Meetings can help make a company more successful by bringing together diverse minds to tackle challenges, but they aren’t impervious to flaws in planning. At some point, we’ve all had to endure gatherings that didn’t go well. Luckily, this is something that we can largely avoid with a little forethought.
Time is the most valuable thing someone can give you. As a rule, when you’re dealing with people’s time, show them you appreciate it by being prepared. Not only does this make for a better meeting, but it also encourages engagement and trust in the process.
Do You Really Need a Meeting?
The first step when planning a meeting is to make sure that it’s truly necessary by examining what needs to be accomplished. If the primary objective is just trying to communicate some information and no real feedback is required, then rethink calling a meeting. Preserve the power of get-togethers by using them appropriately to avoid fatigue from employees.
Looking for alternatives to a meeting? Check out my article, Staying in the Loop: Effective Communication.
Have a Plan
Once it’s clear that a meeting is necessary, the real work starts. Whether it’s a face-to-face or virtual gathering, you need to be prepared. Outline the entire event from beginning to end. This doesn’t require writing out every word you plan to say, but it does mean you should have bullet points and any information to share with participants ready to go. Nothing is worse than sitting around waiting for someone to hunt down a document!
Another necessary ingredient to a successful meeting is seeking input from attendees. People are much more likely to listen and participate when their concerns are also on the agenda.
In advance of the event, send the attendees a list of the important information to be discussed. This has a dual benefit of allowing the participants to know what you expect from them as well as helping them prepare to engage when required. The host should encourage everyone to bring their own information and ideas. They might choose to delegate the sharing of information to multiple people so everyone has a stake in the process.
When people have a chance to share, they’re more likely to come armed and ready to be productive. According to an article in Harvard Business Review, one helpful tool is to frame meeting agenda items as questions. When asked a question, people are more likely to involve themselves in a discussion instead of just listening. This can help keep the productivity flowing and make better use of everyone’s time.
Since time is so important, plan meetings with that in mind. As tempting as it may be to address a number of issues in one sitting; realistically, it’s more productive to break down topics to discuss into more manageable chunks. This can involve several sessions, if necessary.
If your group’s meetings tend to run long, consider assigning time limits to each agenda item. This may seem counter-productive; but if a particular topic is running especially long, it may benefit from being tabled for a time until the team can do more research. Sometimes actively problem-solving individually can be a better use of precious time than an endless cycle of passive discussion — and lead to more solutions!
Virtual Meeting Considerations
Virtual get-togethers require even more organization since you often don’t have the benefit of physical proximity. Because attendees are staring at a screen and not a person, it’s going to take more effort to involve people. One very important aspect with regard to virtual meetings is whether or not employees know how to properly use the software required. Before you organize a meeting on important topics, take the time to train participants on how to navigate the application so that everyone can contribute.
In addition to the planning steps we’ve already discussed, there are a few extra things you can do to make the most out of virtual encounters:
- Be thoughtful about how many people to include. Three to six people is ideal.
- Develop and maintain a tighter schedule.
- Follow the different physical cues like leaning forward or unmute button notifications to tell when people want to speak.
- Ignore normal formalities like 10:00 AM start times.
- Expect distractions – especially from parents working from home.
Preparedness Is a Kindness
Whether in the “new normal” of virtual meetings or traditional face-to-face gatherings, we should still place a high value on people’s time. Even the most dazzling host will benefit from preparation to help attendees be more attentive and engaged. Remember, others in the meeting don’t always have the same abilities or time, so a leg up on how to navigate the process can benefit everyone.