By Carolyn Landesman
For some people even mention the word meeting and hairs on the back of their arms stand up. “What the… not another meeting!”
Ever been to a meeting that dragged on forever and you couldn’t wait for it to end. You come away feeling, “Well that was a big waste of time and effort.” Or perhaps you were in a meeting full of conflict that lead to bruised egos and a breakdown in working relationships. What about the meeting that was hijacked and went off track by someone who wouldn’t shut up.
Meetings may not be everyone’s favorite thing to do. Some are not productive; some are unnecessary. A meeting need not be formal with an agenda with everyone sitting around a table. A meeting can be one-on-one or with a group of people.
You want to make the most of your time, so the first thing to think about is, why hold a meeting?
Why hold a meeting
If you hold a meeting that’s unnecessary, it not only wastes your time, but it also wastes everyone else’s time. Think of the cost when you add up everyone’s hourly rate who attends a meeting that is unnecessary. It can run into the thousands of dollars.
Before you call for a meeting, think about your meeting objective. Why do you need to meet and what do you hope to achieve? There may be more than one answer to this question; therefore, consider the following.
- Do you need to communicate something?
- Do you need to brainstorm a new idea or resolve a problem?
- Do you need to come to a decision?
- Do you want to start a new project?
- Do you need to check on the progress of a project?
- Do you need to delegate a task or project?
- Do you need to discuss an issue?
- Do you need to celebrate something?
- Do you need to conduct a performance appraisal?
- Do you need to manage under-performance?
- Do you need to hold a staff meeting or sales meeting?
- Do you need to meet with a client?
Why meetings go wrong
Meetings can be costly to an organization when you consider how much each person attending the meeting gets paid per hour. When meetings go wrong, they can be a real cause of frustration. They go wrong because:
- There is no meeting agenda.
- There is no specific clear-cut objective for holding the meeting.
- There are too many participants or the wrong participants attending.
- Failing to prepare properly.
- Bad use of visual aids.
- Too many digressions and interruptions.
- Failing to record and communicate action points.
- Delaying decisions and actions.
- Failing to follow up on agreed actions.
- Lack of leadership and control.
A good meeting model is to Plan – Meet – Review
PLAN: Pre-meeting planning where you spend 40% – 60% of your effort.
MEET: The meeting itself where you spend 10% – 20% of your effort.
REVIEW: Conduct a post meeting review and follow up action items where you should spend 30% – 40% of your effort.
Setting meeting objectives
Ask yourself, “At the end of the meeting I want to …” and finish the sentence. Your reason is the benchmark to determine if your meeting will be productive. Your objective must be specific and measurable. It is not enough to say, “I want to hold a meeting to discuss a product launch.” Using this as an example, specific objectives might be:
- Determine which products you will launch.
- Decide on the day and time of the product launch.
- Determine who needs to be invited to the product launch.
- Assign tasks and roles to your team to handle various aspects of the product launch.
With specific objectives like this, you can easily determine if your objectives of the meeting were met when the meeting has concluded.
Developing a meeting agenda
The first thing to consider is the meeting objective/s. Everything is then included in the agenda to further that objective. The meeting is then more likely to stay on track and achieve what you set out to.
A meeting agenda is essential to ensure the meeting succeeds. A well-prepared meeting agenda is not a list of discussion points; it allows you to keep a meeting on track and ensure you cover everything you need. An agenda, when sent to the invitees in advance, also serves as a reminder to them where the meeting will be held and what day and time. It allows them to prepare for the meeting in advance if preparation is required.
Consider the following when preparing an agenda.
- What do you want to achieve as a result of holding the meeting?
- What are the priorities that must be covered?
- In what order do the topics need to be covered?
- How much time needs to be spent on each topic?
- When and where will the meeting take place?
Once you know the purpose and objectives for meeting, you can then consider anything else you need to prepare or what the attendees must bring. For instance, you may need the attendees to read a report or proposal prior to the meeting taking place. The attendees may need to prepare something in advance. The actual agenda must clearly outline what the attendees must read or prepare prior to the meeting and attached to the invite.
Preparing for a meeting
Your role in meetings will vary, depending on whether you are the organizer of the meeting and/or acting as the chairperson. Regardless, you want to ensure the meeting succeeds and doesn’t waste valuable time.
1. Determine who should attend
Before you schedule a meeting, think about who should attend. Attending a meeting costs time and money, so you want to make sure the right people are there. When considering who should attend, ask yourself:
- Is it important that they should be there?
- What expertise do they have?
- Will they be able to add to the discussion?
- Should they be part of the decision-making process if a decision is required?
- Do you expect questions to be raised in the meeting that only they can answer?
If the answer is yes to any of these questions, they should attend the meeting.
2. Where and what time
Once you know who should be invited, consider a suitable time all attendees will be available and ensure there are no conflicts.
- Where and what time will you meet?
- Is the room or space large enough to cater to everyone who needs to attend?
- Should you book the room or space in advance?
- If so, is the room or space available when you need it?
3. Prepare the agenda
Determine the purpose and objectives then prepare the agenda.
4. Send out the meeting invite
It’s best to send out the invite in writing via email, Microsoft Outlook or Google Calendar. This means there will be no ambiguity as to who, where, and what time the meeting will take place. Using a calendar tool also allows people to accept or decline the meeting or even suggest a new time. Attach the agenda and any supporting documents to the invite.
5. Preparing the agenda
A meeting agenda will cover the following:
- Meeting time and date
- Meeting location
- Duration of the meeting
- Meeting purpose
- What to read or prepare prior to the meeting
- A list of topics to be discussed
- Who will lead the discussion on each topic?
Once the agenda has been sent to the attendees, they will not only have an opportunity to prepare in advance, but they will also have the opportunity to add agenda items or suggest any changes.
Before you attempt to run a meeting, understand the roles and responsibilities associated with effective meetings and allocate these tasks accordingly.
Meeting roles and responsibilities
Allocate a chairperson or meeting leader and a person to take minutes or notes. Begin the meeting on time, even if all attendees haven’t arrived. It sets the tone for future meetings that attendees are expected to arrive on time. Make sure everyone has a copy of the agenda, or if you have a projector, put the agenda on the screen. Follow the agenda, keeping an eye on the allocated time.
Keep the discussions on topic and watch for anyone dominating the conversation too much. If this happens, interject and ask for other opinions. If a discussion runs out of time, agree to extend the meeting or carry over for another time. Alternatively, make a decision so you can move to the next topic.
On a final note
By following these simple steps, you will make meetings more effective and outcome focused.
In a Nutshell
Meetings can be a costly waste of time. Before calling a meeting analyze why you want to hold a meeting. A good meeting model is to Plan – Meet – Review
- Set your meeting objectives
- Develop a meeting agenda
- Prepare for the meeting
Planning the meeting:
- Decide who should attend
- Decide where it will be held and at what time.
- Prepare the agenda in advance.
- Send out a meeting invite along with the agenda.
Preparing the agenda:
- Meeting time and date.
- Meeting location.
- Duration of the meeting.
- Purpose of the meeting.
- Advise invitees what to read or prepare prior tot he meeting.
- Make a list of topics to be discussed.
- Advise who will lead the discussion on each topic.
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