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How to Hold Awesomely Productive Meetings

Modern, colourful meeting space.We’ve all been in meetings that droned on forever and went absolutely nowhere. Everyone leaves just as mystified as when they went in, and no real progress is made.

If this sounds all too familiar, this is the article for you.

The secret to productive meetings boils down to 5 aspects:

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  • The Right People
  • The Right Place
  • The Right Topics
  • The Right Time
  • The Right Follow-Up

If you ignore any of these 5, your meeting may fall down an under-productive slippery slope…

The Right People

It’s absolutely crucial to make sure you have a good reason to meet, and only invite people who have a good reason to be there. There’s no point in wasting people’s time unnecessarily.

Some people are quiet in meetings – especially more inexperienced employees. Just because they don’t feel comfortable grabbing the spotlight doesn’t mean they have nothing to add. Always try to encourage everyone to contribute and share their view – address quiet folk directly without putting them on the spot too hard. Once you’ve broken the ice for them a few times, they may feel more comfortable to come forward in future meetings.

Always try to keep things as light and positive as possible. Never belittle others for their ideas no matter how questionable those ideas may be. If you do, everyone will start second guessing themselves and you’ll end up with more people clamming up.

The Right Place

One of the cornerstones of an effective meeting is to select a good meeting room. Always strive to keep your meeting environment distraction-free; it’s generally not a great idea to have a meeting around someone’s desk unless absolutely necessary, because it’s likely that emails, phone calls, and colleague queries will still come in regardless of the meeting happening. Efficiency requires focus, and all attendees need to focus on the topic at hand; so if you have another room to use for meetings – absolutely use it!

On the topic of distraction, it’s also well worth putting a ban on mobiles, tablets, and laptops during meetings unless they’re totally necessary for presentations, reports or note taking.

Always set up any presentations or techy stuff beforehand to make sure that you’re ready on time. Those attending have made the effort to be there at the time stated, they don’t want to see you swearing at a projector!

Arguably one of the most important points for picking a good venue is that it’s comfortable and conducive to productivity. Choose comfortable, yet upright chairs; a solid desk-height table; and ensure there’s appropriate room for everyone to get around once the room is full. Pins and needles and sleeping limbs can distract from the points at hand, so comfort should be a priority. Don’t forget temperature control too!

If possible, choose a room with plenty of natural light, but ensure that windows don’t overlook anything overly distracting or – dare I say it – interesting. Don’t provide the temptation to just stare out of the window the whole time!

The Right Topics

Always define the topics and requirements of a meeting beforehand, and provide an agenda to all attendees, even if it’s just a rough list by email. This way your fellow meeting-goers are primed to the topics at hand, they know to bring certain information, and are aware of the goals you want to meet by the end.

As we’ll discuss shortly, always allocate time for each topic on your agenda, and include these timings when you send the agenda to attendees. This way everyone is on the same page from the outset. Whenever you feel a meeting starting to go off on a tangent always steer the conversation back to the scheduled topic at hand. You can always discuss the tangent topic at the end of the meeting, or schedule to address it at a later date. Tangents are the enemy of productivity – as anyone who’s ever tried to multitask will tell you.

It’s important to conduct meetings about important matters that require legitimate input from all attendees. If you’re meeting just for the sake of “me and so-and-so always have a meeting on Wednesday,” it’s probably not a good use of your time. Never set up a meeting to relay routine announcements, general information or anything that can be easily circulated by email or on a notice board.

Though all of this may sound a little draconian, remember to also make allowances for a little bit of chatter and interaction. If you crack down too hard on social pleasantries and rule meetings with an iron rod, people will feel less engaged and will be less likely to contribute as a result.

The Right Time

Whether it’s choosing the right time to meet or having meetings run over, time can sometimes seem like the enemy of meeting productivity, but it really doesn’t need to be that way.

All meetings should have a set start time and end time. Keep to those times and don’t wait around for latecomers. That may sound a bit harsh but you have to make your meetings time efficient for everyone; if people don’t want to miss out, they should be on time so as to not inconvenience themselves or others.

Good time management starts with your agenda. We’ve already discussed allocating sections of time to each subject you want to cover; but once in the meeting, stick to the topics at hand and to the timescale you’ve provided. Make sure that things run to time and that everyone stays on topic during each allocated section.

If your meeting is scheduled to go on for an hour and a half or longer you may want to schedule in a short break or two for people to stretch their legs, grab a drink, or take a bathroom break. This way people will stay as refreshed and comfortable as possible.

Even if you’re struggling to agree on a time to meet, I’d advise never to be tempted to do a “working lunch” style meeting during an allocated lunch break. We are all entitled to breaks, and need that downtime daily. Never take people’s allocated breaks away from them!

The Right Follow-Up

When you’re coming to the end of your meeting, you need to make sure that everyone is clear on what they are doing next. It might be worth scheduling an extra 10 minutes to conclude the meeting and to make sure that all action points have been attributed to the right people, and that all tasks have been communicated clearly.

Make a point of bringing a note-taker along, who may also double as a timekeeper when they get used to the task of taking notes. Make sure that the minutes of your meeting are typed up as soon as possible and circulate them to all attendees. I know minutes can be a bit of a chore but they’re an important point of clarity, so never put them off.

If tasks have been delegated during the meeting, it may also be beneficial to set deadlines for those tasks too, or to at least have a set check-in date for people to report their progress by.

If you feel your meetings just aren’t delivering, never be afraid to ask for anonymous feedback from your team as to how you can improve things. They’re the ones who have to work from your meetings after all!

Counterproductive meetings? Just say “no!” Check out these productive meeting tips! Click To Tweet

What are your tips for meeting productivity? Have you got any meeting horror stories you would like to share? Please share your comments below!

Image Credit: jdpereiro on Pixabay.

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