Business people have a lot of meetings. So many, in fact, that by the time you finish reading this sentence 8,000 meetings will have started in the US. For many of us, the idea of attending (or worse, hosting) a meeting is enough to strike fear into our hearts. For others, they are just a time-sucking bore. In fact, a survey of US workers cited ‘‘too many meetings’ as the biggest waste of their time.
Meetings done badly can be boring, time consuming, and incredibly unproductive, which isn’t just frustrating for everyone involved, but is extremely costly for a business.
Unproductive meetings waste more than $37 billion per year in the US alone.
And there are so many different kinds of meetings! From staff meetings to task forces to brainstorming to ceremonial meetings — you need to know how to have a better meeting.
We have to improve the way we do meetings. This means creating a meeting plan of action.
BEFORE THE MEETING
ASSESS THE REASON FOR THE MEETING.
Meetings should be focused around making important decisions and involve problem solving or deep discussions. Too often, meetings are used for sharing routine information with a team. Think to yourself, can you effectively communicate this information in an email? If yes, do that. It will save time, and your team will thank you for it.
CONSIDER EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO BRING WITH YOU.
Don’t turn up to a meeting empty handed, particularly if you are hosting the meeting. At the very least, you will need your notes on what you want to discuss and achieve. But also you need a pen and paper so you can jot down anything important.
It’s also worth considering if you need any documentation with you to share with attendees, such as:
- Data and statistics
- Charts and reports
- Sales plans
- Production plans
- Minutes from previous meetings
This all will vary from industry to industry, and even business to business, or team to team, but you get the general gist of it.
LET EVERYONE KNOW THE AGENDA.
If you decide you do need to hold the meeting, you will still need to send an email with the goals you have set. Letting all of the attendees know exactly what you want to achieve and talk about will help everyone stay focused on the matters at hand.
Only around 37 percent of meetings in the US use agendas, despite the fact they greatly improve productivity.
Additionally, a pioneering study in the field of psychology suggests that agendas should be discussed at the beginning, and areas of importance dealt with first to keep everything super focused.
INVITE THE PEOPLE WHO NEED TO BE THERE.
It is a waste of time and people-power to be bringing people into the meeting who do not need to be there. Consider who will benefit from the meeting, and who the experts are that need to be there, and invite attendees based on this.
Some studies suggest that up to 71 percent of senior managers consider meetings unproductive and inefficient, and inviting the wrong people can be one of the biggest reasons for this.
STICK TO THE “TWO PIZZA RULE.”
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos started this as an idea. He applied it to teams generally, though it also can work for meetings.
If you need more than two pizzas to feed everybody, there are too many people.
You’ve heard the phrase too many chefs spoil the broth? It’s true. Studies have shown that for each person over seven members in a group, decision-making effectiveness is reduced by about 10 percent. Eek! Also, the larger the group, the more counterproductive behavior and interpersonal aggression occurs.
The reasons for this are pretty clear — the more people, the more discussion is needed, the more disagreements occur, and the more tensions rise.
If it’s a good enough rule for Jeff Bezos, it’s a good enough rule for us.
PUT SOME THOUGHT INTO THE PHYSICAL PLANNING OF THE MEETING.
Research has shown that designing your meeting to consider noise level, lighting, and refreshments all can improve perceptions of meeting quality. Who wants a meeting over lunch with no food? Or a meeting first thing in the morning without coffee on tap?
Making your attendees comfortable will mean they are more likely to pay attention and to participate, and it will be a more comfortable experience for all.
The addition of refreshments particularly can help make your meeting an enjoyable social occasion, rather than an activity that everyone has to force themselves to attend. That can make it a great opportunity for team building and networking instead.
CONSIDER YOUR PRESENTATION.
Are you going to be using a computer presentation during your meeting? Or perhaps you just will use a flipchart or whiteboard?
We’ve already covered some great ideas that will radically improve your presentation. But the bullet point version is make sure it’s kept concise, it’s designed simply, it’s not overly verbose, and it’s delivered with confidence.
Also, people absorb information much easier if it is presented visually. This means that using images, diagrams, graphs, etc, all help convey your point. Don’t go overboard, though, just enough that each image clearly presents your point.
BONUS: PICK THE RIGHT ONLINE MEETING TOOLS.
It can be hard getting your message across if you’re going online. If you’re struggling to get the same to your audience from physical meetings, you might need to consider meeting tools to add that extra oomph.
Here’s a list of tools you can consider, courtesy of Product Hunt:
- Rate the meeting helps with scheduling and gathering feedback after each meeting
- Hugo turns your calendar into a collaborative note-taking tool
- Navigator creates a collaborative workspace for each meeting
- Jottie brings note-taking, to-do lists and decisions making to meetings
- Tooqan collects honest feedback post meeting from attendees
- Loom kills the meeting
- Veed is an alternative to Loom that records your screen and webcam side by side
- Range visualizes your team’s daily standup asynchronously in Slack
- Meetingbird means you can avoid the back and forth when scheduling a meeting
And when you’re stuck in a painful meeting, use Callback to fake an “emergency call”.
Think of tools as helpers– make sure your meeting is solid and not just fluff before adding in tools. Remember: a good tool can’t save a bad meeting.
DURING THE MEETING
ENCOURAGE EVERYONE TO CONTRIBUTE:
A meta-analysis of 200 studies on the psychology of meetings suggests that high-level performers use meetings as a way to set goals, gain feedback from the team, and help individuals understand problems at work.
It’s vital for all of your team to be contributing to the discussion and planning.
You might be missing crucial information about a developing situation, or lose out on some valuable insight, if half of your team is sitting quietly behind the desk rather than voicing their opinions.
CRACK A JOKE OR TWO.
Just like every other area of life, laughter can make experiences more positive. Using humor in meetings can encourage more participation from the team, and improve creative problem solving skills.
Unsurprisingly, if people are enjoying the meeting, then it is more likely to have a positive effect on the team generally.
If you’re worried about not being funny enough, check out our article on how to be funny for some tips and tricks.
BE AWARE OF YOUR BODY LANGUAGE.
This is particularly important if you are presenting the meeting, but also if you are an attendee. Open, engaged body language will help you to appear (and feel!) more engaged, and will facilitate others reacting to your words positively.
SOME THINGS TO CONSIDER INCLUDE:
The position of your arms — at your side is least threatening, while crossing your arms can give a sense of distance/closed-offness.
Eye contact — take the time to make sure you have made eye contact with each member of the group, so everyone feels more engaged with what you are saying.
Your voice — not too loud that you sound overbearing, and not too quiet that you sound like you are lacking confidence. It’s a careful balance, but you will see an improvement in your meetings if you can come across as both confident and approachable.
KEEP IT SHORT.
The average meeting lasts from 30 minutes to an hour, but our attention span is closer to ten to fifteen minutes. Not only is it more pleasant for everyone if meetings are kept shorter, but we find it harder to absorb information if we are overwhelmed.
Nine out of 10 people daydream during meetings.
And, even worse, 73 percent of people in a meeting are working on other things!
The entire purpose of a meeting is lost if people are not taking value from it. And you may as well literally be burning money (and time!). Staring out the window and thinking about what items you would need to survive a zombie apocalypse might be fun, but it’s certainly not productive.
This can be avoided, though (daydreaming — not the zombie apocalypse) by keeping everything short, simple, and straight to the point. Thisl means everyone can get back to their desks, and are more likely to have absorbed the meeting’s key points.
This is the time to bring out the very best of your people skills. Meetings often are about handling difficult situations: perhaps negotiating a sale with a challenging client, managing conflict between two employees, or even making someone redundant.
You will need to approach these situations with care and tact.
You can do this by bringing out your best people management skills, such as your persuasion techniques and charismatic abilities, and carefully thinking through the situation as you proceed through the meeting.
This doesn’t just mean you shouldn’t complain, but also redirect team members who are complaining. Once you start complaining, you create an atmosphere of hopelessness. So, managers should be quick to move the conversation away from this.
Listening to regular complaining is linked to depression and anxiety, particularly in a workplace where you are expected to hold back emotions and stop yourself from exploding. Instead, encourage employees to voice their concerns in a more productive way, such as an email after the meeting as part of the feedback process.
KEEP FOCUSED AND ENGAGED
Remember that agenda you wrote down before the meeting? Stick to it. You could have a copy of it printed and lying on the desk if you feel it might help you to stay on track. This is the best way to make sure the meeting is effective and keeps to its purpose, and makes sure that you all stay motivated.
Managers should prepare to identify when conversation becomes unfocused, and redirect it when needed (a skill that you might have come across during leadership training).
We know, sometimes this is easier said than done. But attendee involvement has a direct effect on the effectiveness of meetings, according to scientific research in the field. (It also will stop you from becoming one of the 39 percent of people attending who fall asleep during meetings).
As an attendee, you can stay focused by asking questions when you want to understand something further, writing notes, or drawing diagrams. Experiment with different things, and find out what works for you.
As a host of a meeting, it can be a little harder to keep everyone engaged. But your best chances are if you open the meeting energetically, passionately, and positively. Then people are more likely to follow suit.
AFTER THE MEETING
SHARE THE MINUTES.
Recording minutes from the meeting, and then sending them to attendees, is a great way to provide a record of what decisions were made, who has been allocated what roles and responsibilities, and the plan of action for the future.
- What is the point of a perfectly efficient meeting if nobody actually remembers what was said?
- When you’re writing the minutes (or a designated team member, if you’d rather delegate this task) it’s important to include:
- The names of all participants present
- A brief summary of the agenda
- Each action/task
- All deadlines/due dates of the above
- The main points discussed
- Any decisions made
- Documents used, including images, attached files
Not only does reflecting on the minutes help everyone remember the meeting’s important points, but you also can send them to other people who might benefit from the information.
ASK FOR FEEDBACK.
This is an important one. Ask people how they felt about the meeting. And then actually put into action what people have said.
Did people find it engaging? Insightful? Would they have rather it had been shorter?
You also might have to accept that the problem is you (sorry). People aren’t usually very good at identifying their own flaws and weaknesses, and self-critiquing their ability to hold productive meetings isn’t an exception.
In a 1998 Verizon survey, seventy-nine percent of company managers reported that the meetings they hosted were either ‘extremely’ or ‘very’ productive. Although only fifty-six percent of those managers reported saying the same about meetings hosted by others.
Regardless of the feedback — however positive or negative — use the information that the team tells you about the meeting. Also, remember it when you’re planning for future group discussions.
PLAN FOR THE FUTURE.
After the meeting is the best time to start thinking about how you are going to follow through with the outcomes from the discussion and build on progress.
You can do this by creating a business meeting follow-up plan following these steps:
SPECIFY THE TASK.
Name the person designated to complete the task.
Determine the deadline for completion.
DETERMINE WHAT CONSTITUTES COMPLETION.
After you have decided on this and placed it in a document, it’s important to remember to disseminate this information to everyone involved in that task and those responsible for its execution.
Now that you have learned all of these tips and tricks, it’s time to put them into action. The next time you find yourself in a meeting, take these on board, and see just how quickly you can make these team experiences more positive for you, your team, and the company.