Whether you are in charge or simply attending, you can improve the effectiveness of your meetings and you can do it quickly. Avoid attendees dozing off, getting way off topic, wasting time, and talking in circles by implementing the following 8 tips in every meeting you attend. While these ideas are not complicated, they will be game-changers in the effectiveness of your meetings.
However, before reading our helpful tips to highly effective meetings, take a moment to evaluate the meetings held at your company. The University of Michigan website provides a Meeting Evaluation Checklist you can use to see just how well your meetings are really going. Read through these points and reflect on what is going well in the meetings at your company and what could be improved. It’s likely that not every one of these points will apply at your company. However, consider the ones that do and make goals for improvement.
Meeting Evaluation Checklist ✓
- The meeting was well planned
- Members were notified in advance
- There was a pre-arranged agenda
- Officers and committees were ready to report
- The meeting room was pre-arranged
- The meeting was well organized
- The meeting started on time
- Guests were introduced and welcomed
- Agendas were available for all members
- The purposes for the meeting were made clear
- There was a transition from the last meeting.
- One topic was discussed at a time
- One person has the floor at a time
- Discussion was relevant
- The meeting moved along at a workable pace
- Committee assignments were complete and clear
- Plans for the next meeting were announced
- All that was planned for the meeting was covered
Participation in the Meeting ✓
- Members participated in discussion and voting
- The chairperson made good use of questions
- The pros and cons of all issues were considered
- Members gave suggestions to committees
- Responsibilities were evenly distributed
- Members participated in planning the agenda for the next meeting
The Value of the Meeting ✓
- Progress was made toward goals
- Something was learned
- You should be able to clearly articulate that was learned
Attitude of the Meeting ✓
- Attendance was good
- Everyone present was on time
- Members knew one another
- There was a “warm up” period before the meeting
- There was some humor during the meeting
- Members and officers helped one another when needed
- There was an atmosphere of free expression
Now that you have analyzed the pros and cons of your meetings, read on for tips that will help overcome the biggest, most common meeting challenges.
1. Make a written agenda
For every meeting you run, create a written agenda and distribute it to all attendees one day in advance. If you aren’t running the meeting but are attending, request an agenda beforehand. For consistently held meetings, like weekly staff meetings, it is convenient to have a template for your agenda so each week the blanks just need to be filled in.
Included on the agenda should be the overall purpose of the meeting, a list of topics to be discussed, meeting objectives, and intended results.
An agenda helps provide clarity and improve productivity; if the group knows exactly what it’s trying to accomplish, chances are higher that it will actually accomplish those things.
2. Watch the clock
There are a few different elements to watching the clock. First, start on time and end on time or early. Have attendees arrive 5 minutes early to ensure starting on time, and don’t wait for people to show up late. Waiting shows that you are ok with wasting time. Relay the importance of the meeting and the company’s time by always beginning when scheduled. Attendees will start to get that punctuality is expected.
Try scheduling the meeting for half the time you originally planned. What will naturally happen is time will be used more efficiently and attendees will up their game to accomplish what needs to be done in the allotted time. If you schedule an hour, you will fill the hour. If you schedule half an hour, you will make do with the half hour.
Something that will help achieve meeting objectives in the proper amount of time is assigning timeframes for each topic on the agenda and sticking to them. In large, complicated meetings, have a timekeeper.
If you’re really pressed for time in a meeting, try having everyone stand. Research shows that meetings in which everyone stands can be more efficient. In one study, “groups took 34% less time making decisions, with no real difference in the quality of the decision.”
3. Stay on topic with the Parking Lot method
The Parking Lot method is a way to prevent sidetracking when topics arise in conversation that are out of the scope of the meeting. At the start of the meeting, ask everyone to focus on the agenda and the topics at hand. Explain that this helps the meeting to be productive and end on time.
Follow the agenda as a guide throughout the meeting, keeping an eye on the time as well. Go through each item planned, while monitoring and contributing to the discussion.
When a point is brought up that strays from the agenda, thank the attendee for their point, but explain that it goes beyond the purpose of the meeting. Tell the attendee that you will write it down in the parking lot, document it in the meeting notes, and find a better time to explore that point. You may explain that there is only a set amount of time to discuss the topics at hand and the meeting can’t get off track, but that the comment will be discussed later.
This method allows for the attendee to feel acknowledged and respected while still maintaining focus in the meeting.
4. Take notes
All present at a meeting should take notes. Notes should focus on decisions made, questions, and assignments delegated to you. There could be an official note taker who records the most important points discussed. Then, send out these notes to all attendees following the meeting. However, this does not replace the need for individual notes, since different tasks will be delegated to each person and topics discussed will likely affect people’s various positions uniquely.
Be safe and write on a notepad. Avoid taking notes on an electronic device to avoid distractions and looking like you might be checking your email or looking up game scores. You could take notes on the agenda as the topics are discussed, or just use it as a guide to your notes on your notepad. An additional benefit to taking notes by hand is that it improves retention.
5. Limit attendance
Every minute an employee is present at a meeting costs the company money. If an employee comes and doesn’t participate in any way, it’s a waste of his or her time, as well as the company’s time. People that merely need to be informed of something can receive information through a memo or email and use those minutes spent in meetings for something more productive.
Another idea is to invite some attendees to return to their work once they have completed their contribution in the meeting. This prevents them from having to stay for other parts of the meeting that are irrelevant to their jobs.
To see just how expensive meetings are to a company, try calculating the cost of one. Eaglesflight.com instructs:
“Calculate the average salary of the people in the room times the number of people, divided by their working hours, then times the number of hours of the meeting. Now add in the facilities costs, the AV equipment and food and beverage and you’ve got a very impressive number.”
MeetingKing has a calculator to quickly figure out the cost of a meeting. If your employees need more motivation to have productive meetings, try posting their cost as a reminder.
6. Follow up
There should always be tasks to be done after a meeting (otherwise the meeting should not have been held). Follow up with people to ensure those tasks were completed. Employees need to know that they will be followed up with and when. Announce these expectations in the meeting and explain how they will be contacted concerning their assignments. When given a deadline and accountability, tasks are much more likely to get done in a timely manner.
7. Hold the meeting in a proper environment
The physical environment in which a meeting is held can encourage or decrease efficiency. Do all possible to the meeting location to promote productivity. Here are a few ideas:
- Arrange the room in a circle or semi-circle so that attendees face each other. For really large groups, U-shaped rows work well. Just as it’s easier to pay attention when sitting in the front row of a class, attendees will be more focused if there is no back row to sit in.
- Find a room that is appropriate for the size of your group. Too many people crammed in a small room can get stuffy and uncomfortable. People don’t work as well when they are physically irritated.
- Vary meeting places to encourage innovative thoughts and to accommodate different members. However, be very clear to all attendees where and when the meeting will be held when switching locations.
8. Don’t hold meetings that could be an email
A meeting is not always the most effective way to spread information and make decisions. Considering the cost of holding a meeting, there could be a better way in some instances. Forbes.com says,
“A final thought…is to ask yourself: Do we really need a meeting at all? Might there be other ways – a few phone calls, a couple of informal personal conversations, a memo to the team, perhaps, that could achieve the same results as a meeting? There are plenty of times of course that you do need a full-on meeting, but it never hurts to impose the discipline of asking that question.
I recognize that some of these suggestions – optimizing agendas and attendee lists – do require the meeting organizer to spend added time on the front end, but I’m confident the organizational math is sound:
Time saved in a meeting = productive time returned to the company… and a little more time spent by one at the front end is preferable to a lot more time spent by many at the back end.”