Ah, meetings. With their almost universally hated status, running one can be tough going. You can almost *hear* the groans as you schedule one in the team’s shared calendar (and heaven forbid you try and make it a regular weekly occurrence). Given the enormous amount of pressure you – as the brave meeting organiser – face, it’s easy to default to a boring Powerpoint deck and read off the slides word-for-word. Unfortunately it’s also a great way to send everyone to sleep or to seek solace in tea breaks and lunch.
Some of the most common meeting fails occur because of the following:
- Poor preparation – resulting in plenty of waffling and wasted time.
- Bad management – resulting in the meeting going off track, running overtime or ending without reaching any kind of consensus or decision (which defeats the entire purpose of having held the meeting in the first place).
- Limited participation – resulting in attendees leaving feeling unfulfilled or ignored.
But what if you could do things differently? We have 9 tips to help you host more productive and effective meetings!
Tip 1: Define the objective
You can’t expect to start at the middle and arrive at a logical end, right? So first things first: you need to establish the purpose of the meeting. What exactly are you trying to achieve? (There’s nothing worse than a meeting for the sake of a meeting!). Is this going to be an internal meeting for creative brainstorming, a marketing presentation to other teams in your business, or an external progress check-in with your client? Defining the objective will also help:
- Set the tone for the meeting (e.g. formal vs. informal)
- You determine what your benchmarks for success should be.
Ideally, you should be able to answer "What exactly are we meeting about?" in five words or less. Remember: meetings come in all shapes and sizes but not all meetings were created equal.
Bonus tip: Don’t do extra work if you don’t need to. You can save yourself a lot of time and effort by using pre-existing template for the kind of meeting you're having e.g. a generic company-wide Google Slides template with pre-formatted heading styles and logos. And then, by all means, go above and beyond and blast it out of the water!
Tip 2: Who’s invited?
Once you know the purpose of the meeting you can start thinking about who needs to be there. Avoid the temptation of inviting everyone under the sun, especially if they have only been involved on the periphery of a project. You’re not being rude, you’re being efficient! Keeping numbers to a bare minimum will ensure you’re not wasting anyone’s time.
Bonus tip: Depending on the context, you might also need an independent facilitator, someone objective who can keep tempers in check and ensure everything is chugging along to the agenda.
Tip 3: Think details!
Great, you’ve established the purpose of the meeting and who needs to be there. Now you just need to make the content super engaging! Resist the temptation to “just wing it”. Some questions you should ask yourself before you dive in:
- What information/context/background can I provide attendees beforehand? A simple agenda in the calendar invite you send out may suffice or pre-sharing your slide deck, any additional notes, tasks or to-dos. (The onus is on the attendees to read, comment and contribute – you’ve done your bit and no one can say you didn’t give them advance notice).
- How long does this meeting actually *need* to be? Can you say everything you need to in one hour instead of two? Or better yet, 30 minutes instead of an hour?
- How can you structure the meeting to be most effective? For example, if this is a pitch to a new client, you wouldn’t have your costs and fee structure upfront.
Tip 4: It’s all about: ‘location, location, location’
There’s something to be said about meetings at the pub (we’re pretty lucky here at Xero Auckland, with our office on top of a bar). But depending on what kind of meeting you’re hosting, the size of the group, the time of day, and whether or not you need to bring some props along, you might need to resort to a different location. Ask yourself:
- Is the space you’ve chosen large enough? There’s nothing worse than being crammed awkwardly around a table meant for 5 when 10 people have turned up.
- Do you have all the props you need? We’re big fans of the humble whiteboard, post-it notes and sharpies, especially when there’s a need for low-fi creative brainstorming. I recently took part in a communications course where the facilitator brought out a bunch of pipe cleaners to put the fidgety kinds of people at ease! Plus it was fun making shapes and giving your hands something to do while you listened intently.
- Have you tested the technology in the room? According to Murphy’s Law, something is bound to go wrong at the least opportune moment. Try and preempt this if you can by checking all your equipment, arriving early on the day or doing a test-run beforehand.
- Is the environment you’ve chosen conducive to ideation, or is it a soul-sucking dungeon where creativity goes to die? Little things like natural light and good views can help here.
Bonus tip: Try to have the meeting somewhere you’re familiar with and can be in control of the elements. For example if you’re holding A Super Important Client Meeting and anticipate that things might get a little awkward, you definitely want to feel comfortable in your surroundings – don’t fire a bad client in their home territory for example!
Tip 5: Break the ice
Chances are you’ll have some people present in the meeting who don’t know each other well. And while you can’t guarantee they’ll all become best buddies in the next half hour, you want to everyone to relax and open up, quickly and effectively (especially if it’s super early and pre-coffee). So what can you do?
Photo via icebreakertags.tumblr.com
- Creative name-tags; Give everyone 10 minutes to make their own nametag. It could be something they draw or one word they write to describe themselves. Then go around the circle and share.
- Speed-meeting; This works best if there are even numbers, even more fun if there are even numbers of males and females. You have 15s to introduce yourself before the buzzer goes and it’s the other side’s turn. Every 30s one side of the table shuffles one seat over so you end up with different partners. Keep playing until everyone has introduced themselves.
- Play two truths and one lie; Participants say three things about themselves. Two should be true and one should be a lie. Have everyone guess which statement was a lie and give their reasoning.
Bonus tip: Make sure you set a time limit and stick to it. The icebreaker, while super fun, shouldn’t overtake the purpose of the meeting.
Tip 6: Encourage participation, and make it hands-on
Tinycards app by Duolingo, photo via Techcrunch
One of the problem with meetings is that they tend to favour more outspoken personalities (for example, the more ‘dominant’ or ‘influencer’ personality types from the DISC model), and not everyone at your work will fit into either quadrant. To make sure everyone has an equal voice, you can request they pre-share an opinion or come prepared with an idea beforehand.
- Use an app like Candor to let people record their thoughts before the meeting.
- Send a link around to everyone with a shared a Google Doc that they can edit/write into.
- Use silent brainstorming to capture individual and group ideas
- Make it fun with prompts, flashcards (check out Tinycards, the awesome app the clever guys behind Duolingo developed!) or even role playing.
Tip 7: Keep the momentum going.
Conversation or ideas fizzling out? Keep a few provocative ideas in your back pocket that you can throw in to re-energize the team. Whenever you find the flow stalling, use open-ended questions to keep it moving. Stanford D School talks about adding constraints to the original problem to help spark new ideas. For example:
“What if it had to be round?”
“How would superman do it?”
“How would your spouse design it?”
Another type of constraint is a time limit – to ensure all ideas (even the random ones) are captured, aim for something ridiculous like 50 ideas in 20 minutes.
Tip 8: Have an open mind
Despite all your preparation, at the end of the day you can’t control what’s going to happen, which way the conversation will go and what the decisions will be made. Start the process being prepared to challenge and be challenged. By staying flexible, open to possibilities, understanding that things don’t always go to plan you’ll ensure you get the best possible outcome.
Tip 9: Review next steps and action points
Make sure everyone leaves the meeting with tangible action points. If you’ve taken down minutes, it’s worth circulating these afterwards. Recorded the meeting instead of taking notes? No problem! Just use an app like TranscribeMe to transcribe your notes and send those around instead! It’s even easier when you’re using an online project management software like WorkflowMax. The document management functionality allows you to store, manage and share documents in the software (you get up to 25GB of documents free on WorkflowMax servers) or you can take advantage of the integration with third party document management tools like Box, Google Drive or DropBox. WorkflowMax also integrates with your calendar so planning follow-up meetings and keeping everything in one place couldn’t be easier!
So there you have it! 9 tips to meeting mastery. Banish those groans forever and who knows, people might actually start looking forward to your meetings.