Meetings, meetings everywhere – no time to stop and think.
I once worked in an environment that was made up entirely of meetings: all day, every day. I’m still not exactly sure how I managed to fit in the actual work these meetings generated.
If you work in a company, any size company, eventually someone will ask you not just to attend, but (gasp/horror) to organize a meeting. So, in anticipation of that day, here are the steps to follow to ensure that your meetings stand out in the sea of others – for the right reasons.
1. First and foremost: do you need the meeting? I kid you not, people don’t ask this nearly often enough, and odd though it may seem, not all meetings need to happen. Make sure you know the reason for the meeting: is there a question that needs answering, a project to work on or a problem to be solved? If you have your reason, move to step 2 – if you don’t, go back to your day job (which is, chances are, not organizing meetings).
2. Alright, you have your reason (well done!), now you need to set the agenda. This is another task that seems to stump some. If you can’t come up with any agenda items then your reason for holding the meeting might not be solid – go back to step 1 and double-check. Keep in mind that agendas need to be relevant to the topic at hand, not long for long’s sake…the length of your agenda does not, I repeat, does not, reflect the importance of your meeting.
3. Ok, you’re getting there. You have a good reason and a solid agenda. Now, who needs to attend? And I mean each of these words: who-needs-to-attend?? Not the ‘nice to haves’, not the higher ups, not the boss you’re trying to impress or the head of the department you’re trying to break into. WHO NEEDS TO BE THERE? No one enjoys using valuable time sitting through a meeting that isn’t relevant to them – equally, no one likes to be left out of a meeting they think they ought to be included in. So, think carefully about the list of people to include: decision makers, stakeholders, team members. If in doubt, discuss the list with a colleague or superior.
4. Now you have all the elements you need, you just need to get everyone together. If you’re in an office where you can make use of shared calendars, then do – no point in playing ‘meeting Battleships’ with people’s schedules. If you’re including people outside your organization, or have no shared calendars, then consider using an online tool, such as Doodle.com, to set up the meeting. No matter what method you use, try to keep your attendees in mind when setting the time and place – 7:00am breakfast meetings might not work well for commuters; meetings immediately post-lunch might give you a room full of lethargic participants.
5. You’re half-way there, well done! You have managed to pull all the elements together and your participants are arriving. Do you wait for the tardy few? No. It’s always best to start on time (a friend is so serious about this that he sends a link to the atomic clock with every meeting request!). Those who are on time are respected; those who are late can catch up. The side benefit of this is that if you start all your meetings this way, you will have fewer and fewer latecomers.
6. You’ve corralled everyone – now: keep to your agenda. No point is setting one if you aren’t going to stick to it. Veering away from your agenda can lead you down any number of rabbit holes and eat up a lot of time. Any topic raised that isn’t covered by the agenda can be discussed at the end of the meeting, under ‘Any Other Business’. This keeps your meeting tidy and to the point.
7. Assign a note taker. This is another crucial step – you need to be sure that the discussions and action points are being captured and recorded. Not only is it useful for future discussions but also helps keep the attendees accountable for actions they have been assigned (which might required follow-up…or nagging).
8. Keep to time. It’s as important to respect everyone’s time at the end of the meeting as it is at the start. Meetings that overrun not only seem sloppy but can end up interfering with the rest of the day. If you can’t get through your agenda in the time set for the meeting then set a follow-up meeting for a soon as possible. I guarantee you that you’ll be in everyone’s good books if you finish on time!
9. Follow-up. Make sure to send out the notes or minutes of the meeting within 48 hours. Not every meeting requires formal minutes but all need notes, particularly if there are points that require action by attendees. This helps keep everyone informed and on top of what needs to be done next.
10. If you really want to stand out, learn the Art of Facilitation (which I will cover in a future post). A good meeting facilitator runs an efficient, useful and timely meeting. Attendees leave feeling that their time has been well spent, that action will take place, and that they haven’t been meeting ‘for meeting’s sake’.
If you follow these simple steps you will be a Meeting Master! Your meetings will be more efficient, you’ll need fewer of them, and people won’t groan nearly as much, or as loudly, when the calendar appointment pings into their inbox.