What percentage of meetings that you attend devolve into unstructured discussions about off-topic material? 10%? 25%? More? Meetings, whether in-person or virtual, can be terrible wastes of time if conducted poorly.
Is It Meeting-Worthy?
Very few people commute to work every day excited at the prospect of a calendar full of consecutive meetings so, before scheduling a meeting, ask yourself if the discussion or decision warrants carving out time in everybody’s schedule to talk about it real-time. Long email chains can be ineffective but starting with an email (and scheduling a meeting if the interactions warrant) can be a perfectly effective method for making decisions quickly or sharing information.
Eyes On The Prize
The least productive meetings occur when nobody knows why they’re meeting. Have a clear objective and make sure it’s readily apparent, ideally by setting it as the subject in your meeting invite and making it a prominent piece of your agenda.
What Are We Talking About?
Help get everyone on the same page by outlining an agenda for your meeting that clearly lays out the topics, including owners and duration of each topic. Include the agenda in your meeting invite and display and review it at the beginning of your meeting. Also, it will help you and your coworkers more easily reference any notes taken during the meeting if they are documented directly in the agenda. If you’re using OneNote, this is all very easy to accomplish!
It’s been said that the amount of time that one has to perform a task is the amount of time it will take to complete the task (Parkinson’s Law). To relate that to this topic: the same discussions that could be covered in a 60-minute meeting will also fill a 90-minute meeting. Critically evaluate the topics you’d like to discuss in your meeting and assign them appropriate and sufficient durations. If you have only a limited block of time to conduct your meeting, this may mean paring down your list of topics (see “Is It Meeting-Worthy?”, above).
There are two benefits to involving the right people in a discussion: the decisions made have already been vetted for feasibility and compliance with organizational goals and…decisions get made, period. If the people in the meeting are not able to make decisions, you’re essentially brainstorming and having a “pre-meeting meeting”. Admittedly, these are occasionally necessary but, if that is your goal, make sure you’ve communicated the objective as such so everyone is on the same page about the expected outcome of your meeting.
Stay On Track
It’s your meeting, so own it. Politely table sidebar conversations and visibly – so everyone knows you’re doing it and nobody thinks their ideas are being ignored – note any ideas that should be followed up on later. If there is good conversation being had about a topic when its allotted time is up, verbally note that fact and (as a group or independently) make the decision to table the current discussion or postpone another discussion, again visibly flagging the one that needs follow-up so you can reschedule it after the meeting.
Let Me Just Find…
Since you know the agenda and what you plan to cover, be prepared and ready to smoothly transition between documents, presentations, etc., by having them all open on your computer before you begin the meeting. If you’re using a screen-sharing tool (e.g. WebEx or Go To Meeting), share your entire desktop and close windows that you’d rather not accidentally share so you don’t have to take the time to share each specific applications with your audience as you change topics (especially since it’s very easy to forget to do this).
The Good, The Bad, The Technology
Everyone in IT has attended meetings that have been underproductive because someone (everyone?) is buried in their laptops or phones and not paying attention. If your corporate culture allows, require that only the presenter and note-taker have their laptops open, for example, and ask that anyone who needs to use their phone step out of the room while they do so. If your corporate culture does not allow for this, talk with your supervisor about your great idea to change your corporate culture. If you’re conducting a virtual meeting, of course, this doesn’t exactly apply but you should still lay out ground rules regarding muting phones when not speaking, etc.
If any attendees are unable to meet in person and you have the technology, use screen-sharing if you are reviewing or drafting any documentation rather than asking everyone to follow along on their own. And for goodness sake, learn how to use the projector or monitor in the conference room ahead of time…
Who’s Doing What Now?
While meeting outcomes are less likely than emails to be misinterpreted or misunderstood, it’s not that uncommon for two people to leave a meeting with different expectations regarding next steps. It’s important to have all of the decision-makers and other attendees in sync regarding decisions and next steps, so be sure to take good notes and share them afterwards with both those who attended the meeting and those who were invited but did not attend. This will also minimize the risk of someone dropping the ball on something critical because they left the meeting without realizing they’d been assigned a task or weren’t at the meeting and are unaware of the assignment.
This Post Is Kind of Bossy…
You’re right, sorry about that. If you haven’t seen them yet (or even if you have), take a moment to watch these great videos by Tripp and Tyler: “A Conference Call in Real Life” and “Every Meeting Ever“
Do you watch some of your coworkers navigate through Microsoft Office Suite products with a smoothness that makes you green with envy? In the next post, I’ll explain how to get faster at everything by learning to Avoid the Mouse…