As inspiration for this article, I Googled the phrase “Meetings are…” There were a lot of results, none of which were complimentary:
- Meetings are toxic
- Meetings are a waste of time
- Meetings are useless
Entrepreneur was even more blunt, calling meetings “one of the worst business rituals.” In one office where I used to work, you could actually hear the collective groan as people received their invite.
Although company leaders seem to love the idea of them, nearly all managers and employees dislike meetings. They’re seen as a productivity-killer and research suggests that they can also be a financial drain: one Fortune 500 company estimated that pointless or poorly-run meetings represented losses in excess of $75 million per year.
Does this mean that we should relegate in-person meetings to the corporate past, along with floppy disks and typewriters, now that there are more efficient communication mediums like email, content management systems (CMS) and DropBox?
Not quite. Despite all of the above vitriol, not every meeting is a waste of time. When used appropriately, they can make your company run more efficiently by serving as a team-building tool, creating a shared sense of purpose, and even providing a creativity boost.
Running an effective meeting is neither difficult nor a chore. The right approach and resources will engage attendees, inspire them, and produce results. Here’s how you do it.
Invite Only Those Who Need to Be There
People get bored quickly when the information they hear is not relevant to them. Only send invites to those who really need to be there and send memos or meeting minutes to everyone else. A popular article in the Harvard Business Review once stated that the most effective meetings have no more than seven attendees. Less really is more.
Respect everyone’s time by being ready to go the moment the clock strikes nine (or whatever time the meeting is scheduled to begin). Few things are more frustrating than having to sit there for 10 minutes while the organizer troubleshoots their PowerPoint presentation or waits for IT to resolve their Internet issue.
If you’re the organizer, it’s your responsibility to make sure that your technology works, enough agendas are printed up, etc., before the meeting starts. When meetings run overtime due to poor preparation, you can count on an unhappy audience.
Start on Time
This tip is an extension of the first one. Don’t wait until the meeting is due to start before you grab a coffee or water, distribute the necessary material, log in remote participants, etc. Companies waste an average of 10 minutes of every meeting on these preliminary steps, which extends the schedule and frustrates people who may need to be somewhere the moment the meeting was originally scheduled to end.
Stay on Topic
When a meeting lacks focus, you won’t be able to hold everyone’s attention. This is why it is essential to stay on topic. How many of you have attended a meeting that dissolves into a discussion about problems in a particular department or how bad the new antivirus system is when you’re supposed to be talking about a marketing project? Not only is this boring, but it’s also counterproductive.
The best meetings take place when you keep all attendees on topic. Avoid tangents in the conversation and stay on track. This is where a detailed agenda can help. It’s a useful point of reference that can remind everyone what needs to be discussed and serve as a reference point when you have to deal with a digression.
Use the Right Visuals
Visual tools have a dramatic effect on engagement and participation. When you want your team to understand a concept or improve a process, mapping it out in a PowerPoint or even a whiteboard diagram will hold their attention and make them understand your point more easily.
If you are calling a meeting to discuss project progress, use a presentation software that has strong visual appeal. One popular choice is Toggl Plan, which is a web-based tool used by companies like Disney, Buzzfeed, and National Geographic to plan and manage projects.
Toggl Plan uses Gantt charts to illustrate timelines, milestones, and other information surrounding project status. It has been praised as one of the best tools for graphically depicting a project in the context of its time frame. Creative organizations like graphic and web design agencies are especially enthusiastic about its ability to color code project elements for an easier visual overview.
When you use visuals at your meeting, it becomes easier to focus and express your thoughts in a way that everyone can follow. Visuals also encourage problem-solving, brainstorming, and other positive outcomes.
Have you ever sat in a boardroom, listening to the meeting organizer talk but not really hearing a word they are saying? When you’re not actively participating, it’s too easy for your attention to shift.
One way to prevent attendees from responding to your presentation in a similar manner is to assign them some pre-work. (Let’s leave homework in high school where it belongs.) Tasking people with providing suggestions or solutions for agenda items can result in richer and meaningful discussions as well as prevent boredom.
As the previous tip suggests, one of the best tools for engaging people during meetings is to have them participate. If handing out pre-work is not feasible, do the next best thing: ask everyone questions.
When you solicit feedback and opinions, your attendees will do more than pay closer attention: they will also feel empowered and become contributors instead of a passive audience. Your meeting will also transform from something to be endured to a lively forum that produces great ideas.
When you run an effective meeting, no one will be bored. By encouraging everyone to both exchange information and interact with one another, you energize the audience and add value to the topics being discussed. Company objectives will be met faster while morale goes up and who knows, you just might change everyone’s mind about meetings!
Rose Keefe is an author and technical writer who has over ten years’ experience in supporting project managers in the manufacturing and construction sectors. One of her primary responsibilities was developing product manuals that supported efficient use of industrial equipment. She continues to write on the subject of time management and commercial productivity for trade websites and publications.