I’m not sure it’s possible to dislike meetings more than I do. Sure, I get their value (sometimes) and sure, there are some dynamics within the group face-to-face interaction that are worthwhile, but for the most part, they chip away at my soul little by little and reduce me to internal tears typically.

Let me clarify what I mean by meeting.

This is the “we all should get together and talk about this thing” meeting.
This is the “it’s on the calendar so get ready to dial in” meeting.
This is the “we need to block off a whole day to figure this out” meeting.
This is the “boss is in the office and wants to meet” meeting.
This is the “where are we at on this project?” meeting.
The reason I believe many meetings are massively unproductive are that they are not set up for success from the start. When you schedule me for a day-long meeting, there is a certain mode I get in for that type of meeting. I’m preparing for the long haul. I know there are going to be breaks and tangents and unfortunately probably a lot of PowerPoint. Whereas when I have a 15-minute meeting? Not a lot of time for small talk. We have stuff to figure out and need a decision now.

You can sense the difference even in the intention.

If you must have a longer-than-15-minute meeting, here’s some tips I would like to throw your way:

  • Have a clear, aggressively paced schedule.

    Yes, there are breaks, but if you’re going to get me in a room for while, let’s get some major work done. Think through all the people you have at that room. They calculate the hourly cost of each person. Then do the math. For most businesses, their meetings cost THOUSANDS of dollars an hour when you have larger meetings. Let that inspire a productive time.

  • Make your agenda actionable.

    Sometimes there is value in review, but for the most part, there should be a decision that needs to come out of the meeting. There should be some action to take. Make sure the agenda is designed in a way to make that meeting effective.

  • Give people time to prepare.

    Not just for presenters, this step to me is critical. It’s one thing if I know the agenda. It’s another if I know that we are going to have a discussion about something. If I have to weigh in and decisions need to be made, give me a head start. I can research and think about some of your questions before I even get there. How many meetings have you been in where one of the key stakeholders says, “Off the top of my head I would say…” We don’t need that. We need people who have thought the idea through and really have some insight. Sure, you might be an insightful person, but even just having 5-10 minutes to think something through before hand can change the whole outcome.

  • Set the room up for success.

    Do we all have to just face a screen all day? Can we have your slides as notes and look at each other face-to-face? I know, the trees…but half the time people are taking notes anyway. Just print out what you want us to see and we can have something tangible to read through and even take home with us.

  • Laptops down. Phones off.

    The most productive meetings I have ever been in are the ones where nobody is on a laptop, we’re all circled around in a group at table or sitting in chairs and just working through the items. While it’s great that you’ve figured out how to watch the World Cup on your laptop, not entirely appropriate while there is a presentation going on.

I must admit, there are times when I don’t follow my own advice. It takes time to run effective meetings and sometimes I just don’t have the time. However, if there is a large meeting planned, a day-long board room bonanza, consider some of the ideas above if you are running that meeting.

Anyone else have any tips for successful meetings? Any horror stories you would like to share?

Photo credit: markhillary

With over a decade of experience, I have managed online marketing for a wide range of industries including biotech, high-tech, financial, higher education, non-profit, manufacturing, hardware providers, and startups. My specialty is helping business make the right turn with their online efforts focusing on lead generation and analytics.

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