"Dost thou love life?
Then do not squander time,
for that is the stuff life is made of."
Meetings are seemingly
and often consume up to 80% of a professional's workday. So why are so many meetings unproductive? The root cause is a lack of planning. The meeting is scheduled and convened; however, the organizer fails to structure how the group's time will be used and determine what specific outcomes will be achieved. To optimize meeting outcomes and avoid squandering "the stuff life is made of," apply the following best practices:
1. Don't meet. Ask yourself, "Is a meeting really necessary?" If not, save everyone the time and money. Perhaps a few phone calls, e-mails, or personal conversations could serve as productive replacements for unnecessary group meetings.
2. Define the objective. If you must meet, the first step as the organizer is to determine the measurable outcomes you wish to accomplish during the meeting. What actions will result? Start the objective with an action verb, such as Decide, Select, Vote, Prioritize, Generate, Assess, or Solve.
3. Craft a clearly focused agenda. Select only the topics that support your objective. Prioritize them from most important to least important. For each topic, list the speaker's name, time allotment, and desired outcome. One week in advance of the meeting, distribute the agenda, pre-work, and supporting materials to the attendees to allow adequate time for preparation.
4. Carefully select attendees. Invite only the people who are essential for accomplishing the meeting objectives. Others may receive an emailed summary or quick phone call afterward. Also, if achieving your objective depends on a particular person's input or approval, make sure he or she is planning to attend. Otherwise, reschedule the meeting.
5. Cut the meeting time in half. For the typical one-hour meeting, schedule 30 minutes instead. You may be surprised how the tighter time frame focuses attendees' attention and reduces their random off-topic conversations.
6. Conduct a stand-up meeting. Research at Stanford shows that groups who attended 10-20 minute stand-up meetings (vs. 60 minute sit down meetings) took 34% less time to make decisions with no difference in the quality of the decision. 'Stand-ups' are not new--from Henry Ford and military generals to CEOs and the tech culture, many leaders take care of business quickly, on their feet.
7. Prepare and rehearse a strong opening and closing. Open your meeting with a clear purpose statement. State the objectives, agenda, and time frame. Exude confidence--make good eye contact with everyone while speaking, project your voice, and convey a friendly attitude. Close the meeting with a brief recap. Gain commitment on agreed upon tasks, timelines, and responsible individuals. Confirm that you've accomplished your stated objectives for the meeting and thank the attendees.
8. Encourage participation. Meaningful contribution is one of the keys to meeting success. Invite everyone to share their thoughts and acknowledge all input in a positive way. Restate important points and express appreciation.
9. Start and end on time. Establish a reputation for being a punctual leader who respects other people's time. Don't wait for latecomers. Reward the good behavior of on-time attendees, which trains the tardy ones to be prompt next time.
10. Follow up promptly. Prepare and distribute a clear succinct meeting summary to attendees and appropriate recipients. Prior to the meeting, you may want to recruit a proficient note-taker to keep a record of tasks, timelines, responsible individuals, and action items. Include a thank-you message for the attendees' time, attention, and contributions.
Regardless of how we may feel about meetings, they are an inescapable, crucial, and time-consuming part of our work lives. "Dost thou love life?" If so, let's optimize the "stuff life is made of" by making our meetings more efficient, effective, and productive.
If you would like to learn more about facilitating effective meetings, please read Chapters 15-16 in my book, Well Said! Presentations and Conversations That Get Results (available in hard cover and Kindle). You'll discover over 100 additional tips to ensure your meetings are optimized for success.
If you'd like specific tips for conducting productive telephone meetings, please read my article in Forbes:
Feel free to contact me directly to schedule an in-house corporate training event for your team. I would be honored to support your presentation and communication success.