If there is one thing in business that many are reluctant to do, it is to attend a meeting. Who could blame them? Most meetings are unproductive and don’t accomplish the task at hand. There must be a better way, right?
I have sat in, and ran my fair share of meetings. I don’t proclaim to be the master meeting guy, but I do have some observations that pull from years of attending and participating in meetings, whether professionally in business – corporate, small business, and startup; civic, and non-profit.
A few types of meeting scenarios you may encounter:
- Recurring meetings – regularly scheduled weekly, monthly etc.
- Spur of the moment – quick, join this meeting, we have a fire drill
- Ad hoc – A brief phone call or instant message session turns into a full blown meeting
As well, a few communication means in meetings:
- Face to face – sit down at a table or room together
- By phone – No visual, just voice
- Web collaboration – GoToMeeting, WebEx, or Lync style visual maybe slides or watching screen
- Video call – Skype or similar platform with 1:1 or group abilities
When it comes down to it, most meetings could be avoided if the right collaboration tools and platforms are in place, and people know how to use them. It also depends on the meeting size. But let’s pretend you have meetings that you regularly attend and may be either a participant or running it.
Set the pace and expectations
If you want to get the best participation from the attendees and you are running the meeting, make sure that you are slow, concise and clear of objectives. The best way to accomplish this is with an agenda. Let me say this, agendas are critical! Yes, they often do require some front loading and thoughts prior to the meeting, but it is the best way to set expectations with the team attending the gathering.
Each person in the meeting might have a different communication style, which is OK and expected, so remember it is good to set a good pace and usually it is better to be on the safe side and move a little slower to make sure everyone is in sync. This might annoy some of the more fast paced individuals, however, encourage them to give input and then re-cap or summarize for the rest of the crew to make sure the point isn’t lost.
Track specific actions or outcomes
Have you ever been in a meeting and part of the conversation involves, “OK great, let’s follow-up on this later”, and nothing comes of it? So many actions that would be pinnacle to success of the team hinges on follow-up. If you are running the meeting and have a hard time tracking items while coordinating communication, then see if you can enlist someone on the team to help take notes. In summary: track action items and make sure follow-up happens.
If you are attending a meeting it is a good idea to take note of actions you are requested to do. (Evernote is great for this! See post on taking meeting notes in Evernote.)
Share the notes with the team on a wiki, shared document, or least preferred by email.
Put down your phone, quite instant messaging, and reading email while in a meeting. If you are so busy and can’t manage your time that you have to continue constantly communicating while you are attending a meeting, then you need to address that otherwise. As well, especially as a leader attending a meeting if you do this you set the pace and example for the rest of the team.
When running the meeting, pause after key discussions look around the room (or ask verbally if phone or web meeting) and ask, “Does that make sense?” or “Do you have any questions or feedback on that?”.
Try to be engaging and if you think people are distracted, gently nudge them by including them specifically.
Also, ask yourself, as a meeting organizer, are the right people in this meeting, and do I maybe need to update who attends next time?
Keep working toward meeting bliss
It might be ironic to say meeting and bliss in the same sentence, but when well executed, you can have meetings that you leave excited, exhilarated, and clear on what to do and what the team will do when done.
Have you achieved meeting nirvana? Any thoughtful advice, or even stories ‘from the trenches’ you could share?