Make the Most of Your Meeting Time
We know—everybody loves to complain about meetings. But, here’s the thing: They’re still necessary. Regardless of how hard you try, you’ll never do away with them entirely. Furthermore, meetings do actually serve a purpose. When run effectively, they can actually be far more efficient and lead to better results than those constant back-and-forth email chains that clog up your inbox.
Did you catch the operative phrase there? When run effectively. Not all meetings are created equal. If you want those sit-downs to be more productive for everybody involved, you’re going to need to invest some planning and strategy. Like what? Well, we’ve pulled together five key tips to help you optimize the time you spend in meetings.
Most of the work involved in running a top-notch meeting happens well before your actual meeting starts. So, the first thing you’ll want to consider is when and for how long you’re scheduling your meeting for. Meetings themselves aren’t typically a waste of time. However, if you’re in the habit of blocking out an hour on people’s calendars—when the important discussion itself only requires a half hour—your attendees will quickly get frustrated.
Try this simple trick that Sabina Nawaz recommends in her article for Inc.: Schedule meetings for 45 minutes, instead of a full hour. It’ll keep your whole group focused, while also giving people some much-needed buffer time to prepare for their next meetings. Speaking of a buffer, Nawaz says it can also be smart to start your meetings at quarter past the hour. That gives people who are coming from another meeting enough time to transition and get their thoughts in order.
No amount of productivity tricks will help you run a smoother meeting if the room is packed with people who don’t actually need to be there. Not only does that make people feel as if you wasted their time by asking them to attend a totally irrelevant conversation, but it can also slow down the discussion.
When inviting people, make sure that you have a clear reason in mind for why he or she needs to be in attendance. If you can’t think of anything? Chances are, that person (and your whole group!) would be better off if he or she just skipped it.
When it comes to running a meeting that your participants view as productive—as opposed to pesky—the more preparation you can do, the better. That means putting together an agenda of what items you plan to cover during that meeting, and then distributing it to attendees ahead of time.
Doing so accomplishes a couple of different things. First, it gives you the opportunity to organize your thoughts and ensure that you’re going to be able to touch on everything you need to discuss.
Secondly, it gives your attendees some insight into what they can expect during that sit-down so that they can prepare ahead of time. That’ll lead to a far better conversation than requiring everyone to fly by the seat of their pants—and then eventually have to circle back with the necessary information that they didn’t have with them for the meeting.
Even with a detailed agenda in front of you, meetings still have a way of running off the rails every now and then. Conversations segue and tangents end up taking way too much of your time.
This is why it’s great to have a designated time keeper to keep a watchful eye on things. If you’re the one hosting a smaller meeting, this could very well be you. But, if you have a lot of attendees or your attention will be consumed with other things? Consider enlisting the help of someone else to do this.
When things start to get off track, the time keeper can step in, remind attendees of how much scheduled meeting time is left and what topics you still need to cover, and then hopefully get things heading in the right direction again.
If everybody walks out of your meeting without anything to do or follow up on, then it likely wasn’t a productive use of anyone’s time. Meetings should lead to action.
For that reason, wrap up your meeting with a recap of everything that was discussed and then make sure everybody is in the loop on what specific action items they’re responsible for. That way, everybody can rest assured that their time was used to actually make forward progress—rather than wasting their energy in yet another fruitless “brainstorming session.”
Meetings are a staple of office life, which means you’ll never do away with them completely. Fortunately, when they’re managed correctly, they can actually be a productive use of your time.
Put these tips to work for your next meeting, and you’re sure to have a conversation that’s worthy of everybody’s time and attention.