In my prior article, I talked about best practices for coordinating and scheduling a meeting. Now it’s time to run your meeting. We have all been in painful, ineffective meetings that feel like they are needlessly wasting our valuable time. Afterward, you feed drained and frustrated. You can stop the madness by setting the standard for effective meetings with these basic tips.
The foundation for effective meetings, which also happens to be the foundation for just about everything, is to be prepared.
First, and most importantly, you need to create something in advance to help you guide the discussion. What you create depends on the meeting, but in all instances a meeting benefits by giving people something to view. It is difficult for the attendees to try to follow your discussion using the droning on of your voice alone. At Wittij Consulting, our preference is some sort of diagram or eye-catching slide, but worst case, it could be a couple of bullets with the objectives of the meeting.
You also need to make sure you are in a good location to take the meeting. You want to be ready and able to facilitate the meeting without distraction. You need to be able to hear the meeting clearly and the people on the other end of the call need to be able to hear you clearly. While the occasional meeting has to be handled on the fly while juggling life, your plan for an effective meeting should be to run it from an effective location.
Finally, you want to make sure that you are ready and focused for the meeting. Take a few minutes to remind yourself what the goals and objectives are for the meeting before you head in. Plus a few calming deep breathes if you expect a contentious discussion. 🙂
Next, start the meeting exactly when it’s supposed to start. If that requires you scheduling some buffer time between meetings, then schedule some buffer time between meetings. If you are part of an organization that doesn’t really respect meeting boundaries, then become the change you want to see and respect meeting boundaries. Choose to join a meeting when the meeting is supposed to start and politely leave a meeting when the meeting is supposed to end.
Also, just “opening the conference line” does not allow you to claim victory on starting. The meeting starts once you are ready, so don’t waste peoples time at the beginning of a meeting getting yourself organized.
Obviously, this depends on the size of the meeting. You need to have appropriate attendance or it’s not worth wasting the time of the other people on the meeting. See the next tip if you are inclined to repurpose the meeting with the attendees you have.
“Since we’re all here…” is not effective. Your meeting has a goal, you hold a meeting to achieve that goal, or you cancel the meeting and find another time when you can achieve the goal.
"Meeting Facilitation is the conscious act of guiding the meeting process so that it stays on course, to make sure everyone participates, and to reach the agreed-upon meeting goals."MIT Human Resources
Your primary job as the person running the meeting is to achieve the goal of the meeting. That will require you keeping the conversation on topic. It is a balancing act because you also need to respect all perspectives and don’t want to shut people with ideas and opinions down.
You want people to have a voice, but if that voice is taking things off topic, then it’s time for you to step in and suggest that their point is valid, but off topic and you want to keep things razor focused on the topic to ensure the group is able to achieve the goal of the meeting. You might even suggest some other actions that could be taken to address their concern. At first, you may find yourself taking on some side coordination to follow up and get those addressed, but as you grow your meeting running confidence, you will become more comfortable just being frank about what belongs in your meeting and what needs to be addressed elsewhere.
I’m going to do a whole other article on meeting notes because I think they are critical for effective meetings. One of your responsibilities running a meeting is to make sure either you or somebody else is taking a clear set of notes to capture what is important from the discussion.
My approach tends to be to take rough notes during the meeting, which I clean up immediately following the meeting. I try to leave myself a buffer right afterward and then share the recap as soon as possible for review, but I’ll talk more about that in my follow up article.
One final thing I want to mention on taking notes is the danger of live updating in a meeting. I refer to reviewing some work product (e.g., a project plan, diagram, document) and editing it live while everyone watches. Unless you can be hyper-efficient and do it so quickly that it doesn’t slow the momentum of your meeting, just don’t do it. It is super annoying to be on a call watching somebody else slowly update something. It’s an extremely unproductive use of everyone’s time. Process updates on your time, not everyone else’s time.
On the other hand, there is a balance here, because I do in fact think if you can pull it off, you can be effective updating information live in a meeting, because you are able to get everyone gathered around a shared vision and working together. So, if you can keep it light, quick, and simple, I give you permission to do it live. However, if you are the kind of person who needs to take their time to get it right, then take your time, just not everybody else's!
Complete your meeting on time (if not sooner) and leave yourself time to do a real quick verbal recap at the end to summarize what happened during the meeting. Again, we’re going to talk more about what summarizing meetings is all about in the next article. To sum it up here, you’re giving a quick verbal summary for what decisions were made, and what are the key next steps. If you need some processing time, instead of reviewing the actual next steps, indicate the next step is you will send a recap, the send one after you process your notes.
Now let's address the other key ingredient required for an effective meeting. Even when you are "only" a meeting attendee, you have an equally important responsibility in ensuring an effective meeting.
A meeting doesn’t work until all participants are present. So, show up on time. When you show up late, you’re telling everybody else who is on that meeting that “your time isn’t important to me, I’m more important. You can wait for me.”
Secondly, don’t join a meeting and announce that you have to leave at the halfway mark. If you’re not able to attend the whole meeting, then in advance, ideally as soon as you learn you won't be able to participate in the entire meeting, you should notify the meeting organizer who can then decide if it is worth holding the meeting.
We’ve all been to meetings where a critical attendee shows up late then says they have to leave early. Everyone wastes an hour of their time, except this person who flies in and out for twenty minutes. So, it’s your responsibility (2) to attend, or (2) be clear in advance of the meeting that you’re unable to attend, unless you don’t respect any of the other people in the meeting and don’t care about their time.
You’re at the meeting for a reason, and you need to contribute to the meeting. Whatever your level of contribution is supposed to be, whether you’re supposed to learn from the meeting, make decisions in the meeting, or ask questions, you should be present and not multitasking. Multitasking gives a clear signal to the meeting organizer and the other attendees that you think your time is more important than theirs. It’s a larger scale problem than we’re going to solve in this blog article, but as before: be the change you want to see. When you show up to a meeting, show up to the meeting.
Do you know what people hate more than meetings? Ineffective meetings. Painful meetings. Disorganized meetings. Unnecessary meetings.
If you embrace the techniques above for effective meetings, and follow the guidance in my article on when to schedule meetings, you can minimize the pain. There are more advanced techniques and strategies for specific types of meetings, but I say start with these basics!
Injecting some humor and humanity into your meetings can also help. Not everything needs to be uncomfortably serious. I have actually had some great times - laughing and getting things accomplished - in meetings with colleagues.
Anyway, I am all meeting-ed out for now, but will be back to talk about what you need to do after your meeting!