Meeting professionals are behind the scenes at big conferences, but they’re front and center for the meetings with department colleagues, stakeholders, and suppliers that bring their events to life. Unfortunately, these everyday meetings can be time-wasters if they’re not well executed. In fact, Doodle’s 2019 State of Meetings Report calculates that professionals spend an average of three hours a week in meetings, and of those, two hours are unnecessary or ineffective, resulting in a cost to organizations of $541 billion per year in lost work.
What does it take to shift meetings from pointless to productive? Here are eight steps to consider:
1. Determine the purpose. Communicating a clear objective for every meeting is so important that this step alone has the potential to improve your meeting results. Having a clear purpose eliminates unnecessary meetings, helps to ensure everyone arrives prepared, and provides the structure for an agenda that will keep the meeting on-topic until the very end.
2. Encourage everyone to engage. Meetings work best when the right people are in the room and everyone gets a chance to contribute. Make an intentional effort to get the thoughts or feedback of every attendee, and you’ll have a richer discussion and make better decisions.
3. Differentiate between fact and opinion. Depending on its purpose, your meeting may not be the place for attendees to “think out loud.” Set this expectation ahead of time and help attendees recognize the difference between fact and opinion.
4. Keep focused. A top meeting irritation are the people who talk on and on about topics that aren’t relevant. As a leader, it’s your job to bring everyone back to the agenda with a quick recap of what has been discussed and what is left. As an attendee, you can help this by politely stopping tangents and reminding others of the meeting’s purpose.
5. Make decisions. Leave the meeting with clear next steps. If the purpose of the meeting is to get decisions made, then make it a priority to do so. However, if a decision cannot be rushed, dismiss the meeting with agreement on what needs to happen next.
6. Set action items. When wrapping up a meeting, clarify action items. Explicitly state who is doing what, and by when. Include action items in the meeting notes so that there’s no misunderstanding.
7. Add engaging elements. This does not require a lot of time or money. For short meetings, you might provide snacks, include visuals, or do a quick team-building activity. For longer meetings, make time for stretch breaks, provide doodle pads, or set aside time for creative brainstorming on future projects. Also, if you have remote employees calling in, make it a video call so they can see colleagues’ faces.
8. Make attendees accountable. Once you have achieved the meeting objective, made any relevant decisions, and established the action items, be sure to commit to specific follow-up. Whether it’s the next meeting or an email check-in, clearly establish how everyone will know that progress is being made.
Organizational development expert Sue Wigston, chief operating officer at Eagle’s Flight, has a track record of successfully leading culture transformation at Fortune 500 companies. Wigston has over 20 years of experience in the creation and delivery of programs and custom-designed solutions for Eagle's Flight.