Meetings are often regarded with a sense of dread and are sometimes maligned as a waste of that most rare commodity in retail – time. However, with a little preparation and skill, you can make your meetings more effective and save time and expense. Here are some tips to make sure that both you and your team get the most out of your meetings and leave with clear goals and a renewed passion to work together towards your objectives.
At some stage we’ve all encountered the sinking feeling that occurs when we are summoned to a meeting, whether it is because it’s at an inconvenient time, or because we don’t know why we are being asked to attend. We sit through what seems like hours of information that we feel doesn’t concern us or inter-team bickering and leave with the impression that it was simply a big waste of time.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. At their best, meetings can be inspirational, informative and even interesting. In order to achieve this, when planning a session you should make sure that you think about the following: preparation, purpose, productivity, planning goals and feeding back on progress.
Preparation is the key to making a meeting as effective as possible. This doesn’t just relate to the physical preparation of handouts, presentations etc., but also to anticipating questions and making sure that sufficient time is planned for covering all topics.
When setting the agenda, remember to include time for review of notes from past business where appropriate, discussion of new issues and time to discuss the goals going forward. However, don’t be too optimistic about what can be achieved within the timeframe you have chosen. If there are any
materials you can assign beforehand then this will cut down the time in the meeting itself and will help attendees to get a clear idea of the meeting’s purpose ahead of time.
Of course every meeting has a purpose, but it is how this purpose is communicated that can make the difference between an effective meeting and a perceived waste of time.
Everyone should be aware not only of the general purpose of the meeting, but ideally the subjects to be covered; and should leave knowing the actions that have been agreed.
Again, don’t try to achieve too much in the timeframe allotted. If there are multiple subjects that need discussing by the same group of people then consider holding separate, shorter meetings for each point or break the agenda up into clearly defined sections with regular breaks.
When in the meeting itself, the productivity of the session will be largely dictated by how you lead it. However, there are many basic things you can do that will make your job easier. Consider when you want your meeting to be held: at the beginning of the day, the middle or the end? Different times will make a difference to how the group behaves. Other factors influencing group interaction might include the location, seating, refreshments and temperature as well as the basic factor of who is attending (a specific team, senior management, a mixture of seniorities etc.)
As the person conducting the meeting, your task is to achieve a balance between keeping the discussion focused and within the appropriate timescales, and making sure everyone has their voice heard and needs met. Stick to the agenda as much as possible, clearly whilst allowing for discussion. Make topics that absolutely must be covered a priority, but keep a note of any new ideas raised.
A word on timing
The chair of the meeting should enforce the timescales. If you don’t want to chair the meeting then you need to decide who will. It doesn’t have to be a big deal, just putting someone in charge of the timing is a good start.
Use the agenda as a time guide – if you notice that time is running short and you still have topics to cover then you may want to wrap up the issue and either make a decision, if you are near to a conclusion, or postpone more discussions until the end of the meeting or another time. Meetings that overrun are bad meetings, especially if you’re moving into people’s personal time. If the meeting is out of hours or close to the end of the day and you’ve allocated 60 minutes, only use 55.
You should already have a good idea of what you want to achieve through the meeting, so remember to take a note of who is assigned to do what and the approximate timescales involved.
If new action points arise that haven’t been thought of, decide during the session who should be responsible for these as well. However, if these new points in turn raise complex issues or need more in-depth discussion, then make a note of them and move on. If you have done sufficient preparation on the issue it will be part of the agenda anyway.
Conversely, if it is a peripheral issue, it will very often be more useful to dedicate some time to it at a later date rather than try to add to the meeting’s agenda as you go and throw everything off-track.
After the meeting, all the participants should feel as though something has been achieved and you should follow this through with feedback on progress of the goals agreed. If you manage this correctly, either with progress via email or a follow-up meeting at an agreed time or both, you will not only have achieved the final step in conducting the most effective meeting possible but also have made a positive impact on the future of your business as well as your career.