5 Ways to Make Every Meeting as Effective as Possible
Follow these 5 steps to ensure that every meeting you lead is productive and engaging for all participants.
Whether it be in the corporate world, the collegiate world, or in between, meetings are inevitable.
We all want meetings we attend to be quick and painless but they are often the complete opposite; most leave us feeling groggy and irate. It is understandable, most meetings can be completed in under 20 minutes but last hours with pointless discussions that do not concern the majority of members.
After partaking in hundreds of meetings throughout college and in various internships, I developed a framework for any meetings I would prepare in the future. Paying attention to the strengths and weaknesses of the meetings I attended allowed me to develop this framework to ensure that each meeting would leave members satisfied and spirited.
I recently started an organization after graduating from college and am leading 5 other team members with a designated goal. I would test the efficacy of this framework by planning each meeting for this organization under the guidance of the aforementioned framework and to my initial prediction, the framework succeeded in its goal.
Below, I have described the 5 methods in which I made my team meetings as worthwhile as possible.
1) Try not to have meetings
This may seem contradictory to the purpose of this article but it is in fact essential to the point that is being made.
The best meeting is a meeting that required no meeting. Let’s be honest, who actually likes meetings. The answer is no one, so why constrain people into drawn-out meetings that can be completed through other means.
If you’re meeting can be replaced by a quick email thread, do it through email.
There are dozens of ways to communicate with team members that do not require a room reservation, a time that fits everyone, and a block of time that takes away from other productive work. Some of these means are email, Slack, Microsoft Teams, Skype, and various others. These platforms thrive in replacing meetings with quick and convenient message threads that can be completed while completing other work.
2) Determine the objective of the meeting before the meeting
Before you can see if a meeting can be replaced by an email, you must decide on what the purpose of the meeting is. If the meeting’s purpose is to decide where to go for a team lunch, that can be replaced by a quick Slack poll. If it’s instead to go through the Q1 results, an in-person meeting would serve better.
Every meeting should have a clear objective that is sent to every participant a few days before the meeting. This ensures that every participant knows why they are being invited to the meeting and prepares anything on their end for it.
This objective should be defined clearly in the title of the meeting that is shared with all participants. For instance, some examples can be “Q1 Financial Rundown”, “Daily Stand-Up”, or “End of Week Run-Through”. Each of these meeting titles is quick and to-the-point and allows for each participant to know exactly what the goal that is to be accomplished is.
3) Create a meeting template that participants fill
In the same meeting invite, include the shared document that has the meeting template in the invite as well.
There were so many times during internships and in college that I wish I had access to the meeting outline beforehand to either input any information on my hand throughout the days leading up to the meeting or to run through what others have put to give me context heading into the meeting.
So many meetings waste precious minutes making sure every member has access to this document, opens the document, and inputs their information. All of this time could have been spent beginning the meeting and getting through it quicker.
In regards to the template itself, there are a few things you should always include.
- An engaging ice-breaker. This should be included at the very start of the meeting to start the meeting off on a light note. Many meeting-goers hate ice-breakers, I sure did but there is a strong difference between a bad ice-breaker and a productive one. A meeting organizer has to ensure that the ice-breaker is a unique meeting to meeting and promotes creativity. Asking work-related ice-breakers such as “best work moment from this past week” does not keep members engaged. What I have found is to go here for the most interesting ice-breakers for inspiration. For instance, one of my most recent meetings started with “if you were to only leave 3 applications on your phone, which would they be?” This was a question that created tremendous discussion across the group on the utilization of the apps that were being selected.
- Analyze the previous day/week. This applies to daily stand-ups or weekly run-throughs. In order to ensure that an organization constantly improves is to look back at its strengths and weaknesses and revise. This should be done after the ice-breaker as that is when the information is most prevalent; the moment current and future organizational points are discussed, previous days/weeks are left behind. In addition, in order to make current and future organizational discussion productive, there needs to be an analysis of the previous day/week to iterate. Including a roundtable discussion where all members of the group are encouraged to speak and share promotes an environment of comfort that brings about the most information discussed.
- Team member updates. Create a table for members to input any updates they have that pertain to the meeting and go through each member one by one. This generates inclusivity and briefs the other members on what the members are doing.
- Discuss the meeting objective. This is the meat of the meeting and should take the majority of the time. The objective was outlined by the meeting title, now it is time to discuss it. There are a few ways to go about this. The meeting leader can discuss what the objective’s content is if it is a meeting that is to share information with participants. The objective can also be discussed by having participants throw-in their ideas and suggestions into the template, creating a laissez-faire meeting structure.
- Future steps. Following the discussion of the objective and having members share their thoughts, it is imperative to end the meeting with roles and responsibilities for each participant, even if it is something that does not change. This serves as a reminder for the participants as well as allows other members to know who to connect with for any inquiry on a specific subject.
These templates should be shared in a document that is editable by all members and is available to all members in the future, as reference. This template serves as meeting minutes and should thus be the focal point of the meeting to ensure accountability and transparency across the organization.
I have found that in templates, including emojis brings both color and additional structure. Emojis for computer use can be found here. These emojis usually go beside the larger bullet points and add as differentiators for each large section of the template, ensuring that a reader knows a new part of the meeting is being discussed by the presence of an emoji. Additionally, it adds creativity into an otherwise dull template.
It is of the essence to designate at least 2 roles per meeting.
- The meeting conductor. This role is usually taken by the person that organized the meeting. They ensure that the meeting is running smoothly and that the objective of the meeting is accomplished. For meetings in which there is supposed to be discussion, the conductor is the one who commands the discussion but not the conversation. By this, the conductor fosters a discussion that has a contribution from all the team members, not just a few. The conductor usually has the front most seat to allow for visibility by all members as well as the greatest voice projection.
- Note-taker. Although the template described above is shared with all members to allow for contributions my everyone, there are moments where the discussion will be based around verbal communication which can become burdensome for each member to write down their points. In order to prevent this, a designated note-taker allows for members to freely discuss and the note-taker to write the most pertinent points being shared. This is not to say that the note-taker cannot contribute, their moment of discussion can be written by another member.
Follow a strict schedule
The biggest complaint with meetings across the board is the timeliness of them.
So many meetings run an extra 5, 10 minutes which may seem minuscule but can amount to large chunks of time when totaled together. Meeting participants also engage in various other meetings and prior commitments that they schedule around each other and when one goes into overtime, the whole schedule may go into flux.
Respecting people’s time will make people respect meetings and cultivate a productive atmosphere for the allotted time that the meeting is slotted for.
Meetings are everchanging, particularly in this age of working from home so it is imperative to make everyone as impactful and engaging as possible. Developing an office culture that is engaging and productive is done first and foremost through the moments of pre-determined interaction, meetings.
I would love to hear from you on what has and has not worked in your meeting experiences below!