How To (Really) Have Really Awesome Meetings

How To (Really) Have Awesome Meetings

All meetings should be good great really awesome meetings

There are no excuses. Amazing how some people can get it so wrong…

A few weeks ago I wrote a silly little tongue-in-cheek article (which my own wife read, took seriously then told me she ‘didn’t get’…).

Despite it’s silliness, the article was intended to tell you how to have better meetings by way of some reverse logic and maybe a little sarcasm.

If you want to check it out it’s here: 10 Ways To Impress Your Boss In Your Next Meeting.

Remember, I was kidding in that article.

Anyways, let’s now take a (ahem, serious) look at what you really should be doing so that you have great meetings.

What Makes A Great Meeting

Before we look at how to have great meetings, let’s consider what makes a great meeting in the first place.

Take a moment to think of what it would take for you to walk away from a meeting and say to yourself “That was a great meeting.”

For me, a great meeting will achieve one or more of the following outcomes:

  • Decisions: The meeting caused some agreements or key decisions to be made
  • Guidance: The meeting provided some needed guidance or direction to participants
  • Knowledge: New information was shared in the meeting & new knowledge gained as a result
  • Networking: New key relationships were formed thanks to the meeting which otherwise wouldn’t have happened
  • Actions: Actions were assigned, plans updated or issues resolved by the meeting in a way that helped participants move forward

In all of these cases the meeting is only worthwhile if the outcomes wouldn’t have happened without the meeting.

For example, if you had a meeting and made some new friends but these were neither key relationships, nor people who you necessarily needed to have a meeting with to meet (e.g. you could have just been introduced by a colleague down the pub or by the lifts) and no other objectives were achieved by the meeting, then this was not a good meeting.

If however, you set up a meeting specifically to make a new connection, perhaps a lead, key client or potential employer and that connection was well established, then this was a successful meeting (from a networking perspective).

If you have a steering committee meeting for a project which is running just fine, but this is a standing meeting that you have every week, then this is not a useful meeting as the project doesn’t need any guidance and it’s a waste of the (presumably senior) participants time – in this case you should be asking whether the meeting should be moved to a less frequent basis (e.g. monthly) or perhaps even ad-hoc, called when needed (whilst being prepared to change back to a more regular basis should the project need more steering).

If you have a project which is stalled and the project team either don’t realize or are out of ideas and a steering committee can offer guidance to help get the project back on track, then this was a successful meeting.

If you have a meeting where lots of things seem to be agreed but then later none of the agreed things actually happen (because dates weren’t agreed, things weren’t documented, people forgot or more than one person agreed to each item and some of them fell between the cracks), then this may have seemed like a productive meeting, but was actually the opposite.

So what makes a great meeting for you?

11 Tips For Better Meetings

Here are some tips which are a more straight-up version of what I put in that last article and should help achieve some of the outcomes I mentioned above…

1. Always Have An Agenda

This is simple and has lots of benefits.

It takes no time at all, and is easier and easier with practice.

My suggestion would be to stick to a really simple agenda using simple text, sent well in advance of the meeting to propose what will be discussed, when, by whom and for how long.

i.e. the agenda could simply be a numbered list of items, followed by the initials of the person leading that discussion and how much time from the meeting you’d propose assigning to that item).

The content of the agenda is far more important than the way it looks.

Adding a time per item (and ‘owner’) helps a great deal to plan your meetings and see just how much time you really have to discuss things. It focuses the mind and leads to far more objective meetings.

Note: this doesn’t mean your meetings have to be rigid and formal, you can assign time to fun items in meetings just as easily as serious things.

If you want more flexibility in your meetings, plan for this in your agenda.

For long meetings plan time for breaks, coffee etc.

It’s also a good idea in any meeting to have a little time at the start for introduction(s) either of participants or of the meeting – even if just 5 minutes, this also provides some, if only a little cover for late-comers before getting into the main agenda points of the meeting.

The content of the agenda is far more important than the way it looks.

What about those benefits?

Here they are, get into the habit of always proposing an agenda and you will reap the following benefits:

  • people will see you as more organised
  • you will be more organised
  • more people will want to come to your meetings
  • getting agendas out early helps everyone prepare for the meeting & gives all attendees an opportunity to propose discussion items
  • your meetings are less likely to overrun
  • your meetings are less likely to get sidetracked and miss their objectives
  • it’s easier to track what has and hasn’t been discussed
  • it’s easier to document the meeting
  • the meeting will be more structured and run in a more timely fashion

P.S. If you’d like to join a discussion about what makes a great agenda, there will be an article about this on the Networking Secrets website – sign-up at networkingsecrets.net if you’d like to be notified when the site launches and join that discussion.

2. Send Out Invites in a Timely Fashion

Nobody likes finding out about meetings at the last minute.

Don’t pass your disorganisation on to your colleagues by sending them late invites.

Always try and send out meeting invites well in advance of the meeting to allow people to prepare, even if that just means allowing time in their schedule for the meeting and being aware of it (but especially if there are things that they need to do in advance of the meeting such as actions from a previous meeting or background reading).

Make it as easy as possible for people to understand where the meeting fits into their schedule … and why.

You should also be telling people all the information they need to know about the meeting in the invite, such as the time, the place, the dial-in details if it is an audio or video conference (whether for some or all of the participants), what will be discussed (the agenda), and whether each person’s attendance is expected/mandated or optional.

We don’t really want to be using the term ‘firedrill‘ at all, but you certainly don’t want it to apply to your meetings.

3. Know Your Objectives

You should know in advance of having the meeting what the meeting is for.

It’s amazing how many standing meetings take place in large corporates which don’t really achieve much apart from perhaps a nice feeling of routine and order.

If you don’t need a meeting, don’t have one!

If you do have a meeting, then make sure it’s clear to all attendees what the purpose of the meeting is – is it for knowledge sharing, decision making, networking… a combination?

You should know in advance of having the meeting what the meeting is for.

It’s fine to have an informal meeting with pretty loose objectives, but at least make this clear before the meeting so attendees know what to expect and whether they need to attend or not.

A common problem when meetings have a lack of clarity around objectives (which a lot do) is that the meeting tends to spill-over into follow-on meetings until eventually the outcomes are reached or forgotten, meaning a lot more time is wasted than if the focus and objectives of the meeting were made clear from the start.

As with having a clear agenda, having clearly stated objectives of the meeting aids good communication and has all kinds of other benefits, not least being that it’s a great deal more efficient than stumbling into a meeting with people not really knowing why they’re there.

4. Agree The Scope of the Meeting

Agree the scope of the meeting either in the meeting or in advance of the meeting.

This will depend upon the subject area to be discussed and the culture of the organization/individuals involved.

Sometimes a good Agenda and clearly stated objectives are still not enough to keep a meeting on track, as perhaps certain topics could mean many things to many people, or describe an area that can be discussed at many levels. In this case, make clear the boundaries of the discussion (i.e. the scope) and what should and should not be covered in this meeting.

5. Encourage Equal and Open Communication in the Meeting

The dynamics of a meeting can often change considerably depending upon who is involved.

If key stakeholders in a meeting tend to take the floor, then that’s fine and arguing against this could be more than your jobs worth.

However there are various strategies which can be employed to involve everyone in the discussion. You could simply encourage quieter participants to join the discussion by politely asking for their thoughts or facilitate the meeting in a more creative way using brainstorming, white-boarding techniques or something like systems theory or de-Bono’s 6 hats to provide a framework which encourages different perspectives and involves everybody (more on some of these creative meeting management techniques in a future article).

Again, on this point, a clear Agenda with timings and named owners of each Agenda item should be enough to help get everybody who needs to be involved in the discussion. Plus, if you are in the habit of producing clear and complete agendas for your meetings, communicated early, then participants will soon get the hang of how you run your show.

6. If Your In A Meeting, Participate!

When attending other people’s meetings, watch your body language.

Remain attentive and listen. The majority of our communication actually comes from our body language so be mindful of this. If you show a lack of interest and participation in other people’s meetings, don’t be too surprised if they show a lack of interest in yours.

Participating and helping the meeting to be the best it can be is the best use of your time – you are there anyway, so might as well make the time as productive as possible.

7. Keep The Meeting Upbeat

Keep the meeting upbeat and encourage open communication and participation from all involved.

A well run meeting is hugely different to a stale, run-of-the-mill meeting which everyone got bored with a long time ago.

You want attendees to want to be there and to participate (otherwise what is the point of them being in the meeting).

8. Follow-Up

After the meeting follow up in a timely fashion.

Keep it brief and simple, if you want to send out minutes after the meeting, try and do so within 24 hours.

Instead of detailed minutes (XX said this, then YY said that) which are not really much use to anybody, take a long time to write and a long time to read, consider documenting just the key decisions and actions from the meeting and nothing else.

Consider documenting just the key decisions and actions from the meeting and nothing else.

Don’t forget to thank people for there attendance and if there is to be another meeting, you might want to give them a heads-up of when that will be (or when it’s likely to be if you don’t yet know for definite).

9. Make Sure You Have The Right Attendees

If you have the wrong people in the room, don’t be afraid to propose a change of personnel in your meeting.

A meeting (especially in a corporate environment) is often a costly endeavor (work it out by taking the estimated hourly rate of each person in the room and adding them all together – was the outcome from the meeting worth that much? – for a successful meeting the answer should be ‘yes, easily so’).

Obviously this isn’t something which should be discussed in the meeting itself and may need careful handling, but at the end of the day, in business, a meeting is a vehicle to achieve one of the outcomes above, and that happens by way of getting a team together (the people in the meeting) who are trying to make that happen. Something that will make a huge impact to the success or failure of your meetings is whether or not you have the right people in that team.

10. Provide Materials

Provide materials if it’s a physical meeting with many attendees. Find out in advance how many will need materials and take an extra copy.

We can argue about how many wasted trees we’re consuming with all the printing, but at the end of the day the main cost is the people cost and making the meetings as efficient and friction-free as possible (friction would be if one of your key attendees starts to kick-off because they weren’t told they needed to bring copies of the papers and you all waste 5-10 minutes of the meeting with a pointless discussion about it.)

11. Track Attendance

If you have a regular meeting where a lot gets discussed, particularly if the meeting is across functions, geographies or departments, is to track the attendance of the meeting.

Tracking attendance of such meetings helps to explain when certain areas are not engaged or on-board with the latest actions, agreements or decisions (because they weren’t at the meeting).

Tracking attendance will help you to spot a lack of engagement early and do something about it. In order to aid a good attendance to your meetings it is also a good idea to suggest up front who you really want to be at the meeting, but to tell them that if they can’t make it they should send a delegate to attend on their behalf.

Final Thought

So there you have it, some tips for really good meeting management. We could go a little more in depth with some of these and cover tips and tricks which apply specifically to different styles of meetings but the above should work for any meeting.

Overall I’d advocate having all of the usual professional disciplines which make for good meeting management (i.e. an agenda, objectives, agreed scope, good communication, the right attendees, good participation, documented outcomes, participation and attendance tracking) but keeping these as simple as they can be and stripped-back to the bare essentials (which for me means key fields and plain text format) so that you can communicate quickly and efficiently.

Over to you – any thoughts?


Comments

How To (Really) Have Really Awesome Meetings — 4 Comments

  1. Hallo there, great article, simple, and reminds us of the “101” stuff!

    One different angle with regards to minutes and their potential function: In a number of cases, minutes do not only function as the documentation of decisions and actions, but also as a “memory jogger” of “where people stand” with regards to a particular topic. This can be important when trying to devise a strategy for “selling” an idea / standpoint at a later stage of an undertaking. Minutes can also function as a means of communication of opinions of people who may not have particular authority, but who by the nature of their function play a key role in the execution of a process, and who need to feel that “they have a voice.” It is an excellent way of showing that all participants were trully heard; well, at least it is a good way of giving people that impression 😉

    So, while I agree with the abridged version of “Executive Summary” stile minutes – typically documenting the “Do” part of a meeting, I also tend to spend some time making sure that the text also reflects the “Feel” part that was shared / experienced during the meeting.

    • Hi Athina,

      thanks so much for this comment & it’s a great point about capturing the ‘feel’ of the meeting and having a ‘memory jogger’.

      I find it a very interesting point in theory, but wonder how many times though, in the busy corporate world has that actually happened that someone has gone back to read minutes a 2nd time. You can possibly think of a few occasions, but I’d be surprised if that happens on a regular basis. In my experience, in some places, it can be a challenge to get people to read minutes a first time, let alone go back and re-read them. Decision points & actions, yes but detailed minutes, not so much in my experience – they are less likely to get read at all.

      So on balance, though I do see your point and think it’s a very good one, I think in most cases, capturing the critical points and circulating these quickly is the way to go – which also means they are more likely to be read and acted upon.

      There are a few notable exceptions of course – e.g. legal situations, disciplinary meetings or other occasions where the meeting actually warrants every word being recorded (usually in this case the minutes will just be a complete transcript in any case) – and of course this whole area and what’s suitable depends and varies on the culture of the organization.

      I guess my question to you on this point would be about the trade-off between taking the time to carefully write the minutes – and presumably that would need to be careful and ‘crafted’ as you mention some sensitivity around people in the meeting feeling that they have had their voices heard, and the cost to the organization in terms of the meeting doing what it was meant to do from a business perspective and people acting upon the outcomes (decisions & actions) in a timely fashion – that includes getting the minutes written, circulated and the likelihood of all relevant parties reading & acting upon them.

      In fact, in some environments, it may be better to take some of the ‘feel’ out of the meeting by way of sticking to the facts, decisions and actions 😉

      (I can certainly think of some meetings I’ve been party to where it wouldn’t be productive for anyone to be reminded of what the feel of the meeting was like)

  2. I love what you’re saying here. More people who make meetings should read this – maybe we can bring down the number of unnecessary meetings if people actually knew how to run them.

    The two points that resonated with me were agenda and objectives. I can’t count how many meetings I’ve had where those two things were ignored. I remember having daily meetings with staff that were aimless and had no purpose. The funny thing was the climate was so repressive that no one ever dared tell the supervisor that the meetings were like that. When he asked everyone what they thought, everyone said the meetings helped and his idea to have them were good. Yet behind his back, we all hated them. I wish he had read this before starting them – we would never have had them to begin with.

    • Thanks Steve,

      I do think a lot of meetings in the corporate world are just completely unnecessary (and therefore a waste of time) but in most cases, at least many of these meetings can be hugely more efficient with just some basic changes (e.g. agenda and objectives).

      This doesn’t mean it has to be more formal which is a common excuse for why meetings don’t have these in place.

      Thanks for sharing your experience with the meetings that your colleagues secretly hated – I’ve heard a lot of stories like that…

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