Here are 7 tips for making meetings more effective. Before you say, “Do we really need another article on making meetings better,” take a look at this photo and tell me if people look this happy in your meetings. I have a hunch many of you would have to say, “No.” Either the folks in the photo are excited about what appears to be a giant Hershey’s Kiss hanging above their heads, or they are experiencing an effective meeting. While chocolate makes every meeting more enjoyable, another article may also prove helpful. Let’s talk about several other ways in which you can improve your meetings.
1. Do you really need to have a meeting?
The best way to make a meeting more effective is to not have the meeting! When planning a meeting, ask yourself if it’s truly necessary or could you achieve your intended outcome by different means? Much can be accomplished through a succinct email, a brief chat session, a phone call, or a face-to-face conversation.
But don’t forego using a meeting when collaboration is needed. When you need input from a number of people or when brainstorming is necessary, have a meeting.
Even if your purpose is not collaboration and you need to disseminate information to a number of people, gathering those people in a meeting may be your best choice. This is especially true when the information will prompt questions or if the information is of a serious or confidential nature. Just make sure there is more value for people by their attendance than there would be by using other means to communicate that information.
Let’s continue with what I think are common sense tips for when you do have a meeting.
2. Have a clear purpose for your meeting
Make sure you have a clearly defined and clearly communicated purpose for your meeting. Make it as singular and focused as possible. Don’t be vague. When people know the purpose of the meeting they can prepare better, be more engaged during the meeting, and more effectively contribute to the fulfillment of the meeting’s purpose.
An agenda is very helpful in this regard. State the overarching purpose of your meeting and list the pertinent topics to be discussed. Give structure to your meeting. This can help you keep the meeting on target if it starts to stray from your purpose. State expected time limits for each agenda item. This will help keep things moving and ensure that you can cover all the items during the meeting.
Pro Tip: Don’t let others piggyback onto your meeting! Have you heard something like this, “Hey, Sam, in your meeting can we talk about ‘my thing’ too? Since you already have a room and everyone is here and…” Please say NO! Politely. You want your meeting to have focus. Don’t let the effectiveness of your meeting be diminished by the addition of another purpose at the end. You want people to walk out with your purpose foremost in their minds.
Now let’s talk about how to behave in meetings.
3. Be concise when speaking in the meeting
Get to the point! How often does that go through your mind when someone is long-winded or goes off on a tangent in a meeting? Don’t be that guy! Get to your point. If you have multiple points, be concise in presenting them. If you ramble on, people lose attention. If you give too much detail, people get lost. If you take too much time, people check out. Have you ever looked around the room at what people are doing when one person is droning on? They might be looking out the windows, or typing on their computers, or fiddling with their phones. Personally, I doodle. For the sake of keeping the meeting flowing and giving opportunity for everyone to have their voices heard, please be concise.
4. Be a good listener during the meeting
When someone else is talking, how often are you thinking about what you want to say next rather than listening to that person? Instead, take time to listen. That doesn’t mean merely letting the sound of their voice enter your ears. It means focusing your attention in a sincere effort to understand what they are saying. Think less about what you want to say next and listen in a way to reach a shared understanding with the speaker.
5. Be respectful to others in the meeting
Here’s something even more important than being a good listener: Do you have respect for the person speaking? Are you sincerely curious about their ideas? Do you acknowledge their intelligence? Do you recognize the value of their experience? If you don’t have these deeper qualities, how can you listen in the most effective way?
You can tell when people don’t have proper respect for others. They interrupt. They talk over people. They shut people down. They leave people out of the conversation.
6. Be a facilitator in the meeting
It’s always best to have a facilitator in your meetings. This person can take the part of a master of ceremonies or a moderator. Often times, by default, this role lands with the person who organized the meeting in the first place.
While it’s always best to have a facilitator, not everyone is the best facilitator. Even if you are not the “official” facilitator in a meeting, you can still help facilitate the effectiveness of the meeting. Here are just a few examples.
Restate what a speaker has said in the form of a question to gain further clarification. I do this all the time when to ensure I understand what someone is truly communicating. Doing this is especially helpful when you perceive that others in the room are having trouble understanding a speaker’s message or missing their point. Restating through questions can be crucial in a meeting with folks of varying cultures and where the shared language may not be the first language of all participants. In such cases, you may find yourself becoming somewhat of an interpreter between meeting participants.
Pay attention to body language and emotions. Here’s a good point: A good facilitator “should be able to attend to the speaker at a psychological level by understanding what is not being conveyed explicitly and he should be able to pick up from nonverbal cues.” (“6 Essential Skills of an Effective Facilitator,” Akash Chander on LinkedIn) This applies not just to the current speaker. What are others in the room doing? Who appears to have something to say but is too timid to speak? Can you help her feel safe enough to speak? Who appears to be checked out? Can you re-engage him? And so forth.
7. Summarize the meeting
Wrap up your meeting with a summary of what has been discussed, conclusions that have been drawn, plans that have been made. If you went into your meeting with a clearly defined purpose, hopefully you made progress and have a plan to take action. Summarizing the meeting will help everyone to carry through on those actions.
8. Provide chocolate at your meeting
Bonus Tip: Providing chocolate never hurts.
There is so much more that can be said about ways to improve meetings. Each of the points above can be expanded to full-length blog posts. The points above are not new. We’ve all heard them, thought about them, and wished all our colleagues would do a better job at them. Often we find ourselves under pressure with limited time and we run roughshod over these points which seem to be merely common sense. But we can improve. I hope that thinking over these points helps each one of us to be ever more mindful of others. That will go a long way in making our meetings more effective and possibly happier.
(Photo courtesy of Pexels.com.)