Make Your Meetings Matter

Root canals. A trip to the DMV. Yet another #$^& meeting. Each elicits grumbles, gripes, and grasping at any possible excuse to get out of it.

However, you can turn those frowns upside down, at least when it comes to meetings you host. By conducting your meetings in a mindful way, from initial planning all the way through post-event follow-up, you will not only dramatically improve your productivity, you will also make great strides in building stronger relationships with your key constituents. As a result, you will ultimately see a positive impact to your influence and bottom-line.

How can you make your meetings matter more? Do these critical items each and every time you host a professional gathering:

  • Define its purpose. Why are you getting people together in the first place? Is it merely to make your life easier? Meetings should only take place when you are discussing complex issues that cannot otherwise be reasonably handled over email and other methods of collaboration.

  • Identify must-have attendees. Don’t be lazy when it comes to the invitee list. In fact, consider indicating on the invitation why each person is being asked to attend and what they will be contributing to the discussion. Your colleagues will appreciate you acknowledging their unique value and will be more prepared to have meaningful discussions.

  • Craft the agenda. Document meeting logistics, who will be in attendance, and the exact start and end times for each section. Allow for some breathing room, but don’t be too generic in your scheduling. An agenda that is too general gives people an excuse to skip it.

  • Make scheduling easy. Consider using a polling website like Doodle or ScheduleOnce to avoid the back-and-forth scheduling ping-pong game over email. Start with the most important attendees first and make sure you get them to commit. Then you can send a secondary invitation for tier two attendees.

  • Assign critical pre-work. Don’t be afraid to ask people for written status reports prior to the meeting. You may get some push-back at the beginning, but by modeling good behavior yourself and showing how much more time is saved, attendees will start doing the front-end legwork. Make this process public and simple to complete so people are more apt to get their reports done.

  • Allow sufficient time. Don’t wait too long to schedule a meeting. Nobody likes last-minute fire-drills. It makes you look unprofessional and only undercuts their desire to work collaboratively with you.

  • Be crystal clear. When the meeting start time arrives, start the meeting, regardless of who is around the table. Thank your attendees and remind them of the purpose of the meeting. Dive into the agenda immediately. (If you want to schedule 5-10 minutes of quick personal sharing, then do so. But treat it like any other item on the agenda; don’t let it get out of hand.) This is about business, not play time or screen time. You can (and should) be pleasant, but don't be overly casual.

  • Make the clock your co-host. Have a clock visible so everyone can see that you will be managing each agenda item to its assigned timeframe. A minute or two before the next section is slated to start, politely indicate to the person speaking that time is wrapping up for this section. If more time is needed, either make a decision to take from another section or table the discussion for another conversation. Do NOT go over the allotted time of the meeting. Ever. It’s rude and will come back to haunt you.

  • Follow-up immediately. Track all decisions and actions that stem from the meeting and distribute the meeting minutes within 72 hours. Be specific as to the expectations that were discussed and the timeframes for completion. Invest the time to make those meeting minutes rock. You want people to read them, forward them, and refer to them.

  • Don’t allow slackers. If/when people don’t do what they should do, from skipping the meeting altogether to multi-tasking during the meeting to blowing off their action items, directly communicate how their choices are harming the group as a whole. Be understanding, be neutral, and be specific about what is required. If there is a legitimate reason as to why they shouldn’t be involved, then take that information and act accordingly. But don’t let anyone sandbag your efforts. The o