How to make meetings more productive

happy men and women meeting in circle

A good meeting is a thing of beauty, a bad meeting is a waste of time for all concerned. Managed properly they can be informative, engaging get-togethers that drive productivity and promote teambuilding. Managed badly (or not managed at all) they sap people’s energy and can even breed resentment and disengagement.

The good news is that there’s lots you can do to make sure that your meetings are productive, enjoyable and memorable.

Keep it small

Avoid the temptation to invite everyone who has ever been associated with the matter being discussed. Smaller meetings are shorter, more focused and can make decision-making easier.

What is it for?

Every meeting needs a purpose. Before the meeting make sure everyone knows what the focus is and what needs to be achieved.

Break from the routine

Boredom is the enemy of productivity. If meetings are always in the same place and follow the same format, even the most enthusiastic colleagues will become jaded. Try new things. Follow a new format or meet in a café instead. Would a 15 minute meeting rather than a 60 minute meeting help focus attention?

If it doesn’t work, that’s OK. Ask for feedback afterwards to assess what impact the changes had and whether to repeat the experiment.

Get on top of the technology

Nothing kills the energy of a meeting faster than a technical problem. Whether it’s an issue with the conference call, unreliable presentation equipment or a dodgy laptop, IT glitches cause frustration and boredom.

If you are having regular issues with the system your company uses, explore other options. Conferencing technology is developing fast and is often cheap to try.

f you aren’t able to familiarise yourself with the IT side of things yourself, delegate the task. You should also assign someone with the task of making sure refreshments arrive on time so you don’t get distracted by the small stuff.

Establish rules

It helps if everyone prepares and arrives to your meeting knowing what is expected of them. Say who the meeting will hear from and set time limits if necessary to keep things moving. If people over run or are being too vague, say so.

Let other people run it

Don’t be afraid to hand over parts of the meetings to those who know more than you about a particular area. This shows confidence and leadership and will keep everyone at the meeting alert in case they are called on next. Just make sure that you’ve told the others beforehand.

Break up cliques

There’s always a tendency for people to stick with who they know. Nothing wrong with that but like the noisy table at the back of class it can become a problem if people sit next to each other and then start chatting or even worse, texting to their enjoyment and everyone else’s irritation. If that’s likely to be a problem then assign a seating plan beforehand and make sure people are seated correctly from the start.

Don’t be afraid to move people around or ask people to sit next to someone from another department.

Make it fun

A little levity goes a long way when people are used to dry and formal meetings. Make a few jokes and throw in some unexpected visuals to shake up people’s expectations.

Agree next steps

At the end of every meeting make sure you agree on who needs to do what, when. Don’t assume that anyone has understood the same thing as you unless it has been explicitly stated.

If it’s not needed, don’t have it

Sometimes the best meetings are the ones that never happen at all. There is almost always a reason to have a meeting but resist the temptation until it really is necessary.

Unless the meeting is tightly focused and there is an obvious need for it people will be checking their emails and rolling their eyes within minutes.

If you only really need to check in with one or two people then do that instead. Consider a series of one to one meetings if that will serve you better.

A meeting is like a wedding speech. Everyone wants it to go well. Think about how best to engage those involved and tailor the meeting to ensure that happens. Everyone will thank you for it.

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