When I started working, I found meetings and conference calls to be frustrating. Many were unproductive, with some (or most) of the attendees disengaged. Others were unorganized, with people interrupting each other throughout the meeting to try and get their point across. The most frustrating part was my consistent inability to accomplish the objective of the meeting, thus requiring additional meetings and rush jobs to finish deliverables before the deadline.
I improved by observing and asking others whose meetings always seemed to end on time (or early) and with clear direction, stated accomplishments complete, and an engaged audience. The following tips helped me improve the productivity of, and engagement during, my meetings and I hope they do for you as well.
Create and distribute an agenda in advance of the meeting. The agenda should clearly state the meeting objective and what decisions need to be made, with the agenda topics created to support the objective and decisions. When each attendee has clear direction on what you need to accomplish and why, the chances of someone derailing the meeting go down substantially.
Practice. Your meeting will go much smoother if you practice your talking points, just as you would a presentation. This also helps ensure that you don’t forget important points or details that need to be considered during the discussion or decision-making process. If you have several presenters, practice together so you can have a smooth handoff between people.
Join early. As the meeting leader, it’s important to join the meeting at least 5 - 10 minutes early to prepare and welcome others to the meeting or conference call. During live meetings, I will have the agenda and associated handouts printed and at each seat. Additionally, I’ll have a team member setup their computer early to project a presentation or meeting materials. The more complex the setup, the earlier I will start preparing (up to an hour in advance). This way, when the attendees join, we can get started right away and they do not have to wait for meeting materials or for the presenter to share documents on a projector or online meeting space.
Engage everyone in the meeting. My rule of thumb is, if you aren’t going to engage the person in the meeting, they probably shouldn’t be there. Limit the attendees to those who will be engaged, and send meeting notes out to those who need to know as an “FYI - only”. For the remaining attendees, find ways to involve them. This might be by asking them to lead a topic (with advance notice), capturing notes, or asking their opinion if they aren’t contributing.
Recap. Designate someone to capture notes as well as recap the key decisions and actions at the end of the meeting. This will help each attendee leave with a consistent understanding and confirm their responsibilities. Meeting notes should always be distributed within 24 hours, and can go to the “FYI-only” group as well as the attendees.