something that often occurs in companies, however, is that meetings are given priority over many other tasks that may also be important. And that is fine as long as the meeting is effective and the results are useful and valuable. Ineffective meetings, however, waste both your time and your colleagues' time, and can, therefore, be costly for the company.
If your meetings are plagued by the following points, it is a good idea to follow the five tips to a more effective meeting:
- A waste of time
- A missing common theme and too many tangents
- Loose ends and unanswered questions at the end of the meeting
- Environment and meeting room equipment do not motivate and inspire
- Unmotivated participants
- Poor meeting culture
1. Have a specific purpose
Only by knowing what the purpose is will you know when the goal is achieved. This will prevent you from concluding meetings with loose ends and decisions that have not been made. This is probably the most important tip to follow in order to achieve an effective meeting. It is also the first step to take after it is decided that a meeting must be held. It is extremely important to consider why the meeting is being held and, consequently, to consider whether the meeting is necessary at all.
If the meeting is necessary, make sure you have specified what needs to be achieved and what you need to get out of it. One way of helping to achieve this may be to decide what type of meeting this needs to be. Should the meeting be about idea generation, problem-solving, decision making, information or perhaps something completely different? This is important to know in order to determine in which direction the meeting should go and what the goal is.
Being well-informed and certain about what should be achieved at the meeting means that the meeting will be far more likely to reach a conclusion or an objective. By properly managing everything the first time, you save time in the long run by avoiding follow-up mini-meetings or complications due to misunderstandings.
Remember to follow up on the meeting in the coming days. We're not talking about loose ends, because these should be sorted before the meeting is adjourned. We're talking about the necessary actions that need to be taken as a result of the conclusions reached during the meeting. All too often, good decisions are made that never come to fruition, as they are either forgotten or become drowned in other tasks that suddenly seem more relevant as they are “here-and-now”.
2. Prepare thoroughly
In order to achieve the objective of the meeting, it is important not to allow the discussion to go off on tangents that lead to nowhere. An effective meeting gets "to the point" and has a common thread that sticks to relevant issues that help find a solution. By preparing thoroughly, you also avoid wasting time, which is one of the biggest problems of ineffective meetings.
In preparation for the meeting, it is appropriate to discuss the following points:
- Make an agenda with items you need to cover. Be specific on the agenda by adding anything that is necessary and omitting anything that does not necessarily benefit the goal. Also, remember to go through the agenda at the start of the meeting so that all participants can be well prepared and informed about the focus points.
- Carefully consider who should attend. Plenty of time and energy can be saved by “casting” the most competent and relevant employees for the purpose of achieving the goal. Similarly, before the start of the meeting, you should know who is responsible for what.
- Estimate how long the meeting will last and be as precise as possible. In fact, it is more effective to make the estimated time relatively short in relation to what needs to be achieved. This will make meeting participants aware that the amount of time is limited as all items on the agenda must be discussed and concluded when the time allotted for the meeting is up. This keeps the focus on the topic and is effective!
- You can save a lot of time by organizing all electronic equipment, computer programs, printed documents and files to be used during the meeting. Keep everything open from the start of the meeting and make sure all the equipment works properly.
Are you in charge of planning the meeting yourself? This does not necessarily mean that you have to take responsibility for the entire meeting. You can easily ask your colleagues whether they can be in charge of parts of the meeting; just inform them well in advance so that they can prepare for the meeting. Otherwise, you risk wasting more time than if you had handled the job yourself.
3. Let the physical environment inspire
Speaking of well-prepared and well-thought-out meetings, the physical framework of the meeting is often not given enough thought. This is a big mistake as the outcome of the meeting can be affected to a great extent by the environment, which has a great influence on how participants experience a meeting.
In this case, it is a good idea to go back to tip 1, where you've decided what kind of meeting is necessary. If, for example, there is a need to think creatively and out of the box, it may be beneficial to hold the meeting in an unconventional way—the creative flow might be better if the meeting were held outdoors with a “walk-and-talk”, or just in a more relaxed environment than the traditional, boring meeting room.
Be aware, however, that while a pleasant and comfortable environment can be inspiring and motivating, it should not be too comfortable. You run the risk of the meeting not being given the seriousness and professionalism necessary to achieve an effective meeting. Well-padded chairs rather than comfortable couches would, therefore, work better, as well as efficient and well-functioning electronic equipment rather than entertaining and unnecessary gadgets.
It is also extremely important to know what meeting room equipment is needed for your particular meeting. Will you need a computer and AV equipment to run a video meeting? Will you need a screen or projector to display documents, graphs or images? Will there be a need for coffee or other refreshments? Make sure you have considered all aspects regarding the meeting room equipment in order to avoid unforeseen breaks and complications, and instead make the most of the meeting. You can get more inspiration for commercial AV systems here.
4. Involve and motivate the meeting participants
Now we're getting the hang of ways to avoid wasting time. But what is the point of a meeting that gets straight to the point if participants are not motivated to contribute?
As is the case for you, it is also true that many of your colleagues have negative associations with the word "meeting". A good and effective meeting, however, will be able to change these attitudes, especially when the participants are involved and allowed to feel they have an impact on the outcome.
Therefore, it is necessary to ensure that meeting participants consist only of professionals who can contribute to the purpose of the meeting. One knows intuitively if one does not belong or is unable to positively contribute, and it is therefore best not to include people who cannot help achieve the goal. The team should always be made up of people who all feel they have something to contribute.
A good way to motivate participants in a meeting is to make them feel heard. You can do this by writing down the points they make. You can even get participants themselves to write on visible places, such as on a blackboard or a whiteboard, to get them moving. The greater the action taken, the greater the impact. A different approach will come as a surprise, and it is always effective to do something unexpected. This motivates participants to contribute and even ensures that the meeting will be remembered and seen as a positive experience.
The participants will have a positive experience if the presenter is enthusiastic about everyone's input, as this motivates people to stay actively involved. If there are any non-contributing participants, you can consult them in an open manner such as “What do you think about this?”, "Do you have anything to say about that?" or "Do you have anything to add?" This makes them feel like their opinions matter, but without feeling attacked.
If you provide your colleagues with a good meeting experience, they will most likely show up for the next meeting with optimism and determination.
5. Create a consistent meeting culture
It is extremely important to come to an internal consensus with regards to how participants should behave in a meeting. Maybe hold a short meeting or presentation in the company in which you and your colleagues agree on what a strong meeting culture means to you. This may take some time, but it is worth it in the long run, as a good meeting culture is an important aspect in making meetings more effective.
You're most certainly familiar with the scenario in which a participant sneaks through the door 10 minutes late. This is not only disruptive behavior but it also often means that the participant will not actively participate in the rest of the meeting as he or she has missed an important part of the meeting—the introduction.
Discuss what should occur if a participant is late for the meeting. Should they be excluded from the entire meeting? Should they simply have to apologize? And keep in mind that if you're in charge of the meeting, you should come a few minutes early.
An agreement should also be reached regarding whether it is okay to use phones during a meeting. If not, you can suggest that all phones should be switched off before the meeting, or that they must be placed in a box and handed back once the meeting is over.
Deciding who should speak so that there is no talking over each other should also be determined. A good tip is to agree that participants should raise their hands and be called upon before opening their mouths. This may not seem so grown up and professional, but there is a reason why this method is used in school—it works!
Last, but certainly not least, together with your colleagues, you should agree on how to communicate with each other in meetings. Keep in mind that it is almost always most effective to be constructive rather than critical as well as positive, or at least realistic, rather than negative and condescending. Appreciate each other's input and argue your point of view, and you'll go a long way!