Three things that make meetings succeed (or fail).
I’m am a meetings apologist. (But I won’t apologize for apologizing.)
Let’s face it: Meetings have a bad reputation. They’re called useless, a waste of time, a way to distract people from “real” work.
I call bullshit.
Meetings can be downright magical—I’ve seen it! People enter a room empty handed and leave with an incredible idea. They plan a project. They agree on a direction. They talk and listen to one another. Ideas come together in a way that never would have happened if everyone was working on their own.
The real problem is that we let bad meetings happen (and happen over and over again), so that all meetings start to get categorized as “bad.” People stop showing up on time (if at all). They half-ass their input. Or they sit glued to their laptop working on something else (admit it, we all do it).
Instead of dismissing meetings, how about making them better And here’s the thing: it’s actually not hard. It just takes this little thing I like to call *planning*.
Here are three things I know (from personal experience) make meetings better:
1. Have a Goal
The process of finding a time (and space) that accommodate a million different schedules is daunting. So daunting, I honestly can’t believe anyone would schedule a meeting without first knowing why they’re calling the meeting.
By a goal, I don’t just mean saying “this is about X client on Y topic” and putting that in the name of the meeting invite. I have seen this trick. I am not fooled.
A goal is knowing what you want to get out of putting a group of people in a room together. The goal should be something tangible (like a proposal outline for a project) and something achievable (like a decision on which piece of content to produce).
A goal too obtuse, people will get lost. A goal too big, the meeting will run on forever or collapse at the start.
Not sure what the goal of your meeting is? Don’t schedule the meeting until you figure it out. Take a step back and think through what you need in order to move a project forward.
2. Create an Agenda
I doubt I am the first person to tell you this, but let me be the most recent: Every single meeting should have an agenda. Period.
Don’t tell me you don’t have time. Writing an agenda can take as little as ten minutes. Hell, write it on a post-it note and it takes all of two minutes.
“But I have a goal,” you say!
“I don’t need an agenda,” you say!
“I can keep things on track,” you say!
I say sit down.
The only way you’re going to keep a room of people on track — and moving toward your goal (see above) — is if you have a piece of paper in front of you that says what you’re going to talk about, and when.
I’m a flexible person. Some agendas are made to broken. But have something to break. Know the topics you need to cover and an estimate of how long you’ll need to cover them.
When I craft agendas for workshops and brainstorms, I’ve been known to schedule down to 5 minute intervals. Time is valuable. And if people feel like you’ve valuing their time, they’ll be more likely to participate, and more willing to come to meetings in the future.
Here’s a little secret: Having an agenda means you get to yell at people. Okay fine, not yell. But it does mean you have the authority to move conversations along or halt rogue tangents. You’re the boss. You have the agenda.
Pro tip: Send your agenda ahead of the meeting to get buy-in. This allows you to show that a) this is a serious meeting; and b) gives attendees the opportunity to make suggestions.
3. Cast the Right People
Instead of thinking of it as scheduling a meeting, think of it as casting a meeting. Your job is to pull together the right mix of people for the task at hand. That doesn’t necessarily mean more people. Actually, it often means less.
There are three key things to consider when casting a meeting:
First, you need the people who can make your goal achievable. If the goal of your meeting is to land on a decision and the key decision maker is missing…what is the point? Meeting ruined. Go home.
I know key folks are often busy and hard to schedule, but they’re important. Having them in a meeting makes everyone take the time more seriously.
So here another pro-tip: Pull your key attendee aside and explain why you need them in the meeting. Maybe they’ll hand over authority to someone else. But more often than not, they’ll show up knowing their time and presence is valued, and they’ll be willing to participate.
On the flip side, a key piece of casting a meeting is knowing when to excuse people. Sure, there *feelings* to consider. But how many times have you been told you don’t need to be in a meeting and felt sad? Zero.
If you don’t think someone is vital to the meeting — you don’t believe that the person will contribute to the meeting without distracting or detracting— don’t invite them.
If you’re worried about political fall-out, pull that person aside and tell them what’s up. You can offer to share notes after a meeting, brief them on decisions, or loop them into follow-up conversations—whatever satisfies their needs.
The worst thing to happen is you invite a senior person because you “have to” and that person spends the meeting looking at Instagram, or worse, doing other work. That sets a bad tone and sends an immediate message that this meeting isn’t important. Don’t just invite someone for the sake of seniority.
The third thing to think about when casting a meeting is finding the right mix of personalities. Too many introverts, and you’ll end up with a silent meeting. Too many extraverts (note to self here), and you’ll wind up with a couple of people talking over the rest of the group, who are just sitting quietly on the sidelines praying for the meeting to end. You want to find the right balance.
To sum it up, think carefully about who’s in the room. And don’t be afraid to leave people off the invite list.
So those are my three tips: know your goal, craft an agenda, and pick your people.
Goal + Agenda + Cast = Great meeting
Try it for your next meeting. Tell me how it goes.