The U.S. Travel Association reports that business professionals have taken 465 million airline trips this year to spend time in face-to-face meetings. That doesn't even include the millions of additional meetings that occurred locally by walking down the hall or traveling via ground transit, plus remotely via telephone or Internet. Meetings are seemingly indispensable and often consume up to 80% of a professional's workday. To ensure we're not squandering 'the stuff life is made of,' here are ten tips for running more effective, efficient meetings.
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, and 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, Achieve, Select, Brainstorm, Prioritize, Generate, Assess, Solve, or Vote.
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 your objective is contingent on a particular decision maker's participation, make sure he or she is going to be there. 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 conversation.
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 quickly take care of business--on their feet. Stand-up meetings aren't always practical, but they're worth considering.
7. Encourage participation. The meaningful contribution of attendees is one of the keys to meeting success; therefore, avoid dominating the conversation. Invite everyone to share their thoughts and acknowledge all input in a positive way. Restate important points and express appreciation.
8. Prepare and rehearse a strong opening and closing. Open your meeting with a clear purpose statement. Review the objectives, agenda, and time frame. Exude confidence when you speak--make good eye contact with everyone, 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.
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 meaningful.
If you would like to learn more about facilitating effective meetings in person, over the phone, and via Internet/webinar, 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.