Meetings are the most expensive communication tool for any business. Do yours provide a good return? Every meeting should have clear objectives and result in clear, accountable actions. Everyone who attends is responsible for the meeting’s success. After all, a meeting is a group thinking together. Or should be.
If the meeting isn’t necessary - cancel it. If a key decision-maker won’t be there - why go? If you don’t know why you’ve been asked to attend - find out. Before going to any meeting, know what outcome is required and how everyone attending can think together to achieve it.
Where you meet is crucial, as is timing. Afternoon meetings are probably less conducive to effective thinking than meetings before lunch. Meetings lasting longer than 90 minutes risk going off the boil. Here are some more tips…
1. Draw up an agenda
Ask meeting participants to contribute to the agenda, that way they’ll feel a greater sense of ownership. Distribute the agenda in good time. Detail the main discussion points in order, allocate time to each point and name the person who’ll lead talk about that point.
2. Prepare well
If you’re chairing the meeting, think about how you can help to improve group thinking. If possible, get someone to help with timekeeping and note taking. If you’re just participating, think about how you’ll contribute and what outcomes you’re looking for. Consider also how you can help others to participate.
3. Turn up slightly early
Not too early, but in good time. Don’t be late.And don’t schedule other meetings too soon afterwards. Rushing around isn’t a good way to prepare.
4. Start and end on time
Start on time - even if others are running late. You’ve work to get through. And don’t over-run. You’ve planned your agenda for a reason.
5. Switch off mobile devices
Attendees must devote their full attention to the meeting. If you allow people to use laptops to take notes, they may get distracted by emails and social media. Turn off all phones at the start.
6. Don’t let conversations wander
Use your agenda to stay on track. If you’re chairing, realise when you need to refocus thinking and guide the conversation back onto topic.
7. Challenge ideas not people
If you must disagree, don’t get personal. Challenge in a way that doesn’t offend - but don’t avoid challenging for fear of causing offence. Explain your concerns or objections; encourage discussion and group thinking to find better solutions.
8. Follow up with an email summary
State key decisions and actions. Make them SMART (ie specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-limited) and allocate responsibility to a named individual. Invite them to confirm what they’re going to do - and when - in front of the group. If they’ve promised publicly to take action, they’re more likely to do it.
- Alan Barker is managing director of Kairos Training Ltd, a specialist consultancy dedicated to helping business owners and their staff to improve their creativity and communication skills. He is the author of How to Manage Meetings (published byKogan Page) and 17 other business titles.