Meetings are one of the things that most of us in the business world dread. We want to work. We want to produce. We want to get stuff done.
We don’t want to sit in a room full of people deliberating. We don’t like to waste time.
Sometimes, though, meetings are necessary. On those rare occasions, it is important to have a set of guidelines so as to waste as little time as possible. Before setting up your next meeting, you may want to consider the following…
1. If you don’t have to meet, don’t
Meetings. You can’t live with them. You can’t live without them. Or, can you? Most meetings I’ve been to accomplish nothing. They are called merely out of habit or bureaucratic protocol. They have no real purpose and bring no results. Sometimes, a simple memo will suffice. Do you really have to coordinate a bunch of schedules and block out an hour to deliver a message? If not, there’s this thing called “e-mail” you might be interested in learning about…
2. Consider a telephone or video conference
If the subject you will be covering in your meeting requires interaction, an e-mail probably isn’t best. The conversation in an e-mail thread can become confusing and disjointed very quickly. But, existing technology can help your attendees save commuting time. Use FreeConferenceCall.com for a telephone conference, Anymeeting for a video conference or screen-cast, or just use a Google + Hangout if it’s more informal. All of these are free resources and will save your people a ton of time.
3. Combine meetings with different objectives
How silly is it to met with the same people in the same place but at a different time? So what if what you’re covering on the two occasions differs in topic? Have a couple meetings within a meeting. The first half of the meeting, cover one objective. The second half, cover the other. Look at your calendar. What meetings do you have set for the next three months? Which ones can you consolidate?
4. Ask ahead of time what you want people to bring
I’ve been to countless meetings in which we had to reschedule the meeting because someone didn’t have piece of information that was necessary to proceed. Don’t run into that situation! Preempt a reschedule with preparation. Think about the direction the meeting will likely go and have your people be prepared with answers to likely questions. Here’s a truth: if you don’t tell your people what to bring, they won’t bring anything.
5. Have somebody lead the meeting
This seems obvious, but it’s not really. It’s generally assumed that whoever calls the meeting will lead it, but I’ve been to meetings before in which nobody took charge. Each person looks to the other for direction. The conversation usually ends up digressing into talk about family, vacation, or sports. Nothing gets accomplished because no one is assuming the responsibility of setting the direction. If you aren’t prepared to lead the meeting, make sure you appoint someone who is.
6. Meet early in the day
The earlier the better. Before anything else happens in the day, people are more focused. They have less to think about. They aren’t preoccupied with worries from earlier in the day. Nor are they watching the clock for 5pm. They are ready to work. That’s the kind of mindset you want your attendees to be in. Besides, if you meet early, you have the afternoon to start implementing the ideas you discussed.
7. Have an agenda
Know what you plan on discussing. Unless you’re just catching up with an old college buddy or meeting with someone from Twitter for the first time, never wing it. If it’s about business, then you need to be as formal and regimented as possible. Know how long the meeting will likely last and how long each topic will likely take to discuss. If you run out of allotted time, move on. Stick to your agenda. It will keep you from wasting three hours as opposed to one.
8. Provide coffee
Yes, be regimented. But, be nice. Have some good coffee, tea, or refreshments to keep your attendees perked up and ready for discussion.
9. Cut the small talk and rambling
People aren’t there to talk about the game. They’re there for business. Get straight to the point. Also, on that note, don’t spend a lot of time on philosophical rambling. If you want to inspire your attendees, you can’t write a book. When you are meeting on a specific business issue, however, you want to be conscious of their time. Cover the issue that needs to be covered. Linger a few minutes after the meeting for those who want to talk about life.
10. Leave with action items
The purpose of a meeting should never be simply to toss around ideas. The purpose, almost always, is to find out what we should do next. At the end of every meeting, tell each person involved specifically what they need to do.
11. Schedule a next meeting
If another meeting must be scheduled, schedule it immediately. If you don’t, the issue will linger in the air like leftover egg salad. At the end of the meeting, find out when everyone can meet next, and book it. Don’t set a “tentative” date. Set it in stone. Schedule your next meeting.
12. Send a follow-up
Memory is fleeting. Your attendees are going to forget what was discussed almost as soon as they walk out the door. Send a follow-up email, outlining the topics discussed during the meeting and what actions are expected to take place. Even if people do remember what was discussed, it solidifies it when you put it into writing. So always send a recap.
Off to a meeting? Stop and think about how you’ll approach it. Are you following these simple guidelines? Or, are you just charging in blindly?
Great meetings begin with great intention. Have you thought about how effective your meetings are? Have you gotten the most out the meetings you’ve called? If not, it’s time for a change. It’s time to meet with purpose… or not at all.
This post was originally published July 10, 2012 on 12most.com. Be sure to check out the site, which has all kinds of great articles on marketing, leadership, and living a fuller life–written by some extraordinarily smart people.
Featured image courtesy of Mike Bade licensed via Creative Commons.