Regardless of the size of your business, meetings are essential. And, when done correctly, are critical to setting up your organization for success. But, when not, they’re annoying and destructive to your team’s overall productivity. Stop wasting you and your team’s time with these 17 ways to make meetings more productive
To make sure that all of your meetings are productive and useful, here are 17 ways that you can improve your meetings. As a bonus, they might even make your meetings so much fun that your employees will no longer dread attending them.
1. Is the meeting really necessary? There might be a better alternative.
It’s no secret that unproductive meetings can decrease productivity and morale, as well as cost organizations a ton of money. Here’s what 182 told HBR, “65% said meetings keep them from completing their own work. 71% said meetings are unproductive and inefficient. 64% said meetings come at the expense of deep thinking. 62% said meetings miss opportunities to bring the team closer together.”
So, the first place to correct this is by asking yourself if a meeting is actually necessary? Or, is there a more effective alternative to calling a meeting? Before you determine whether to have a meeting or not, think, email. Next, consider an online chat or collaboration apps. Other options would be virtual meetings, internal wikis, or video presentations. Don’t rule out the effectiveness of the quick hallway chat or one-on-one.
The point is if there isn’t a purpose for having a meeting, then don’t have one. This way, you’re not wasting anyone’s valuable time, but still covering essential topics.
2. Understand the needs, behaviors, and schedules of employees.
“Meetings often take away valuable time from workers, decreasing their productivity, wrote Heather R. Huhman in a previous Entrepreneur article. “When planning meetings, understand employees’ schedules and workload for the week.”
For example, research conducted back in 2009 by WhenIsGood.net, found that “the best time of the week for a meeting is 3 p.m. on Tuesdays. That’s early enough in the week that the meeting won’t interfere with deadlines,” adds Huhman.
3. Invite fewer than eight people.
Robert Sutton, a professor of organizational behavior at Stanford University, found that big teams suck. Based on the research he examined, for meetings to be more productive, they should only include 5 to 8 attendees.
Sutton writes that “larger teams often place overwhelming ‘cognitive load’ on individual members. Most of us can mesh your efforts with and maintain good personal relationships with, say, three or four teammates.” However, as the group grows in size, “each member devotes more time to coordination chores (and less time to actually do the work), more hand-offs between the growing cast of members are required (creating opportunities for miscommunication and mistakes).” Sutton also says that “because each member must divide his or her attention among a longer list of colleagues, the team’s social glue weakens (and destructive conflict soars).”
In other words, when there are too many participants, high-priority topics are not discussed. High ranking jobs that need to be addressed may not be because too much time is spent on sharing information, catching-up, or attendees getting distracted side-conversations. Additionally, when the group expands, it doesn’t allow everyone to join in on the conversation — either because of time restraints or feeling intimidated.
4. The shorter, the better.
Here’s a proverb coined by British scholar C. Northcote Parkinson, Work expands to fill the time available for its completion. But what exactly does this have to do with meetings? Well, it means that you should keep the length of the meeting as short as possible.
There’s a couple of excellent reasons for this. First, if you set the meeting for an hour, and you only need 30 minutes, then you’re going to use that entire hour. As a result, you’re taking away those precious 30 minutes from everyone invited.
Secondly, there’s something called “cognitive backlog.” In a nutshell, this means that people will tune out of a meeting if it goes on for too long — no matter how well planned it is. The ability of people to pay attention and learn is why TED Talks are no longer than 18-minutes.
5. Focus on the “why.”
“Each team member reports a recent win and quickly gives a ‘what-so what-now what’ report, which helps us avoid regurgitating status reports, and get straight to the significant events,” Deb Gabor, President, Sol Marketing told Inc.coty m. Focusing on “the why” helps you make your meetings more effective.
“We end meetings with a 15-minute wild card slot focused on brainstorming, problem-solving, and business development activities,” adds Gabor. “This works because it gives ownership for a successful meeting to everyone, it respects everyone’s time, and it’s designed to hit the high notes–the why instead of the what.”
6. Create an agenda and share it in advance.
Perhaps the easiest way to make meetings more productive is to create an agenda. An agenda will help you determine the purpose and goals of the meetings, what will be discussed, and who to invite. Agendas also ensure that the meeting stays on track and doesn’t go over the allotted time — we found at Calendar that meetings with an agenda end 8-minutes earlier.
A meeting agenda doesn’t have to be complicated. It can be a simple document. But, it should cover the basics, such as when it start and end, the participants, location, objectives, and how everyone should prepare. Most importantly, make sure that you share this with invitees in advance.
7. Designate roles.
You need someone to lead the meeting. This individual, whether you or assigned to someone else, is responsible for planning and convening the event. They may also be in charge of leading some or all parts of the meeting.
However, other roles should be designated to invitees. For instance, someone should be appointed as the facilitator. It’s their job to keep discussions moving forward. There’s also the timekeeper who reminds presenters when time dedicated to a specific topic is almost up. And, there’s the recordkeeper you take meeting notes and transcribes them so that they can be shared following the meeting.
These roles should be assigned in advance. And, it wouldn’t hurt to switch these responsibilities up from one meeting to the next.
8. Have more standing meetings.
We spend a lot of time sitting throughout the day. One study reports that the average person sits for 12 hours a day. This type of sedentary lifestyle is not suitable. So, as a leader, you should look for opportunities to get your team to get up more often. And this includes meetings.
Besides being good for everyone’s health, researchers have found that standing meetings get people more excited about collaborating. Mainly this is due to participants being more willing to share their ideas. What’s more, these type of meetings is considered by attendees to be more efficient and purposeful.
9. Offer incentives or rewards.
An incentive may sound like you’re bribing people to attend your meetings. But it can be useful. For example, you could offer monetary rewards like debit or gift cards. Another idea would be to provide refreshments, like a catered lunch or nutritious snacks, to increase attendance.
10. Require participation.
“Ask each member of the meeting to report or present or randomly call on people to contribute to the conversation instead of waiting for them to offer commentary, suggestions, or feedback,” Jen Tadin, Gallagher, tells Forbes. “Nothing will make someone pay attention in your future meetings more than catching them off guard or unprepared when you call on them unexpectedly!”
You can also encourage attendees to participate by including Q&A sessions or interactive activities. Examples include quick problem-solving games, a team scavenger hunt, or a pop quiz — you can also use these as another way to reward attendance and participation.
11. Eliminate distractions.
One survey shows that an astounding 92% of meetings participants admitted to multitasking during the event. The biggest culprits? Employees admitted to using their electronic devices to check their email, messages, or other work during the meeting.
The best solution would be to ask people to their smartphones behind. If they forget to leave their phones at their workplace, then have them place them in a basket as they enter the meeting. Also, if you have any handouts, pass them out at the end and use slides to convey this information during the meeting.
12. Stay away from rabbit roles.
“Every meeting tends stray off-topic,” writes Lolly Daskal. “If the subject begins to wander, quickly move back to the agenda.” And, don’t hesitate “to intervene and bring the conversation back to the topic.”
What about off-topic discussions? Daskal recommends that you “park the idea with a commitment to revisit it at a later meeting.”
13. Perfect your presentation.
You’ve heard the adage “practice makes perfect.” Practice makes perfect can also be applied when presenting a meeting. I mean, imagine what your meeting would be like if you weren’t prepared. It would be chaos between everything, from rambling rants to technical difficulties.
Before the event, carve out the time to run through your presentation. It’s a great way to ensure that the key topics you’re discussing fit within the given timeframe. If an issue is lengthy, then you might need to do a little trimming. Also, it allows you to make sure any tech you’re using is working correctly.
But, perhaps most importantly, it assists you in creating a solid presentation by doing things like following the rule of three. The rule of three means that you don’t overwhelm your audience by only focusing on the three most important objectives. It could also encourage to tell a story as opposed to boring everyone with data. And, it may even help you select the right colors for items like your slides and attire.
14. Silence can be golden.
“There are lots of ways that silence in meetings can be leveraged,” says Steven Rogelberg, a professor of organizational science, management, and psychology at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. For example, it’s reasonable to brainstorm during meetings. “If you actually have people brainstorm ideas on paper, as opposed to verbally, and then collect those ideas, you will get nearly twice as many ideas,” adds Rogelberg.
Furthermore, these ideas “will be of higher quality, and they’ll be more creative. Brainstorming in silence allows people to be more honest,” he says. The reason is that these ideas aren’t influenced by “what the boss just said. And it allows for everyone to speak at once because you’re not waiting for that one person to finish their idea.”
“It’s a simple technique, and there are plenty of other ones around silence that can very much energize a good meeting,” he further explains. “What’s pretty exciting is that there is a host of software apps now that can facilitate this process — that allow for brainstorming on your phone, and then the outcomes are just shot right to the front of the screen.”
15. Keep the atmosphere positive.
“Psychological experiments have shown that the way a meeting starts, sets the tone for the whole meeting,” says Alexandar Kjerulf, aka the Chief Happiness Officer. “Start the meeting with complaints, problems, and mutual blame, and that’s what you’ll get.”
On the flip side, when meetings start and end on a positive note, they’ll be fun and engaging. Kjerulf suggests that at the start of each meeting, “ask each participant to briefly (= less than 30 seconds) share something positive.”
Some ideas would be:
- To share something that you’ve accomplished since the last meeting.
- Give a shoutout to someone who has recently helped you.
- Name one thing that you’re looking forward to in the near future?
- Share a funny story or interesting fact you’ve just learned.
16. Harness the power of AI.
Artificial intelligence, as my colleague John Hall explains, “consists of natural language processing, machine learning, and bots — is still in its early stages.” At the same time, this technology has already changed the business world for the better. Take, for example, how AI has improved how we schedule events thanks to the emergence of intelligent calendars.
These calendars can make smart suggestions on when and where a meeting should occur. If you’re curious about how this is possible, it’s because machine learning is used to review past invites. Additionally, you can create a new event by merely speaking into your smartphone.
However, we’re not 100 % reliant on AI just yet. But, expect this tech to “record meetings and transcribe and email notes after they’ve concluded.” As a result, it “can make smart suggestions on the invitees and documents needed.” AI will even be used to assign tasks and meetings automatically. Even more promising, it may also be able to read the room. As AI reads a room, it will then develop and share suggestions on how to engage specific attendees.
17. Summarize and assign responsibility.
Finally, don’t adjourn the meeting without a quick recap of the critical topics and action items that were discussed. Also, you need to let your audience what steps will be taken next, who’s responsible for what, and the timeframe.
Don’t forget to share this information with attendees via a follow-up email — along with the minutes. It allows everyone to plan and prepare for the next meeting so that it will be a more productive one.