Meetings can be a huge waste of time in office culture. And 5 out of 10 times they’re unnecessary….or at least grossly inefficient.
That said, face-to-face meetings can be tremendously valuable.
If you’ve ever attended a well-run meeting, it’s like a symphony. Everyone working together. Everyone communicating in harmony. There’s an exchange of energy that palpable—and it’s something you can’t replicate over email or even over the phone.
Being able to effectively lead a meeting is a hallmark of a skilled professional. But how do you know if you’re doing it right?
Are you the guy whose meetings are all over the place? Or is every meeting you run a well-oiled machine?
In this video, I share 8 simple tips for running more effective meetings.
1. Figure Out if the Meeting is Even Necessary
Some things by their very nature are not good use of group time. Could this be better handled via email or using some other feedback tool offline (like Basecamp, or even a pdf commenting tool)?
If you’re asking everyone to review and provide comments on a huge document they’ve never seen before, you may be better served by having each person review offline.
On the other hand, items that are sensitive or require significant back and forth are good use of meeting time, because sometimes you can come up with ideas or solutions on the spot that wouldn’t have come up if you didn’t have a chance to discuss them live.
2. Ensure Only the Key People are Invited to the Meeting
A meeting is resource-intensive. Most people think when they schedule a 1-hour meeting, it’s just using up 1 hour of time. Not so! It’s actually 1 hour multiplied by the number of people you have in the meeting.
So a 30-minute meeting with 2 people is only 1 “people-hour.” But invite a few more people—say you have 8 people in that conference room—and all of the sudden it’s 4 people-hours.
And if you multiply that by your salaries or your billable hourly rate, you see how quickly the cost of mismanaged meetings can add up.
To help reduce your meeting invite list, choose delegates from departments and tell them it’s their job to report back to their department and represent their interests.
3. Set Expectations With Meeting Attendees
Have a clear objective…and an agenda. Planning a meeting without an objective is like booking a ticket to a random place without knowing why you’re going there.
And planning a meeting without a clear objective is one of the most inconsiderate things you can do to your attendees.
Everyone’s already strapped—they’ve got hundreds of emails sitting in their inboxes waiting to be read…and now they have to sit in a meeting and watch you figure out your @%$# in real time?
- Know why you’re having the meeting
- Know what you expect to accomplish IN the meeting, and
- Have a rough agenda
You don’t need a typed agenda for a 30-minute or 1-hour meeting. But beyond 1 hour, an agenda is critical to keep the team on track.
And on that note: don’t be beholden to the usual meeting blocks of 30 minutes or 1 hour. Sometimes all you need is a quick 15 minute touch base.
This “scrum” style meeting is popular with tech teams. They often do these standing up, where everyone quickly talks about what they’re working on or any issues they’re encountering before getting back to work.
4. The Meeting Begins When You Send Out the Invite
This is a big one. The novice meeting organizer thinks to himself “Ok, we need to have a meeting to figure out X” and then sets up the meeting and checks it off the list.
But the true meeting master thinks about how he can prepare the meeting attendees ahead of time so the meeting is as productive and smooth as possible.
For example, if you’re planning to convey a bunch of information and the goal is to discuss it and make some decision during the meeting, maybe you need to give your invitees some pre-homework.
Don’t use the meeting to convey the information; use the time to discuss everyone’s feedback. Because THAT is good use of group time.
Instead of going through 40 slides of information and immediately asking for feedback, send out your deck or other background material ahead of time. Tell everyone to come prepared with their comments.
Or, even better, ask everyone to submit their comments to you half a day before the meeting. That way you can organize the feedback and prepare it for discussions during the meeting.
Best case, after reviewing everyone’s comments, you may be able to say “guys, we all seem to agree on doing X. I don’t think we even need to have a meeting. Unless anyone objects, I’m going to do X as a next step.”
5.“Prewire” Meetings that Involve Important or Controversial Topics
By the way, thanks to Bruce over at ProjectManagementHacks.com for introducing me to this term. I was familiar with the concept and had used it before—but I never had a word for it. I would also recommend checking out Bruce’s article on effective meetings.
As you know, with meetings you want to aim for (1) no surprises, and (2) agreement—or at least a smooth discussion from all parties.
But often, if you’re dealing with a particularly critical or sensitive topic, there’s no telling how people might react during the meeting—and what land mines you’ll hit that might derail the conversation.
Do yourself a favor and set up one-on-one time with key players to get a sense of their thoughts on the issue. Even if you don’t see completely eye-to-eye, worst case, you’ve allowed them to air their viewpoint and potentially pre-empted an eruption during the meeting.
Best case, you’ve found a way to gain agreement so you can be completely aligned during the meeting.
A more everyday example of when “pre-wiring” is handy might be simply managing your boss:
Often you run into that awkward situation where you start running a meeting, and your boss, or some other high-level executive, interrupts the meeting because they don’t agree with how you want to use the meeting time.
This is super frustrating (and embarrassing), but you can avoid it by previewing the agenda with those people ahead of time.
Usually, you can send it to them and say “unless I hear back form you, this is how I’m proceeding.” But for a really important meeting, I would recommend printing it out and physically reviewing it with them for 3-5 minutes. Look them in the eye and explicitly say “I want to get your buy off on this—I really want to make sure we’re a unified front during the meeting.” Or depending on your relationship, you can even tease them about their tendency to take over your meetings.
6. Actively Manage Your Meetings
Ideally, you want to have a reputation for being the guy where all your meeting end early have a harmonious air about them. Time is precious, and if you can bring a group to consensus and save people a little time, then you’ll be a hero.
To do this, you need to keep the meeting on track. If the conversation gets off topic, you need to bring it back to your original objective, by using the agenda.
Note: if real “magic” is happening, don’t interrupt. The main thing to watch for is sidebar conversations that can be handled later.
The simple trick of having a “parking lot” on a white board or a flip chart can be a great way to neutralize discussions. Just capture the idea and say “that’s great—let’s put that in the parking lot so we can come back to that great idea later.” This acknowledges the contribution but redirects focus back to the agenda.
Your job as meeting organizer is to not only be time-cop but also referee. If one person is dominating the conversation, you may need to gently interrupt them and encourage discussion from other team members. “You’ve made a lot of great points Bill. If you don’t mind I’d really like to hear Jane’s perspective as well. Thanks.”
7. Agree on Next Steps During the Meeting
As you go through your agenda, be sure to clearly agree on next steps before moving on to the next item. If a new team procedure was decided or if someone has been tasked to follow up on something, go out of your way to make sure everyone is clear on the next action—you need to get “jazz hands” about it.
As a best practice, you—or someone else you’ve tasked with taking notes—should send out a meeting summary documenting the decisions made and next steps.
For most industries, exhaustive “meeting minutes” aren’t necessary. But you should at least capture, in bullet point form, any next step, who’s responsible…and include a time frame if possible. i.e. “Kyle to follow-up with developer by Monday to ask about XYZ.”
8. Bring Donuts!
Seriously. It helps. If you start bringing donuts to your meetings (A) attendance will improve, I guarantee, and (B) you’ll have the meeting attendees in the palm of your hand.
It’s amazing how a little deep fried sugar, fat and flour can improve team productivity.
For about 3 years I brought donuts when I visited one of my big clients (which ironically was a toothbrush company—but hey, everyone loves sugary sweets).
It was a big hit, and my ever-present pink pastry box became a running joke. The Director of Marketing would always say “Now whenever I see Kyle, I start salivating.”
It was a great conversation starter and a great way to begin each meeting with a smile.
Plus, donuts are an ideal way to bribe your internal team as well—especially if you learn what kinds of donuts everyone likes. “Sam, I need you to handle that project. Remember, I did get you an extra Maple Bar. ‘Cause I KNOW it’s your favorite…”
Conclusion: More Effective Meetings Aren’t That Difficult
So remember, not everything is worthy of an in-person meeting. There are a lot of times when you’re way better off delivering information via email or getting group input through a collaboration tool like Basecamp. But when a meeting is necessary, following these simple tips will go a long way to making your meeting as efficient and effective as possible.
What other tactics have you tried for making meeting run more efficiently? Let me know in the comments.