19 rules to make meetings worth your time

Everyone has attended or witnessed a meeting at some point in their life. Meetings are great communication and planning tools; however, they can be considered boring and unproductive by many employees as they are mistakenly regarded as long and dull processes. However, perceiving them like this is a mistake as they are great sources of information on the company and the industry.

Meetings are supposed to be inspiring and energetic as they allow cooperation among co-workers. They are a great way to solve problems and inject dynamism into work groups as they help everyone be aware of what others are also working on, follow their progress and therefore grasp a better understanding of how the company works and its current state in the market.

Planning and carrying out effective meetings are skills any business should constantly work on and the reason why employees should always aim to improve their ability to conduct them. This is why, on the following paragraphs, we will provide some useful information on how to plan interesting and exciting meetings that keep people engaged and involve in the conversation.

Part one: Behind the curtains

One common mistake of “boring” meetings is the lack of direction. Meetings should always serve a purpose since the lack of it can make even the most relevant information seem pointless. If people don’t understand why they are gathered together, they will not be engaged in the discussion, thus transforming the meeting into monologs and reducing the interest from the attendants.

Depending on their objectives, there are 3 main types of meetings and although there might be more, the following ones are the most common and broad categories:

  • Operational meetings: this type of meeting has as objective the discussion of current time-sensitive problems caused by actions or processes of the business as well as finding the best solution for them.
  • Business builder meetings: as the name says it, this type of meeting focuses on improving or expanding capabilities and capacities within the business.
  • Strategical meetings: it has as objective the creation or reevaluation of the business’ strategy in order improve long-term results.

It is vital to identify the objectives of each meeting in order to create the most effective approach for each. Categorizing meetings by their objectives will help you achieve better results as you will have a solid understanding of what needs to be accomplished in each session. For instance, operational meetings need to stay short and relevant to the issues you planned to discuss as they commonly deal with current issues that need to be resolved in the near future. On the other hand, strategical meetings tend to be longer and more open to debate since they are focused on developing long-term plans which tend to be more broad and open to discussion. As we can see, categorizing your meetings will save you, and the rest of the attendants, time by establishing clear guidelines for each category, allowing you to better understand the expectations for each one.

Now that you know your objectives and have defined the type of meeting you want to carry, it is time to start preparing it.

Part two: Preparing your stage

Ideal meetings are always quick, clear and straightforward; however, this not always resembles reality where many of us have experienced meetings that have lasted for hours, if not all afternoon. So, why does this happen?

Meetings are not spontaneous or improvised events. In order to achieve good results, it is necessary to properly plan all topics needed to be discussed and provide the group with the necessary tools to conduct the meeting smoothly. Arriving at a meeting unprepared not only delays the whole process, but it can also cause confusion and mistakes as people can misunderstand conversations or fail to provide important information that might benefit the development of the meeting. In order to avoid these situations and properly prepare your meeting, you can follow the next 5 steps.

    • Delimitate your topics

It is crucial for any meeting to set a detailed list of the items to be discussed during the meeting. Nevertheless, it is also as important to set boundaries for each one of your topics. Remember not all aspects of every topic on your list need to be discussed so, avoid items that do not need others’ inputs as this will only use up important time from your meeting.

    • Organize your information

Unfortunately, throwing a list of items to discuss is not enough to excel at meetings. It is also necessary to properly organize or categorize the information in order to ensure a good flow of information as well as natural transitions between topics.

    • Set a time limit

As we mentioned before, each category of meetings has a different dynamic so, keep in mind what type of meeting you are having in order to set an appropriate time for it. However, once you set your time limit, remember to respect it since going overboard might affect others’ obligations and create nuisances among attendants.

    • Add it to the agenda

It is also important to establish the frequency of each type of meeting you are planning to have. This will not only help you prepare your next meetings, but it will also define due dates for projects you might be working on as you might be required to share their results during each meeting.

    • Communicate all relevant data

All this information gathered for the meeting is useless if not shared. Preparing a meeting is not a one-person job and everyone attending needs to be involved. You can easily do this by sharing pre-reads such as a list of topics, starting and ending time, business’ data or any other information you may consider relevant via email or any other communication platform you may use.

You finally have everything ready to start your meeting.

Part three: Showtime

Photo by  Gavin Whitner

Now that you have a structured plan for your meeting as well as all the information you might need at your reach, you can start with the actual meeting. Each work team has its own dynamics and only practice will let you find out the perfect balance for your team. However, there are some key practices that might help you speed up the process and improve the way you carry out your meetings.

    • Take it seriously: meetings are part of the job and should be taken as seriously as the rest of your daily obligations. So, arrive on time and stay focus on what people are saying
    • Moderate conversations: although we might have delimited our topics, it is very easy to drift to irrelevant issues or get wrapped up into long debates. To avoid this, you may consider assigning a “Meeting moderator” which will keep track of the conversations and notify the group when it has gone off topic or people are taking too long.
    • Explain important keywords: businesses are filled with people from different professional backgrounds and not everyone knows or understand your professional lingo. To avoid misunderstandings, simply explain any keyword you might consider important.
    • Go to the source of the problem: there is always more than one approach when solving problems, this is why only focusing on solutions might not always be the best idea. Instead, try to identify the source of the problem and the needs that are not being fulfilled. This way, it will be much easier to find a solution that everyone agrees with.

  • Speak up: Sometimes people are shy. This is why it is important to remember to express your concern when you feel something is not going right. Bear in mind that if you are feeling bored, there’s a good chance others are too.
  • Ask questions: it is easy to stay quiet and avoid talking, however, meetings are packed with valuable information so do not shy away from asking any question you might have.
  • Plan overflow: as usual, time is a scarce resource and not all topics can be discussed during each meeting. So, do not try to cram all this less relevant information into the last 10 or 15 minutes of the meeting as this will only create confusion. Instead, set a time to address the issues outside the meeting with only the people that are concerned by it. Another option to tackle the lack of time is doing a “speed meeting” which consists of an informal meeting with 2 or 3 people in where only one topic is discussed after receiving insights or other relevant information from the previous meeting.

Part four: Curtain call

Your meeting is almost over, however, there are still some important issues you need to address in order to call it successful. Now, there is no more discussion about the topics you had planned, all the information has been placed on the table and then discussed. However, the meeting is not over. In order to accomplish a successful meeting, it needs to spur actions and bring tangible results to the business which is why you should never end a meeting without executing these next four steps:

    • Summarize responsibilities

It is very easy to forget or miss information at meetings as you are receiving important amounts of it in a short period of time. For this reason, it is essential to summarize findings and recap all the decisions taken during the meeting. This way, you guarantee that all of what you have discussed during this time has been heard and assure actions will be taken.

    • Lay out accomplishments

Discussing what you have accomplished in your meeting will not only improve the mood of the group after hours of hard work but it will also help everyone understand, in a very straightforward manner, why was this meeting necessary as well as the reasoning behind what each person or area in the company considers successful.

    • Gather feedback

Planning spectacular meetings is not a perfect science. For many companies, finding the best dynamic for meetings is a trial and error process. Therefore, gathering as much feedback on what went right or wrong during the meeting is extremely valuable information for most companies.

    • Track results

As we mentioned before, in order to call a meeting successful, it must have spurred actions leading to tangible results which is why, it is so important for managers, supervisors, or any person in charge of conducting meetings, to track this information in order to observe first-hand, if meetings are bringing results to the table. Tracking results bring us measurable and quantifiable data that we can compare to results from other meetings and find in an unbiased way, the best practices for our business.

Planning successful meetings is not an easy task. For many of us, it is a trial and error process which takes time and practice, however, hopefully these steps enabled you to considerably improve your skills at conducting inspiring meetings.

Meetings are all about communication and cooperation, so remember to properly prepare your meeting in advance, always keep a curious mind during them, ask questions and listen to what others are saying.

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