The business meeting often instills a sense of dread in participants. It has become fashionable to mock and deride meetings both on TV (and in the cinema) and in real life. Eyes-roll, people yawn, everyone looks for a means of escape.
There’s a lot of truth in this light mockery too. Talk to your employees and those who are regular meeting attendants will tell you they’re sick of unnecessary meetings, meetings which meander all over the place without ever achieving anything productive or valuable, meetings which seem to rehash content over and over again, and so on.
Yet, if you scratch the surface of what people hate about meetings; you’ll find that really – they don’t hate meetings, they hate having their time wasted. It’s not that meetings can’t be valuable, it’s that all too often they’re unproductive and instead of boosting the performance of the business – they drag performance down. People don’t mind being in meetings that achieve things; they just don’t want to lose work time for pointless discussions that rarely arrive at anything of use.
So how can you have business meetings that are productive? We’ve got a few tips that might help:
Always Have An Agenda
An agenda is a written statement about what the meeting will address, how it will address it and has some indication of the time for each item to be discussed. If you’re going to hold a meeting – you should always have an agenda.
Writing an agenda gives you an opportunity to ask the question; “Do we really need a meeting?” There are decisions that require meetings but there are others which; if you give them some thought can be made without involving everyone in the office too.
Secondly, it allows you to explain to the participants of that meeting what’s expected of them ahead of time. It means that they can consider the questions and prepare their input rather than spending time in the meeting wool-gathering. It also enables you to keep the meeting on point. When you have a clear set of objectives with times attached to them – you can bring the meeting back on course if it starts heading off-piste.
Stop The Buzzwords
There are many offices in which meeting attendees play “buzzword bingo”. You get a piece of card and write 25 meaningless phrases on it. The phrases are set out in 5 rows and columns with 5 phrases across and down. You can call “bingo” when you’ve got a line. Depressingly, in many meetings there’s enough room to play this game until the card is full.
Management speak and stupid jargon are the main offenders here. No-one needs to be told “think outside the box.” Designers don’t want to hear “this website needs rock star qualities”. And anybody who says “synergy” or “paradigm shift” wants, metaphorically speaking of course, shooting.
Cut The Distractions
It’s rude to chew gum in meetings. It’s rude to keep checking your phone or worse – dashing outside of the room every five minutes to answer the darn thing. It’s not nice to stuff your face or slurp milkshakes. You get the picture.
These things are distracting to other participants. They show a lack of respect for their time. Worse they are also distracting; it’s difficult to think when you’re being annoyed by someone else and that means your train of thought wanders to visions of stomping them into the carpet rather than cooperating for business reasons.
Consider Eliminating the Chairs
One of the reasons that meetings can go on forever is that meeting rooms are often comfortable. It’s easier to lounge back in a comfortable chair and sip coffee and let the conversation flow. The trouble is that this is a great way for meetings to end up being unproductive. Nobody wants to go back to their uncomfortable cubicle where they’ve got to deal with being alone and doing some actual work – so everyone, unwittingly, conspires to keep things going for longer than necessary.
If you remove the chairs from a meeting room – you remove the comfort from the room. Standing up is tiring and not much fun. It’s harder to keep a cup of coffee on the go. It means that nobody wants to hand around for a second more than they have to. Meetings held without chairs are often much faster and much more direct; you’re much less likely to hear “but I digress” in these meetings.
Cut Down the Number of Participants
The chances of 20 people holding an open conversation reaching effective decisions is minimal. Before you invite someone to a meeting; ask yourself – do they really need to be there? Inclusive management doesn’t mean that everyone in the office needs consulting over every tiny change in the work environment. You don’t need the CIO for a discussion about the drapes in reception; you don’t need the call center supervisor if you’re discussing the current changes to the website and so on.
The fewer people you have in the room; the more likely it is that you will reach an agreement and take decisions. The meetings will be faster too because there are fewer people talking.
Get To Grips With The Technology
PowerPoint when used right can be a real help in meetings but most of the time; it’s not helpful. You don’t need endless slides with essays written on them – just a couple of slides that shine light on the most important things under discussion. If you need people to get to grips with lengthy documents for a meeting; the appropriate time for this to happen is before the meeting not during it.
You also want to make sure that you know how to operate the projector, sound system, etc. before the meeting – it’s incredibly inconsiderate to try and learn this stuff while you have twenty or thirty other people waiting to hear what you have to say.
The final thing you want to do before the meeting is make sure the Wi-Fi is working if people are going to need it. Don’t interrupt the meeting to run round the building looking for the IT guy.