You probably have attended business meetings, or family meetings, or public meetings and may have considered most of them a waste of your valuable time. Meetings can be terribly ineffective, horrible timesuckers and may even cause more harm than good. But….
Meetings are inevitable.
Let’s face it, the main purpose of a meeting is to communicate. I challenge you to try to carry on business without communication!
Properly conducted meetings can:
- Build your team
- Identify problems so you can nip them in the bud
- Generate new product ideas
- Stem an uprising
- Pass along knowledge
- Resolve a problem
- Strengthen family ties
- Inspire people to action.
As a manager, I’ve used meetings to review performance and encourage improvement; I’ve used them to build relationships needed within a project team; I’ve used them to gather and pass information and to build a system.
Your participation level or leadership of meetings can be cause for advancement or ridicule at work. Don’t expect miracles to happen without your active involvement or leadership. Make your meetings serve a purpose.
So meetings actually can serve a purpose. But…..
How can you hold an effective meeting?
If you organize, lead or participate in meetings, you need to understand some key tips so that you don’t make common meeting mistakes.
My best meeting tips.
1. Don’t meet when you don’t need to do so.
Try to accomplish your purpose with the fewest needed people.
2. Use the right kind of meeting for your purpose.
Meeting in the flesh is usually most effective, either one on one, in small groups or in a large group.
For things such as performance evaluations, you must meet privately with each individual. If you are working on a hot project, you might take a tip from Agile project management and have a 5 minute stand up meeting with involved parties (a small group) each morning to make sure you are headed the same direction and all have the latest project changes. If you are meeting with clients to try to win their business, a large formal meeting with company experts in your showcase conference room might work.
Video conferences are effective only in some situations.
My experience with video conferences (the kind where one group of participants is in one large room and the other end of the conference is another group of participants in another large room) was not extensive. I did note that a lot of the participants spend half them meeting trying to see what they look like on the monitor instead of focusing on the topic at hand. We found them effective only for things such as letting remote teams start to get to know each other better.
Web meetings are a special breed.
By now most of us have participated in some kind of a webinar. Running your own may be a different story though. My experience with work webinars has generally been positive: effective technology, great organization of materials, wonderful participant assistance and good speakers.
However, when my own family tried to hold a Skype conference, we had technical troubles – we scrambled for a way to share documents and presentations during the meeting; we had trouble connecting; the children had way too much fun dancing in front of the laptop camera and looking at themselves on the screen.
In addition to all of the tips for a face to face meeting, leaders of web meetings must absolutely make sure that the technology works and participants can get help with it when needed. They must ensure that the online material can be shared and used by all as intended.
3. Plan ahead.
Have a specific purpose and expected outcome for your meeting. No one likes to go to a meeting that wanders all over the place and no one knows if or when you are done!
Understand the meeting participants. What are their goals, their allegiances, their knowledge and interest levels and their potential issues?
If appropriate, solicit input for agenda items. If nothing else, it engages your participants which is always good.
Develop the agenda and distribute it prior to the meeting. That is the only way everyone can prepare (or even decide if they need to be there!).
Prepare any materials needed during the meeting and make sure they are available to participants beforehand if need be, and also during the meeting. This is a number one failing in a lot of meetings. The leader fails to make time to prep and as a result is handing out documents in the meeting. The participants are distracted – trying to look at the docs and haven’t had time to prepare.
Scope out the meeting facilities and/or tools which will be used to make sure they are adequate and the physical location (if any) is comfortable.
4. Set up for the meeting.
Get the materials out there where they can be reached by participants (on the desks or tables, or ready to display on the web or via overhead projectors, etc).
If you are trying for input from participants, arrange the setting to facilitate that – letting everyone sit in a circle or at least face each other is one way. Research and use methods and items to stimulate participants creative juices – such as bringing something to fiddle with (play dough for example. Set ground rules for the meeting that inhibit criticism and encourage participation.
5. Manage the meeting.
- Greet participants and establish a comfortable meeting environment.
- Set aside a few minutes for participants to greet each other and get comfortable in their chair or with the web interface.
- Formally start the meeting by re-stating what the meeting is about and then going over the agenda – or for a more informal meeting, review the purpose and state how you will proceed.
- Post bullets from the meeting conversation where they can be seen by all – either on flip charts, overheads, on the web or in some other manner. Having questions or comments or decisions viewable helps keep participants focused.
- Table non related items that arise and table items that will need more research prior to resolution.
- End the meeting ahead of time and let participants either leave or stay for one on one conversation.
6. Follow up after the meeting.
Publish any meeting notes, decisions and action items that came up in the session to all meeting participants. Make sure the action items are completed.
Be sure to identify and acknowledge the folks who contributed ideas or actions in the meeting and thank all participants for coming.
Tell our readers what you saw a leader do to make a meeting effective!