We’ve all been there…stuck in a meeting that feels like it will never end — staring at the clock, checking your phone and thinking of the countless other tasks you could accomplish with your time. Nobody intends to set up this meeting rabbit hole, but it happens so often that most calendar invites are met with dread.
As a meeting organizer, try following these best practices to make sure you get the most value out of your time — and everyone else's. With a focused approach, colleagues may even start to look forward to your productive meetings.
Do we need to meet about this?
“Reduce the number of meetings by finding other ways to address business. If it's simply information‑sharing or reviewing project status, for example, consider email or other written communications. Your employees will be grateful and use the time more productively. If you're undecided whether or not you need a meeting, ask yourself: Do I need the input of other people, to make team‑based decisions or solve a contentious issue? If not, you may not have a valid reason to hold the meeting.” – BDC
Set an agenda
“Vague intentions to have a discussion on a topic rarely end on a productive note. … Start with a point form list of topics to be discussed and make sure that material is provided to attendees at least one day before the meeting. For better results, provide background information on the agenda so that everyone attending has the same information.
“What about when you are asked to attend a meeting without an agenda? Ask, “Can you please send me an agenda for the meeting so that I can prepare?”
“Tip: For frequently held meetings such as a weekly status meeting on a project, you can save time by creating a meeting template. Once you have that in place, preparing an agenda becomes a matter of filling in the blanks.” – Project Management Hacks
Start on time, end on time
“If you have responsibility for running regular meetings and you have a reputation for being someone who starts and ends promptly, you will be amazed how many of your colleagues will make every effort to attend your meetings. People appreciate it when you understand that their time is valuable. Another note on time: Do not schedule any meeting to last longer than an hour. Sixty minutes is generally the longest time workers can remain truly engaged.” – Neal Hartman, MIT Sloan School of Management
Define roles & the “odd person in”
“Make sure each participant has a clear role in the meeting. Each should have a specific reason to be there and a specific contribution to make. Many meetings suffer because participants are unsure why they are there or because the scope and contributions of their roles have not been examined sufficiently.
“One best practice to consider using is the "odd person in" approach. This consists of inviting someone who is not at all connected with the day-to-day work to sit in on the meeting and contribute questions from an outsider's point of view. This is often quite illuminating and can make what could be a tired meeting "come alive." Because of his or her unique perspective, the "odd person in" often sees things people close to the subject do not and often asks for clarification. The former action can lead to identifying gaps that would not ordinarily be seen, and the latter can lead to enhanced communications as follow-up to the review.”– Microsoft
You are the “facilitator”
“Facilitation is the optimum word here. You are responsible for creating an environment in which the others can participate, observe, and take-away. You facilitate others’ ability to maximize their contributions. Even if the particular meeting is intended to be a one-way download of information from senior management to the staff, you still need to create a situation to ensure the attendees are active listeners and that they have their needs and expectations met.” – Scarlett Consulting
Meet later in the day
“According to a Duke behavioral scientist, our most productive hours are in the first two hours of the morning. This is the time that most people like to dedicate to tasks they want to complete. During morning meetings, most people are too distracted by their more pressing tasks and are unable to give the meeting their full attention. It seems counterintuitive, but avoid scheduling meetings first thing in the morning when possible. Give people the time to cross other pressing items off their list so that they can attend your meeting with a clear mind and focus on the content that you put forth.” – Rohini Venkatraman, Business Designer, Ideo
Make the most of teleconferences
“Teleconferences can be a huge time [commitment]. But, when conducted well, they can be even more productive than face-to-face meetings because they are a quick, easy, and relatively cheap way to bring people together. They also lend themselves well to being recorded, and it’s easy to patch people in and out as needed.” – Dana Rousmaniere, Managing Editor of HBR’s Insight Centers
Keep on topic
“Even though you have created an agenda, certain words cue people to go off topic. In these situations, don’t be afraid to jump in and acknowledge that it’s an important point, but that it’s outside the scope of this meeting, and then get back to your agenda.” – Anders Maul, LiveStories
Clarify and follow up on action items
“It's one thing to have a productive meeting, but to reap the value of that meeting, stuff has to get done. At the end of the meeting, go back and explicitly clarify action commitments out of the meeting. … Clarifying who owns which tasks, by when, and how they'll "close the loop" by reporting back its completion is half the battle for accountability. The other half is ongoing follow up to make sure all assigned tasks got done. As a default, the meeting leader should be responsible to check in with all the task holders on status, and to hold them accountable if not done as agreed.” – David Finkel, Co-author, 'Scale: Seven Proven Principles to Grow Your Business and Get Your Life Back'