You’ve probably been trapped in a meeting before that feels like a never-ending time-suck.
You’re trapped in a room full of people who are getting absolutely nowhere on the task at hand, and by the end of it, you’ve lost half your day–and no progress has been made.
Now you have to scramble to make up for the time you lost (and will never get back) during that meeting.
“This meeting should’ve been an email,” you think to yourself.
The good news is: Meetings don’t have to be this way.
With the right approach, you can transform your group gatherings into productive, inspiring sessions that move initiatives forward, that spark creative ideas, and that let each team member shine.
What is an effective meeting?
Before we get into the how and why, let’s get on the same page about what effective meetings really are. Effective meetings have a few key characteristics that you should be able to identify. They are:
- Inclusive: Everyone in attendance gets to share their ideas, feedback, and suggestions.
- Collaborative: There’s a sense of trust and rapport that establishes an environment for collaboration and sharing.
- Strategic: The meeting has a clear purpose that extends beyond information-sharing.
- Efficient: There’s a clear plan of action and an objective for the time spent together to keep the conversation on track.
When your meeting ticks these boxes, you can be sure that the time you’re spending together as a group is well-spent.
Keep in mind, however, that it’s easy to veer off track and stray from these core principles in a noisy group setting. For better meeting management, you’ll need to keep everyone involved accountable and in the zone.
Why effective meeting management matters
So why does effective meeting management matter, anyway?
Well, consider this: A report in Harvard Business Review illustrated that of 182 senior managers surveyed, 65% said meetings stop them from finishing individual work, while 71% consider most meetings unproductive and inefficient. Yikes.
But there’s more. When meetings aren’t effective, they can be a huge detriment to efficiency and task-related work.
The reason: When people are tied up in meetings, they can’t do anything else. As a result, these poorly planned gatherings can hurt morale and make team members frustrated and stressed out, further hurting their workday productivity. And lost productivity hurts your bottom line: Fuze data shows that ineffective meetings waste an estimated $37 billion a year.
Next, let’s look at what can you do in advance of a meeting to be sure you start things off on the right foot.
Effective meeting preparation
When it comes to effective meeting preparation, there are a few key principles to keep to follow to help you and your team get the most out of your time together.
1. Have a set start and end time
Having a set time frame for both the beginning and end of your meeting helps keep everyone accountable when it comes to time. Don’t leave meetings open-ended, as Parkinson’s Law tells us that tasks often expand in complexity to fill the time allotted.
Instead, consider the meeting’s purpose and plan accordingly. Lynda.com data says that most meetings should be 30 minutes or less, except for strategy or brainstorming meetings which can take up to 90 minutes.
2. Establish an agenda (and distribute it beforehand)
Using an agenda (or even a short list of bullet points) to map out the topics you’ll need to cover during your meeting helps put everyone on the same page about what has to get done. And by handing it out beforehand, you can get ahead of the game and give everyone a chance to get up to speed, making your meeting time even more productive.
Andrew Lolk, Founder of SavvyRevenue, said: “Even if you don’t have a formal agenda, state the purpose of your gathering before the group meets. If you don’t, the meeting will likely become an open-ended brainstorming session with few tangible outcomes.”
3. Assign roles for attendees
Don’t be afraid to delegate responsibilities. Give each person attending a purpose and task they’re responsible for during the meeting so that they’re alert, engaged, and in collaborator mode (rather than falling asleep in their chairs.)
Without a task during the meeting, some attendees may mentally check out. Loop them in as an active part of the meeting and give each person a reason for being there that’s directly related to the success of the project or topic you’re meeting about.
Top tactics for better meetings
Now that you know how to prepare for an effective meeting, let’s get into what should happen during the actual meeting.
Ditch the board room
Instead of pulling up chairs around the meeting table, try going for a walk or getting outdoors for a change of scenery during your meeting. Research shows that walking leads to increased creative thinking, and anecdotal evidence suggests that meeting taken while walking lead to more honest exchanges with team members that are overall more productive than traditional sit-down meetings.
Marketer Dunja Lazić says she’s found it to be effective, too: “You’ll be more creative and more focused on the task at hand if you’re walking and talking. This works well for meetings over calls too–just make sure you’re in a safe/carless space and you’re mindful of the environment.”
Allot time for small talk
Meetings don’t have to be all business. In fact, it’s a good idea to leave time for people to connect about non-work related topics before and after the meeting, as this helps build trust, rapport, and cross-team communication that may not get to happen normally during the workweek. Plus, this type of chit-chat is going to happen regardless–so you might as well plan for it.
SEO expert Brendan Hufford said, “It’s important to make room for relationships when you’re gathered for a meeting. Ask someone how their dog is, or how their kid’s first week of school is, or the new house. Not everything has to be impersonal to be efficient. Making the business aspects more productive gives people more time for friendly chatter.”
Stay on task
When you get a group of people together, it’s easy to get distracted. That’s why it’s important to establish a point person who keeps everyone on task and focused on the agenda (and that acts as a referee of sorts.)
You can also have that person act as a gatekeeper by telling them to make notes on other ideas/topics that come up during the group conversation in case they need to be revisited later.
Public health professional Amy Schlotthauer calls this having a ‘parking lot.’
“This is a space where you can physically write down all the non-sequitur things people bring up that aren’t related to the agenda. You can come back to them at the end if there is time or follow up offline. People feel heard!” she said.
Do a meeting recap
Finally–be sure to recap what you’ve covered during your meeting at the end and review what you’ve outlined and accomplished. From there, restate the plan of action for what needs to happen after the meeting ends, who’s responsible for what, and when. This helps everyone leave the conversation with clear next steps that will keep the project moving forward.
Writer Alyssa Goulet gave the following example of how this might look and sound: “We talked about the revisions you requested on this project. I’ve made additional notes based on what we discussed. We’ll set a due date of X for the final draft. Does that work?”
Manage Better Meetings, Be More Productive
With the meeting management tips we’ve covered here, you can start getting the most out of the time you spend with your team members–and waste less time. Just remember to take steps before, during, and after to set yourself up for a productive, meaningful meeting. It’ll take a little extra work, but it will pay off in productivity.
Three cheers to meetings that shouldn’t have been an email.