Another meeting? Sometimes at work it can feel like entire days are taken up by meetings—so much so that we rarely have time to do any work. In this series, we’ll discuss all things meetings—from how to prepare for a meeting, how to have a productive one, who to include in them, and how to go whole days (!!) without any meetings!
Part one is all about the preparation. The time and effort put into preparation has a huge effect on the success of any meeting. Here are some tips that can help you plan for a great experience in your next meeting.
Do you really need a meeting?
Do you need to meet? Sometimes there are other ways to accomplish the same goal without gathering several people together. Hold off on a meeting if:
- you haven’t had time to prepare
- another method of communication, like email or a conference call, would work just as well
- you’re dealing with a sensitive topic or a human resources issue that would be better handled one-on-one
What’s the purpose of the meeting?
Figure out why you need to meet in the first place. Once you’ve nailed that down, the next step should fall into place.
What’s on the agenda?
One important thing to do to prepare for a meeting is to make an agenda. Start with a brief introduction to provide context, add in time for discussion, and do your best to end with a solution. Decide in advance how much time to devote to each element, and make every effort to stick to it. Remember, the longer your meeting, the harder it is for people to remain focused.
Plan the agenda to avoid losing the group’s attention
The average five year old child has an attention span of 5-10 minutes. Adults only stretch that to about 20 minutes, and that’s without the distraction of laptops or smartphones (we’ll cover those later). Make sure that you plan your agenda to keep an appropriate pace, and mix up the topics enough so that your team won’t fall asleep halfway through.
What will each participant do?
Giving participants a specific job in the meeting will move things along smoothly and keep everyone on track. You can have a discussion facilitator, a note taker, and a timekeeper, for example. One key role is called the gatekeeper – this person is responsible to monitor that all parties are participating and are heard. The leader of the meeting can hold this role or delegate it. If you delegate it to another participant, make sure to coordinate ahead of the meeting.
Where and when will the meeting be held?
These questions should be answered well in advance of the meeting. Think about the tone you want to set. Do you want your meeting to be informal and intimate? Choose a small room and set the chairs up in a circle. Formal and rigorous? A conference room will probably work best.
Many companies are creating a diverse set of meeting spaces to match the setting to the size and the format of a meeting, from small cafe settings to formal board rooms to space that’s very conducive to creative work. (We’ll cover workshop planning in another article.)
Is all the equipment in good working order?
Always do a dry run before a meeting, in the space you’ll be using. You certainly don’t want to waste time troubleshooting technology issues. Check with IT or a coordinator, and always have a backup plan should some of your technology not go according to plan!
Are you ready?
Practice makes perfect! Have you drafted and practiced your presentation, printed handouts, and taken care of any other last-minute details. Don’t be shy to enlist help in getting these items done. One way to have more participation in a meeting is to have another participant with a sense of ownership.
If you’re into mindfulness practices, it’s a great idea to take a few minutes before a meeting to contemplate the outcome that you want to have from the meeting you’re about to lead. When you start the meeting with a positive vision of its outcomes, you are stacking the deck in your favor to finish well.
Preparing in advance will boost your confidence and set you up for a successful meeting. Attendees will appreciate that you respect their time enough to make advance preparations, and are more likely to engage.
Coming next week: How to run a productive meeting