We’ve all been there. Stuck in the seemingly interminable meeting, yawning along to some uninspiring spiel, accompanied by dull slides and unhelpful interjections from the company know-it-all.
Meetings are essential in business life. But all too often they are unproductive, unnecessary or end up becoming meetings about meetings. You want to get things done, but not at the expense of managerial and employee time. So how can you be sure your company meetings produce results and move projects forward – rather than stall in a frustrating and endless cycle of back-and-forth discussions? Take on board some of these tips for more effective meetings.
The Importance of Careful Meeting Preparation
Preparation is key. You need to understand why you’re holding the meeting: what you want to achieve from it. Without a clear objective, you risk wasting everyone’s time – including your own.
Objective-driven meetings move the business forward. While it’s important that you are certain about the precise outcome you want from the meeting, there are occasions when this may not tally with what everyone else wants. For example, if you want Sales to increase client acquisition, or you need Accounts to reduce days sales outstanding, you may get some push back. Where you’re asking someone else for something that you think they may not be inclined to do, you don’t need to reveal your full hand before the meeting. But you do need to inform the attendees of the purpose of the meeting and in this case, you might simply say that the meeting is about ways to increase profitability across the company.
If it’s likely to be a long meeting covering several topics, create an agenda and circulate it beforehand. As much as possible, make the sequence logical, so that you are not jumping around between different subjects during the meeting.
Be sure to minimise the number of attendees as this will make for a more effective meeting. So, only invite those whose contribution is key. If there are others who will benefit from knowing the outcomes of the meeting, then ask the attendees to cascade the information to them after the meeting.
Best Practices to Follow During Meetings
Start the meeting on time so that you can get down to business quickly. A little bit of chit chat is customary, in the UK at least, but get things going fairly sharpish or your meeting could be derailed as everyone chats about the weather or the latest Covid news.
To keep meetings short, you could consider holding stand-up meetings. Participants will feel a little uncomfortable because they are forced to stand, meaning everyone will be keen to get the business over with quickly. To make meetings even more efficient, you can schedule them for shorter than normal. Most ‘short’ meetings seem to be set at a default of an hour. There’s no reason you can’t timetable them for 30 or 45 minutes. Shorter meetings keep people’s attention and maintain their engagement.
Have someone take official notes that can be circulated soon after. If you don’t, there’s a chance that people will not have noted their own actions or will have differing recollections of what was discussed and agreed. By recording the meeting in this way, you won’t jeopardise the outcomes.
As the meeting chair, you need to manage the time effectively and retain the focus. If the discussion becomes derailed, bring it back to the point. If a new matter comes up, point out that it can be dealt with outside of the meeting. This ensures that you maintain control of the discussion at hand. Again, planning the agenda properly – using a logical structure – is key here and can avoid people jumping ahead.
To keep momentum and involvement, encourage participation. If everyone contributes ideas, then they will feel they have an investment in the matter and will be more willing to do what it takes to reach a successful outcome.
Making Meetings More Productive
One of the most difficult areas in meetings is putting your point across in such a way that you achieve your meeting goal. Whether it’s a business negotiation, a sales situation or an internal meeting, you won’t want to come across as aggressive or demanding, but equally don’t want to give away your bargaining power by not being clear enough.
Alan Palmer is author of the book, Talk Lean, which promises shorter meetings – and Senior Partner of Interactifs, which has devised a method for dealing more effectively with others. Employing the Interactifs approach makes meetings shorter and more productive without jeopardising relationships, ensuring you quickly and effectively achieve results.
Alan says, “One of the huge problems in conversations at work is that people feel condemned to having to make an existential choice every time they speak. They think they can either put the accent on getting a result by trying to be clear, direct and concise, but with a very real risk of coming over as curt and abrupt; or they can give priority to the relationship by trying instead to be polite, courteous and ‘nice’. But the risk then is that they beat around the bush and lack impact and focus.”
This dichotomy is what prevents many from reaching successful conclusions in meetings. But can you really speak your mind but not offend people? Alan emphasises that the method brings results: “If you can square that circle and be simultaneously both straight-to-the-point AND courteous – and that’s essentially what we help people to do – then the productivity of your conversations will absolutely rocket.”
A productive and successful meeting sees responsibilities and tasks agreed and assigned. The participants are left feeling energised and enthused and relationships are secure and durable.
The Next Steps
A successful meeting doesn’t conclude when the chair calls time. Send out the meeting summary notes, reminding people to follow up on their actions. You can also use this as an opportunity to inform everyone of major milestones or achievements that have been met – and conversely of any obstacles or delays that might affect progress.
Do You Even Need a Meeting?
There’s one final consideration to bear in mind. Do you really even need to hold a meeting? An article in Harvard Business Review magazine makes the compelling point that sometimes it is more effective to spend five minutes with each of six people than it is to hold a half-hour meeting with them all at the same time.
This makes sense if there are conflicting views that might cloud the discussion and prevent you reaching an agreement. Speaking with people separately could be a better route to achieving a satisfactory outcome, when a meeting might not reach a conclusion or could take longer.
No-one wants unproductive meetings. If you follow these tips, participants will leave your meetings feeling motivated and you will have been able to accomplish what you set out to achieve.
If you’d like to practise your new-found skills in a meeting about your business software, contact us today for a free business consultation and discover how a new ERP system can improve your business even further.