7 Tips for More Effective Meetings

Productivity Efficient Solutions

Harness employee ideas and have more effective meetings with these tips to turn time wasters into foundations of further business success.

While the goal for any business is to hold effective meetings, just about every business owner and employee has a horror story of meetings gone terribly wrong. Whether it’s meeting participants who ignore what’s going on and stay glued to their mobile devices or two-hour gab sessions in which people emerge dazed and confused, bad meetings can sap precious employee time and energy, and should be avoided at all costs.

By following a few proactive principles, you can help ensure that you and your employees only have effective meetings from now on:

1. Decide on a Purpose for the Meeting

Don’t convene a meeting just so people can catch up on what’s going on. Decide on a specific purpose or limited set of purposes, and work from there. Put together an agenda based on specific meeting goals, assemble whatever supporting materials might encourage a better discussion, and distribute the agenda and materials ahead of time to all invited participants.

“The goal of most meetings should be decision-making and defining the way forward,” notes life coach Sophia Fromell. Therefore, agenda items and related materials should look forward as well. “Past-looking reports can give an idea of performance to date but are not much help in shaping the future.”

2. Restrict Attendees to Those With a Reason for Being There

The successful outcome of a meeting is directly dependent on the number of participants. Employees with no relevant role in the topic at hand can waste valuable time and resources.

3. Assign a Meeting Facilitator and a Timekeeper

One person should be put in charge of the meeting, with responsibility to proceed through the agenda point-by-point, and to corral any participant who starts digressing into irrelevant territory. The facilitator can also act as timekeeper, or appoint another participant to handle this responsibility, so that everyone adheres to the allotted time for each item on the agenda.

People with even the best of intentions can sidetrack a meeting with long-winded opinions and observations. Having a person in charge and carefully watching the clock can help eliminate this tedious and time-consuming distraction.

4. Agree to Address Supplemental Issues Offline

Often, topics related to the agenda will come up, but they may not necessarily merit taking additional time to address at the meeting. Record these topics and let participants know they’ll be addressed offline and with the appropriate people.

5. Craft a Few Meeting Rules and Stick to Them

Ideally, everyone should understand how to behave during a meeting, but that’s not always the case. Assemble a short list of rules that ensure participants will be respectful, refrain from interrupting while others are talking, and won’t retreat into their mobile devices while a discussion is underway.

6. Set a Good Example

Meeting leaders may not always be aware of how their own behavior affects the tone of a meeting. Dana Rousmaniere at Harvard Business Review advises leaders to “notice whether your pose is attentive or whether you’re leaning back with your arms folded, which can indicate impatience or withdrawn skepticism.” Other attendees will note if they see you “shifting in your chair, drumming your fingers, doodling, gazing out the window, or looking at your phone” and deduce that “you’re not interested in what they have to say.” People are watching you, so it’s imperative to set a good example.

7. Stage an End-of-Meeting Lightning Round

After completing the predetermined agenda, try conducting a quick lightning round in which the facilitator asks each participant, “What is most important to you right now in terms of team success?” This approach, says Tania Fowler at Comstock’s, “is a terrific tool for discovering what is relevant to the people at the table.” Give each person 30 seconds to respond, make a note of all the comments, and then ensure that “the team green-lights projects they deem useful.”

By imposing structure and guidelines on every meeting you hold, the chances are much greater everyone will walk away with new knowledge of the topic and be prepared to take a specific action before the next meeting takes place.

Lee Polevoi
Lee Polevoi

Lee Polevoi is an award-winning business writer who specializes in the challenges and opportunities facing small businesses in the U.S.A former senior writer at Vistage International (a global membership organization of CEOs), Lee regularly contributes articles, white papers and blog posts to a variety of small business websites, including Paychex, Intuit Small Business, ADP, Hewlett Packard's™ The Pulse of IT, Catapult Groups, Avalara TrustFile and many others.