In his book, Meetings Matter: 8 Powerful Strategies for Remarkable Conversations, Paul Axtell gives a strong argument in favor of meetings.
Meetings are at the heart of an effective organization, and each meeting is an opportunity to clarify issues, set new directions, sharpen focus, create alignment, and move objectives forward.
Alas, in most organizations, meetings are not effective; they waste time; bore the participants; and do not resolve anything. As the humorist Dave Barry notes:
If you had to identify, in one word, the reason why the human race has not achieved, and never will achieve, its full potential, that word would be ‘meetings.’
So, how can we make our meetings more effective?
- Have Fewer Meetings: Meetings should only take place when real interaction is required. Yes, that may mean cancelling the weekly staff meeting if there is nothing to talk about. And yes, that should mean cancelling most conference calls, especially those where the presenter just reads off of a PowerPoint.
- Have Fewer People in Meetings: It is nice to include lots of people so that they do not feel like they are left out. But, that just wastes their time and your time. Instead, only include those who absolutely need to be in the meeting. This will mean that many meetings will be one on one or a very small group (3 or 4 participants).
- Set a Strict Timeline for the Meeting (and Stick to It): If a meeting is usually an hour, set it up for 30 – 45 minutes. For many meetings, especially one-on-one discussions, a five minute meeting is good enough. Short timelines require that the moderator keep the meeting moving along. This prevents most meetings from getting bogged down by those participants who cannot control themselves from talking. And stick to that timeline. If the meeting is not finished in the allotted time, that is fine. Stop the meeting and pledge to be more effective the next time. Meetings running over are one of the biggest time sinks for most managers.
- Have an Agenda (and Pass Out Beforehand): Prepare an agenda with the talking points and the proposal and/or conclusion and pass out to all participants beforehand. This give each of them the time to digest the material and prepare questions or responses. True that is not as much fun for the presenter as having a big surprise on a PowerPoint slide that shows how smart or insightful the presenter is. But, it makes for quicker, more impactful meetings as the participants have more than 30 seconds to think about and then comment on material presented.
- Stick to the Agenda: Follow the agenda and do everything possible to avoid diverting onto other subjects. Avoid (I am, personally, quite guilty of this), the irrelevant musings or stories that we all like to share. In reality, these usually boil down to self – promotion – “Aren’t I brilliant?”, “Aren’t I funny?”, “Aren’t I clever?” – statements.
- Change-up the Venue: For many meetings, have everyone stand up rather than sit down and be comfortable. You will see how quickly the meeting then progresses. Have your meetings in different locations – not just a conference room or the boss’ office. Have meetings in the employee’s office; have them in the employee cafeteria; or have a meeting while taking a short walk outside the office. The different venue can change the power relationship and lead to different insights.
- Recap After All Meetings: Have someone other than the moderator re-cap the main points. This clarifies and confirms that the moderator’s main points were fully understood by the other participants. In re-capping the meeting, summarize the action items (with a timeline) that need to be completed. Coming out of every meeting, every participant needs to fully understand what the next actions are and when they are due.
- No PowerPoints: Finally, as much as possible, avoid basing your meetings around PowerPoint presentations. With PowerPoints, meetings too often become one-way lectures were someone reads the material and true discussion and interaction is quashed. If you absolutely must use PowerPoint, send it out beforehand, require everyone to read it, print it out, and come prepared to discuss.
With these 8 simple ideas, we can all have better meetings within our organizations. The gains will be legion:
- More time to do work
- More effective communication
- Well-thought out decisions