We’ve all been there: The people who talk and talk and talk. The pointless digressions and asides. The people who seem to have no place else to be. The time that is sucked forever from our lives. Sadly, that’s the state of most meetings today.
Let’s face it. Most meetings are inefficient and ineffective. In fact, half of people polled say meetings are a complete waste of time.
But meetings are a fact of life, both in business and out of it. If you work in an office today you have at least one meeting a week. According to the National Statistics Council, 37 percent of an employee’s time is spent in meetings. And if you serve on a PTO or board, you probably sit in a lot of meetings.
People generally hate meetings, and with good reason—most meetings are terribly run. But they don’t have to be. The key is to design and execute a meeting with purpose and authority, where something actually gets done efficiently and where people feel their time is well used.
Every meeting should follow the same simple set of rules, whether it’s a 20-minute stand-up meeting or an all-day offsite. Here are 15 tips to help you design and executive an effective meeting:
- Determine the purpose of the meeting. Why do you need to have a meeting? What do you want to accomplish? What do you want the end result to be? Generally speaking, meetings have one or more of these purposes:
- To share or convey information
- To make decisions or develop ideas or directions
- To coordinate activity or actions
Get crystal clear on the purpose of the meeting and design it from there.
- Create an agenda. Whether it’s a short informational meeting or a major board meeting, every meeting needs an agenda. It needs to be written and circulated in advance so people can prepare. If you know what you want to get out of the meeting you can set an agenda to achieve those goals. And be sure to let people know what they are.
- Find a leader. Next, determine who will run the meeting. Someone has to take charge and run it, and they have to be efficient, adult, and stick to the agenda. In general, it is not a good idea to have two people run a meeting. One person needs to take charge, ride herd, and keep things moving.
- Choose your location. Pick a location that is conducive to your purpose and make it easy for people to attend. If all you need to do is convey information, maybe have a 15-minute stand-up meeting (also known as a huddle). People are pretty succinct when they have to stand.
- Circulate materials ahead of time. What will people need to bring to the meeting or read and prepare in advance? Circulate the agenda and any related documents at least two days in advance. You want people informed and ready to participate.
- Invite the right people. If you know the purpose of your meeting you’ll know who to invite, and invite only those people who really need to be there. Think through what you want to accomplish and make sure the right people are there.
- Prepare your speakers. If you need people to give updates or reports, make sure they know exactly what you expect of them, and let them know how much time they will have. Give them at least two days’ notice.
- Start and end on time. This is crucial. Start on time. Do not penalize those who show up on time by waiting to start the meeting. Nothing says “I don’t value your time” more than saying, “It’s 11, but we are going to wait another 10 minutes for those who are running late.” And if you can end your meeting early, people will love you. We call this buying back time.
- Lead from the start. Start your meeting at the appointed hour, immediately welcome people, and state the meeting’s purpose and goal. Something like: “Thank you all for coming. Today we are going to discuss the upcoming election, and at the end of the meeting I want to have candidates in place and an outline for the campaigns.”
- Establish ground rules. Good meetings have good ground rules. They need to be established and articulated right after you state your objectives. I recommend rules like:
- No electronics—ask people top put away their laptops, cell phones, tablets, etc.
- Only one person talks at a time.
- Start and end times will be enforced.
- Accept diversity of opinion.
Good rules will keep your meeting going.
- Do not encourage or reward latecomers. Do not reward latecomers by stopping and recapping for them what they missed. That says, “It’s ok you were late.” It’s not ok. Don’t punish those who were responsible enough to arrive on time by wasting time for the latecomers. Be firm.
- Get balanced participation. If you have carefully selected the people who need to be there, then make sure you hear from them. Don’t let overtalkers overtalk and don’t let people hide. Make space for the introverts by curbing overtalkers and invite undertalkers—-by name if you have to—to speak.
People who overtalk or dominate can really throw the meeting off and discourage others. If someone is overtalking you have to manage that. Say something like: “Bernie, we’ve heard from you on this issue already, and I want to hear from some others.”
This also goes for people who are repeating themselves or what’s already been said. Say: “Sam, I think we already heard that the Penske project is a bad idea, so let’s hear something new.”
- Stick to the agenda. Don’t let people stray off topic. Again, this is where you really have to lead and shut down tangents or stop a discussion that’s gone on too long. If people move the conversation in a direction that isn’t relevant, stop them. Say: “Jane, that is a good point and we can address that another time, but I want to stick to the topic at hand.” Encourage people to meet afterward.
- Run a tight ship. Shut down chitchat. Enforce your rules. Lead the meeting!
- Close with an action plan and recap. Make sure you build this into the agenda so you don’t go over time. Wrap up with what was discussed or decided, and be sure everyone is on the same page about next steps. Who is going to do what? Don’t leave people guessing.
And that is how you run a great meeting!