How do you make your meetings have meaning? It might seem like an impossible job. However, it is in fact quite simple: you should go back to basics!
We have all been there: sat at a meeting having a meeting about a previous meeting. Or ending up using most of the meeting time on the topics to be covered in the next meeting. Sound familiar? We often tend to drift to a conversation with a main point which is not at all related to the topic that was supposed to be covered at a specific meeting. Not very productive, is it? There are many ways you can make all your meetings have a meaning without pointless conversations or time consuming task assignments.
With this in mind we would like to share some points that you should consider in each meeting. You may be familiar with most of these already. However, it can be easy to forget the basics when you’re used to doing something. So let’s review:
It can be extremely hard to determine the number of people you actually need in a meeting. You might follow the following misconception, “the more the better”. You don’t want anyone to miss a discussion if it might concern them. However, a meeting with over 10 people can run into problems quite quickly. Holding a conversation with so many people (especially if they are not totally sure what you are talking about) can be awfully challenging. When you are creating the attendee list as a meeting host, think of the actual reasons someone is needed in the meeting. You should always be able to answer ‘yes’ to at least one of the following questions:
- Are they a decision maker?
- Do we need their expertise contribution?
- Does the outcome impact them/their department?
This cannot be emphasized enough. Be clear on what the meeting is about in the invitation email. That one topic should be enough for one meeting. That’s why you are holding it right? Be clear that that specific area is the only one you will cover in that specific meeting and anything that is not related to the topic can be dealt another time. Ask all the attendees to prepare their questions and comments related to that one topic beforehand. Let them know that other issues will be covered in other meetings, thus they can save those questions for later.
If you’re not totally sure what the desired outcome of the meeting is, it is hard to keep the focus on one particular area. A meeting objective should be specific and purposeful. Every meeting should have a desired outcome that is important enough to be discussed, or might potentially have an impact on the business. Either way, the meeting objectives create a frame for the whole meeting. Anything that doesn’t help you attain these objectives should not be covered in the meeting. Again, if the meeting attendees ask something that is not quite related to the objectives, you can write the question down and tell them you’re happy to explain it after the meeting or email the answers to everyone.
Everyone knows how important it is to set roles for different meeting attendees. Who is the facilitator? Who is the timekeeper? However, the meeting roles need to be clear before, during and after the meeting. It is never a bad idea to repeat everyone’s roles and tasks multiple times to make sure everyone knows what they are supposed to do the minute they step out of the meeting room or sing off the online meeting.
It is never productive if a meeting turns into a shouting contest, with people pitching their ideas and opinions and trying to make their voice heard. You have to control the situation immediately when you see something like this happening. You can easily slow things down by letting every attendee pitch their ideas only by raising their hand. This might remind you of the annoying times at school. However, what is more important than trying to avoid complaints is to make sure people feel heard. Furthermore, you shouldn’t let one person dominate the conversation. If someone keeps on being loud-mouth and not letting anyone else contribute, you as the meeting host should control the situation by asking other people to join the conversation. You can directly ask someone else’s opinion. This will automatically release the control from the dominant person.
Today it is extremely difficult to prevent people from checking their phones or tablets during a meeting. Yet, if it’s an important meeting and if your company’s meetings tend to lose focus, you should consider adopting a ‘no devices’ policy. If people don’t listen or they focus on some other thing than the discussion, the dynamic is lost and it can be challenging to get it back. If there are complaints, you can have 5-10 minute occasional breaks during which people can use their devices as much as they want.
After the meeting
If you are using an online meeting tool, you can often replay the meeting and send a summary to everyone with action points. This might seem like you’re just repeating everything that was said during the meeting, but you can never be sure of how people interpreted their tasks. Schedule the next meeting in a close time frame so that people will work more efficiently to finish the required tasks and find new issues that need to be covered in time for the next meeting.