For many, meetings are the bane of their lives. They can suck time out of the day, bore people to distraction, and leave attendees feeling frustrated. As the saying goes “Meetings are indispensable when you don’t want to do anything.” (JK Galbraith). And yet meetings can be crucial for decision making, problem solving, reporting, planning and brainstorming. So how can we ensure that every meeting we organise has meaning, makes a positive difference, and adds value? Here are 5 steps to guarantee meeting success every time.
Step One | Ask ‘Do we need a meeting?’
All too often people set up a meeting when a phone call, a quick conversation or even an email could suffice. When deciding whether a meeting is actually required consider the type of content that needs to be discussed, the complexity of that content, the number of people that need to be involved, whether the meeting is important for relationship building, and perhaps the personal preferences of those involved.
If you still decide that a meeting is required, the next 4 steps will be invaluable.
Step Two | Meeting Preparation
There are 5 Ps to effective meeting preparation:
The first thing to think about when preparing to organise a meeting is to decide why you are having it in the first place. A meeting to ‘discuss A-B-C’ is not a good enough reason to have a meeting. You need to be specific e.g. what is the exact objective for the meeting? What outcomes do you need to achieve? What result are you looking for? What input are you seeking? What decisions must to be made? The bottom line is that if you cannot state a clear purpose of the meeting, there should be no meeting!
Having decided the purpose of the meeting, you now need to determine the points that need to be covered i.e. what the agenda will be. Without an agenda you’re in danger of ending up with a talk-fest, and talk in business in not cheap! Within the agenda outline how long you will need for each point. This will then determine how long the meeting should last. HINT: this may come as a surprise but meetings do not have to occur in multiples of 30 minutes. If only 5 minutes are required, make it a 5 minute meeting. If 20 minutes are required, make it a 20 minute meeting. At this stage you should also need to decide who should be the meeting lead for each point that will be discussed.
PEOPLE & PLACE
Now you know what the meeting needs to cover, you can decide who needs to be there. This then might dictate where the meeting should take place both in terms of geography e.g. at the client’s office or at the contractor’s? as well as the actual room that should be booked for the meeting. You might also consider whether certain stakeholders need to be managed/informed either before or after the meeting.
PLANNING FOR SUCCESS
This is all about logistics and thinking ahead e.g. arranging the right A/V equipment to be in the room, catering for the attendees, deciding whether the agenda should be circulated in advance, and if attendees need to do any preparation or pre-reading prior to the meeting. As the meeting organiser you should also think about who, if required, will be responsible for taking the minutes of the meeting. Finally, it’s a good idea to think in advance of any questions, concerns or issues that might arise during the meeting and prepare responses to handle these.
Step 3 | Meeting Set-Up
When kicking off a meeting you might need to do introductions and explain the context for why the meeting is taking place. This can be important in terms of taking control of the meeting and ensuring everyone is ‘on the same page’. The meeting set-up is also a good time to build rapport amongst the group (believe it or not meetings can be great team building environments). Ideas for achieving this could be to acknowledging recent successes or extra effort by those at the meeting, sharing positive news with the group, wishing people good luck for an upcoming project, or even a birthday.
Most importantly though, the meeting set-up is when the purpose of the meeting is outlined, the agenda covered and timings explained.
Finally, depending on the situation, you might need to cover requests concerning the use of mobile phones, tablets, laptops etc, how interactive you expect the meeting to be, and whether or not handouts and leave-behinds will be made available.
Step 4 | Meeting Management
Meeting and time management are crucial for making sure the meeting’s objectives are met – so be vigilant. As you progress through the meeting, sum up and make a note of key outcomes/actions at the end of each point on the agenda. HINT: it can be important to check for questions or concerns before moving to the next point on the agenda to ensure you have buy-in from everyone in the group. This can prevent crippling road-blocks occurring down the track. Then clearly signpost to the group when you are about to move on to the next topic. If lengthy discussions start taking place that could de-rail timings, you need to either request that these take place at a separate time, or re-evaluate the agenda and agree meeting priorities with the group. Flexibility can be key!
Step 5 | Meeting Commitments
Too often meetings end with a limp ‘Thanks for coming’ and a failure to really cement the commitments that have been made. Instead, every meeting should have a recap that summarises all the decisions and actions that have been agreed. As part of this, the ‘next steps’ need to be clearly articulated in terms of what needs to happen, who is going to make it happen, and by when it will happen. These commitments should be included within the meeting minutes and distributed no more than 48 hours after the meeting takes place.
So wrapping up – 5 steps for making all meetings matter: always ask whether a meeting actually needs to take place. If it does, follow the 5Ps for effective meeting preparation. Use the meeting set-up to take control and get the group on the ‘same page’. Make sure you manage the meeting to ensure you achieve the objectives you set out to achieve. And always finish by summarising the commitments agreed during the meeting with detailed next steps.
Follow these steps and you won’t be guilty of contributing to our final quote by JT Kirk “A meeting is an event where minutes are taken and hours wasted.”