Meetings are an essential part of every organization. After all, they allow everyone to share and discuss any concerns or problems, as well as possible solutions. Meetings also keep everyone in the organization informed, provides training opportunities, and promotes collaboration. However, when not run properly, they can take a significant toll on you and your team.
Sitting in lengthy meetings every day adds to an already sedentary lifestyle. Since the average person already sits for 12 hours a day, this doesn’t do much to improve your health. It can lead to health concerns like diabetes and heart problems.
Additionally, unproductive meetings add to workplace stress and anxiety, decreases engagement, and can damage your brain. For example, unnecessary information overload decreases cognitive performance, concentration, and productivity. And, they can leave attendees with a sense of failure.
Considering that there are roughly 11 million meetings taking place on average every single day, with people attending around 62 meetings every month, it’s imperative that you avoid the psychological price of meetings. That may seem like an impossible task. But, it’s not as long as you know how to run a meeting properly.
Is the meeting essential?
“Before holding a meeting, it’s important to ask yourself if it’s truly worth having,” writes Max Palmer in a previous Calendar article. “Can you cover what you need to say in an email? Can you have a ‘standing’ meeting (a quick 5–10 minute informal meeting)? Does the whole team need to be there, or just the most relevant members for the project at hand?”.
“These questions can help you decide if a meeting is truly required, or a waste adds Palmer.”
As a general rule of thumb, you can probably go ahead and skip those status updates. Instead, use shared documents, group messages on channels like Slack, or project management software. This way your team can track the progress of a project whenever they life — as opposed to being pulled away from more important work.
You could also do without those information broadcast meetings. Again, this is something that could be addressed in a company-wide email, message board, or project management tool.
So, what types of meetings should you schedule? Decision-making, team retrospective, problem-solving, planning, one-on-one, and team-building meetings are all worth keeping. The key is to make sure that there are a clear objective and purpose and not just having a meeting for the sake of having a meeting.
Set and share a meeting agenda.
You’ve determined that a meeting is necessary. What’s your next move? It’s time to create an agenda.
A meeting agenda is a document that establishes the main objective(s) are for the meeting. This way, all invitees know what to expect and how to prepare. It also ensures that the meeting is productive and keeps attendees engaged and focused. But, the only way the agenda will work is if you do the following:
Identify the purpose and goals of the meeting.
You probably already did this when determining if the meeting was necessary or not. If you haven’t, then think about what you want the meeting to accomplish and how you’ll reach that goal.
Prioritize agenda items.
Think about which topics need to be discussed and then arrange them in order of importance. Leave an adequate amount of time to cover each talking point.
Determine the length of the meeting.
Meetings should be short and concise to align with attention span and fatigue. So, for most meetings, 20 to 30 meetings should suffice. But, the folks over on the Slack blog have found the ideal meeting length for specific meetings:
- Team meetings: 15 to 30 minutes
- Decision-making: A few hours, if not a full day.
- Brainstorming: 40 minutes to one hour.
- Retrospective: 30 minutes for every week of the project.
- One-on-one: 30 minutes to an hour.
- Strategy: 60 minutes to an hour.
However, Dr. Steven Rogelberg, chancellor’s professor and director of organizational science at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte, says you should also shake up the length of your meetings. “Don’t be wary of scheduling meetings with odd lengths or at unusual times,” he told the Entrepreneurs Project. “For example, a 48-minute meeting is just fine if that is the right fit.”
Figure out who to invite.
There’s no need to invite the entire office. Meetings are effective and productive when only key stakeholders are invited. There are several reasons for this. The most obvious is that if the meeting doesn’t directly involve a participant, they’ll consider the meeting a huge waste of time.
What’s more, larger groups spend more time discussing trivial topics and divides attention. It also leads to inter-team delegation and conformity.
At the same time, having too few invitees can also be problematic. The main reason is that it prevents diverse opinions and perspectives from taking place.
Ideally, meetings should only have between five and nine people.
After determining who to invite, assign roles to each attendee. This includes the facilitator of the meeting and the note taker. However, this can vary depending on the type of meeting you’re hosting.
Pick a location.
Let’s say that ten people are participating in your meeting. You obviously wouldn’t want to have it take place in your office. You don’t want everyone to feel cramped and uncomfortable. A better option would be to have it take place in a conference room that can accommodate participants comfortably.
You also need to select a location that fits the exact needs of your presentation. For example, if you’re meeting with a remote time, then you’ll need technology like a web and video app. But, you may also want to have the event take place somewhere else besides the office. If it’s a lovely spring day, you could bring attendees outside to a nearby park instead of cooping them up inside.
Select the right day and time.
“The most important tasks should be conducted when people are at or near their peaks in alertness (within an hour or so of noon and 6 pm),” writes Christopher M. Barnes, an assistant professor at University of Washington’s Foster School of Business who studies circadian rhythms.
You should take that knowledge and apply it to when scheduling meetings. Instead of forcing people to join a meeting when they’re at their most productive peaks, allow them to work on their most important tasks for the day. Instead, plan to run your event at a more optimal time, like during the mid-afternoon. Research has actually found that Tuesdays at 2:30 P.M. are the best day and time to have a meeting since attendance is higher and participants have had enough time to prepare.
Distribute and review any prework.
“You can make business meetings most productive and ensure results by providing necessary pre-work in advance of the meeting,” writes Susan M. Heathfield for Balance Careers. “Providing pre-work, charts, graphs, and reading material 48 hours before a meeting starts — means that everyone comes prepared to jump right in.”
She also adds that you share documentation “that will help you achieve the meeting goals.” These include reports, sales figures, competitive information, production plans, PowerPoint slides, or minutes from a previous meeting.
Planning a meeting takes a lot of work upfront. So, make things a bit easier by using technology to lend you a hand. Some of this tech can do most of the scheduling for you.
Take Calendar as an example. It’s an intelligent calendar that harnesses the power of artificial intelligence. In layman’s terms, that means it will examine past meetings to make smart suggestions on when and where a meeting should take place. It can also recommend who to invite and what topics need to be discussed.
Furthermore, Calendar eliminates those back and forth communications when trying to plan an event. Just share your calendar with others so that they can book an open slot that’s convenient for them. Once they do, the meeting will be added to everyone’s calendar automatically.
On top of tools like Calendar, you can use apps or software that make your meetings more remote-friendly, such as web and video conferencing software.
Identify the next steps.
“After you’ve discussed the key topics and have made decisions, plan a couple of minutes to discuss the next steps — these are usually targeted goals,” recommends Calendar’s Howie Jones. “This way, your next meeting will already have a purpose — which means it will be easier to write the outcome and agenda the next time around.”
Be precise: start and end on time.
With your agenda sent out, the big day has arrived. It’s time to run your very own meeting finally.
To make sure that things get started on the right foot, make sure that you arrive early. Doing so gives you a chance to review the agenda and test out any tech. More importantly, it ensures that you won’t run late. It may not seem like a big deal, but starting a meeting ten minutes means that it’s wasting ten minutes of the audience’s time. It’s disrespectful and unprofessional.
On the flip side, if the meeting is to run from 2 P.M. to 2:30 P.M., then it needs to wrap-up at 2:30 sharp. Again, it’s respectful of everyone else’s time. The only way to do this is to practice your presentation and eliminate distractions and off-topic discussions. It also wouldn’t hurt to have a timekeeper or timer to give you a five-minute warning.
Keep the meeting focused.
I feel like I just skimmed over this. So, I decided to dedicate an entire section to this incredibly important point.
To ensure that your meeting fits within the allotted time and is productive, you need to make sure it stays focused. This mainly means reducing distractions and multitasking from occurring. You can thwart this by:
- Asking participants to leave or turn off their smartphones before starting. It’s simple. But, it’s the best way to prevent people from checking their emails or doing other work.
- Stopping any side discussions.
- Not allowing topics that are off-topic to eat up the meeting. You can address these issues either one-on-one, via email, or during the next event.
- Provide refreshments so that invitees aren’t distracted by their thirst or hunger.
Increase audience engagement.
Another way to guarantee that your meeting is focused and productive is to keep your audience engaged. Again, there are several different ways to accomplish. One excellent technique would be to have more standing meetings. Research shows that they are more creative, collaborative, and productive. They also tend to be more efficient and purposeful.
Other tactics to keep attendees engaged would be:
- Encourage them to take handwritten notes.
- Break the audience into smaller groups and have them complete a task or solve a problem together.
- Include a Q&A session.
- As you work through the agenda topics, assign action items.
- Be inclusive by allowing everyone to contribute and making them feel that this is a safe space.
- Use a little humor to break the ice.
- Be authentic and don’t use industry jargon.
Gather feedback from attendees.
If the meeting was productive, then there will be real, shareable results. But what if you discover that the meeting was a waste of time? You need to change that for future events. And, a tried and true method is through feedback.
Solicit feedback from those who attended the meeting. You can do this through an online poll or survey. The jest is that you need to find out what worked and areas need to be improved upon.
Know what the next steps are going to be.
“If you’ve done your job setting the agenda and guiding the conversation, everyone should know exactly what they need to do after the meeting,” writes Jory MacKay over at Planio. “Unfortunately, in a lot of cases, teammates don’t leave meetings with a direct goal or task other than to wait for the next meeting.”
MacKay suggests to “leave time at the end of the meeting to go over exactly what’s expected and what was decided on. It might feel strange, but these round-ups will ensure that no one is left confused about the decision or what their role is in moving forward.”
With that in mind, use the final 2-minutes as a wrap to recap:
Oh yeah. Don’t forget to include what you’ll be up to. You want to show that you’re pulling your fair share of the weight too!
Finally, master the art of following-up the meeting. That may sound like a ton of additional work. But, in reality, it can be an email that recaps the key takeaways of the meeting. This includes what was discussed, what tasks were assigned, and deadlines. You should also send along the meeting notes or minutes for people to reference — these are also useful for virtual participants or anyone who wasn’t in attendance.
Originally published at https://www.calendar.com on July 28, 2019.