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4 suggestions for having better meetings

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Effective meetings

Effective meetings

4 suggestions for having better meetings

By Douglas Vermeeren

If you’re like me meetings are a part of your everyday life. You attend meetings through out the day at work, meetings with your team, meetings with you boss, a sales presentation, a meeting with a client, you might even attend meetings during the week outside of work,  for your church or for a community organization. And at home there will be even more meetings waiting for you as a spouse needs to discuss a child’s behavior, the family budget or  an upcoming holiday. Meetings are all around us.

While some meetings are more formal than others, the quality of any organization is amplified or diminished by the quality of it’s meetings.

If you are a leader of other people, a manager, a team leader, a CEO, a head of an organization or even a parent in a family. You will need to learn how to improve your skills in a meeting and working with other people in groups. The following are four suggestions that will help in all meeting settings:

Prepare – Preparation is an important factor in creating successful meetings. Too often most people limit their view of what a meeting is. They think it consists of a beginning and middle and an end. They often assume that just showing up and getting into the groove of things as the meeting begins will create fantastic results.  While we don’t have time in this setting to share all the elements of a correct meeting, let me add one significant addition to the beginning, middle and end tradition. That addition is preparation.

Preparation can take place in many ways. It can cover everything from establishing a venue, to building a power point presentation, to inviting attendees and so forth. The one element of preparation that I would like to focus on in this conversation is simply think about what you want to accomplish at the meeting, prepare how you will present your position and determine ahead of time what success looks like.

If you go into the meeting knowing what you want, prepared with a way to discuss what you want your chances of getting it increase dramatically.

As I have met with business leaders and high level executives through out my business career I have found one common thing amongst them. They don’t have time for chit chat and to fiddle around an idea before getting to the heart of a matter. If you are not prepared for a meeting you often don’t get a second chance.

And if you are supposed to be a leader of people, yet you continually conduct meetings without preparation you will soon find people less than eager to attend your meetings.

Yet if you are prepared ahead of time and know precisely what you want you will gain the respect of others and the next time you call for a meeting those attending will know that they can count on you to be prepared and the time will be worth while.

Action point: Prepare ahead of time. Make an agenda or even a meeting plan that can keep you on track with the most important issues. And if you are a meeting attendee make notes ahead of time in regards to things that you want to address or have questions about. it’s always a good idea to share those questions prior to the meeting with the group leader so these can be addressed.

Use your time well – Of all the resources we have as humans, the most fragile and difficult to replace is our time. As far as meetings go the idea that ‘if you plan to use three hours for a meeting, it will take three hours’ is true. It is important to remember that the amount of time you spend in a meeting isn’t what makes the meeting successful, rather meeting success is measure by what is accomplished. Often times the most difficult issues do not take long to solve when the attention of a group is focused and concentrated.

How you use your time in a meeting also sets the pace of everything outside of the meeting as well. If leaders show that they understand the importance of time in the meeting they train their teams to respect time outside the meeting.

Always start and end on time. If something wasn’t covered that needs to be covered schedule a second meeting in the near future. in my experience with meetings I have found that once a leader violates a commitment to keep a meeting within a specific time frame he begins to lose the trust and confidence of his team.

Here are two suggestion to help you keep on track with time. In meeting agendas I try to assign the discussion topics a specific discussion time limit. I assign a team member to watch a timer and keep us on track. With the items listed in priority the most important issues are addressed and solve first.

The second suggestion in regards to time is to have every keep time. At the beginning of a meeting it is a fantastic idea to have everyone pull out their smart phones and set the timer to countdown the time of the meeting. This let’s everyone know you mean business, time is valuable and is a subtle way of reminding people to keep their thoughts and comments on track.

I remember the first business meeting that I did this with. I set my smart phone with the timer counting down in the middle of the table and expressed that we only had a limited amount of time to talk today and that I wanted to respect his business schedule.  The person I was meeting appreciated the gesture and felt impressed that we had made the time to be together specific and valuable.  That may have been reward enough, but I really saw it pay off in a big way when his phone rang in the middle of our conversation. But rather than answer it he clicked it to off and said, “I’ll get that later. We’re almost of time.”

Time is valuable. How you use it will teach others much about how you do business and take care of other things in your life.

And no… Meetings don’t have to take an hour. That feeling of having hour meetings is a left over from our days in school. School classes were an hour so most people feel that a good meeting ought to be the same. My most effective meetings are 15 minutes for small issues, 45 minutes for larger issues. Aiming at under an hour also changes the way our brain thinks about communication. For some reason in our minds there is the idea that an hour is a long time and so most people are a little more casual and chatty in an hour meeting, yet just a small shift to 45 minutes makes us a little more careful and we focus more carefully on the heart of the matter.

Take notes – Naturally we’ve all heard about how taking notes increases our ability to recall and remember information. You’ve also probably heard about how writing things down in a meeting shows respect to the speaker. You may even have thought that by writing things down you are creating a great record of your groups minutes. All of these things are true.

But I’d like to add one more than is important to consider in a meeting setting. The principle is called ‘Group Awareness.’ Group Awareness is a principle of accountability. If a concern or suggestion is brought forward in a meeting and no one cares or shows interest, the possibility of something happening to solve it or address it diminishes. By creating group awareness a subtle pressure is created in the group. If someone commits to do something or finds an answer and they see that a note has been made of it they are now more likely to follow through.  And naturally if that person in the group see you taking notes on their commitments too they will also make sure they have it recorded correctly. And when people feel that their commitment to perform has been noted their performance usually happens.

Taking notes in meetings is a must. I still remember the first significant full day meeting I went to as a 19 year old. I did not take notes in that meeting. I did not even have a note book with me. The leader of the meeting afterwards mentioned he noticed that I didn’t have a note book with me. He didn’t ask me why there was no notebook, instead he asked what did I learn today.

I told him a few things that I remembered, which wasn’t very much much. He asked, “Is that what you got out of the entire day?” I was embarrassed and I shrugged. He smiled and gave me a folder, “This is the only time I will lend you my notes. Take a look and see what you missed.”

As I looked through his notes, I remembered things that he had talked about that I had forgotten. some of the things that he had talked about were not only important to our organization, but personally important to me too.

As I read the notes my leader gave me I made a commitment to take notes in all meetings I would attend forever after.

Make specific arrangements for follow up – One complaint I commonly hear about meetings is that there seems to be a cycle of discussion and resolutions, but once outside of the boardroom nothing happens. Because nothing happens people get discouraged and begin to question the point of meetings at all.

So why is it that people do not follow through with what is discussed in meetings? While there can be many reasons, the most common that I have seen is unclear expectations. As I have taught goal setting a saying that I came up with seems also to fit here. “ A goal that is specific and clear, becomes attainable and near.”

When tasks assigned are specific and clear they become much easier to complete and report on.  Clarity is key.  These objectives should also be correctly sized. If something is too big it can be overwhelming. If it is too small it can be simply forgotten.  It should be something that can be accomplished in a reasonable effort and reported back to the group. It should be clear what is expected and also how the report will be returned to the group.

Reporting and follow up should be prompt. In many of the meetings I attend I try to avoid having the report take place in the next meeting. Firstly it does take up precious meeting time. But more importantly as time passed between the assigned task and the time to report it enthusiasm also passes. If follow up is arranged to take place quickly after the meeting then chances are more likely that the task will be complete. General the most effective way I have seen to conduct reporting like this is to have the group leader connect by phone with the person completing the task and then to email or text all in the group to inform them of the results.

If the task did not go smoothly, report that as well. But try to find the positive in the outcome. Always be wise enough to accept the best efforts of your team and provide additional support and help where needed. If you report back the failures and frustrations you will soon find your team will discontinue to function as a team and the progress will stop.

Here is a sample text I set out in regards to a challenge that one of my staff had. (Names changed to protect my friends.) “Hey Everybody, Nick has bumped into a challenge with finding a way to ship our packages for event in Las Vegas. Does anyone have any thoughts on another way to solve this or help Nick get this done quickly. Contact either myself or Nick if you have some ideas. Thanks everybody.”  You’ll notice that the blame for the incomplete task doesn’t put the blame on Nick and it also doesn’t take the task away from Nick. Instead it invites the support of others and continues to demonstrate respect and confidence in Nick’s ability to get the job done.

I hope that these four suggestions have been useful for you. Please pop by again for more tips on how to have more effective meetings.

Douglas Vermeeren is a business meeting specialist who helps companies, teams and individuals get the most out of their meetings.

This Article may be reprinted without permission as long as the writer credit appears along side the article.