11 Tips for Organizing Productive Meetings
We’ve all taken part in aimless meetings with too many participants. Those meetings drag on for what feels like hours. Remember when there weren’t any decision-makers in the meeting, so you had to meet the next day and cover it all again? Those meetings waste everyone’s time, and no one wants to be responsible for that. Luckily, there are tactics to organize a great, productive meeting, and I’m sharing them with you today.
These tips have helped my colleagues and me many times, and I’ve separated them into the meeting preparation, the meeting itself, and after the meeting. Often, preparation is the most crucial step for ensuring a productive meeting. This article is for organizers, and I’ll be writing one for participants very soon.
Stage One: Preparation
This stage is where you can transform your meeting from a useless snore-fest into a productive meeting for everyone. Get ready for admiration instead of eye rolls!
First, ask yourself some questions
What do you want to achieve with this meeting?
Try to come up with a measurable goal for this meeting. How will you know when you’ve achieved it?
Here’s an example: You need a sync-up meeting to discuss your team’s progress and weekly workflow. You’ll know you’ve achieved it when everyone is up-to-date with a set agenda and knows what they’re working on for the week. Their deadlines are in their calendars, and they’re raring to go.
What type of meeting do you want to organize?
- Presentation: One or two people present, and others listen (e.g., all-hands, internal talks)
- Team brainstorming: For generating ideas or solutions (e.g., roadmap planning)
- Discussion and problem-solving: For addressing a particular topic or discovering solutions to share across departments (e.g., internal/cross-department negotiations)
- Sync-up meeting: For team updates on projects and tasks (e.g., team stand-up)
Do you need a meeting at all?
Once you’ve worked out your meeting’s goal and format, you should be able to work out if you need a meeting at all. Can you get the same results from an email to everyone? Can you resolve the issue over Slack?
But why would you want to rethink a meeting?
Meetings are costly. It’s not just the hours people put into them; they’re also an interruption to workflow and productivity. We live in a work-from-home era where people are tired of meetings and interruptions. Many people are grateful when you can resolve issues over an email rather than an hour-long meeting.
Who do you need to invite to the meeting?
Deciding who will attend your meeting is a vital step. You don’t want to miss any crucial stakeholders. Invite decision-makers and people whose consultation might be needed to make decisions. If you forget to invite them, your meeting may lead to yet another meeting later on, making the process twice as long.
You also don’t want to send out too many invites and turn the meeting into an unproductive timesink. A professor at Stanford University concluded that the most productive meetings contain five to eight people, so keep your invite list short.
Not everyone who’s interested in the topic needs an invite: You can copy them into a follow-up summary email or speak to them directly afterward. It’s a cheaper way to keep people in the loop without sacrificing productivity time. It’s also easier to schedule a meeting with fewer people as you don’t have to work around many schedules.
Often, the most productive meeting is the one that never happened.
Create and share the meeting agenda
Once you’ve answered the questions above, you can start preparing the materials needed for your meeting. Typically, it’s an agenda document, but you may also need supporting documents or links.
Keep your meeting plan short and sweet. Don’t include too many things in one go: It’s easier to have a series of brief, well-targeted meetings rather than trying to address all the issues at once. This also makes it easier for you to invite relevant people and keep the meeting short.
When you’ve finalized the agenda, share it with the attendees. If you’re unsure about the final list of participants, it’s wise to share the meeting plan with them beforehand so they can see if it applies to them. You can also attach the agenda to the meeting you’re scheduling.
Whichever choice you make, you must share the agenda in advance. This gives the participants enough time to familiarize themselves with the topics and prepare. No one wants to be subjected to a barrage of technical questions when they haven’t had time to assess the situation.
Simply creating a brief plan and sharing it with attendees ahead of time can boost productivity to a whole new level.
For maximum productivity, ensure everyone is prepared for the meeting.
Schedule the meeting
The easiest step of all, once you’ve determined the meeting time! Everyone will appreciate you making your meetings 5-10 minutes shorter than round slots. So, instead of an hour-long meeting, opt for 50-55 minutes. Instead of half an hour, opt for 20-25 minutes.
Having time before your next meeting is invaluable, so working in extra 5-10 minute breaks is helpful for you and your colleagues. Stricter time slots also encourage more productive meetings and less unnecessary chit-chat as there’s a sense of urgency.
Stage Two: The Meeting
Set the scene
A brief opening speech moves the meeting in the right direction from the start and gets everyone on the same page.
Clearly state the following:
- The purpose of the meeting
- The expectations from each participant
- The desirable outcome
Assign roles if needed
Sometimes, assigning extra roles makes sense. If you have many participants, expect a heated discussion, or need to get through a lengthy schedule, you may need some help.
These are some popular roles:
- Timekeeper: Someone who keeps an eye on the schedule to ensure you have enough time for each important topic. It can also be helpful when discussions on some topics take much longer than others.
- Note taker: Someone who takes notes during the meeting to capture all critical information. These are also known as meeting minutes.
- Facilitator: Someone who keeps conversations topic-focused and productive during discussions that may get heated.
Time box the meeting
Overrunning a meeting is frustrating for everyone. People often have other obligations, so they’ll be stressed if your meeting takes too long and won’t contribute productively. Instead, they’ll wonder when they can escape the meeting, thinking about their other tasks.
If you need extra time, use other communication formats, such as email or Slack. You can also schedule another meeting with an updated list of participants.
If the discussion takes too long, step back and approach the problem from a different angle.
Plan a break for long meetings
Many people can’t stay focused for several hours at a time, so make sure you plan a break or two for long meetings. Your participants should be able to grab a drink and snack during the break.
If you’re providing snacks at an in-person meeting, that’s great! Make sure there’s time for your attendees to eat them. Many won’t want to snack while someone is talking in case they make too much noise.
Capture action points
We’ve all attended meetings that went nowhere, which frustrates everyone. Don’t be the person who arranges a pointless meeting and irritates their colleagues. When planning your meeting, you should have identified your meeting goal.
Ideally, your meeting will produce actions and ideas that will move you towards that goal. Ask the note taker to capture any action points you all agreed on during the meeting.
There is a simple yet powerful formula for capturing agreements, WWW:
- Who: The person responsible for executing this action, even if they delegate it. It must be someone participating in the meeting
- What: Specify what must be done or achieved exactly
- When: The date you expect the task to be completed
Stage Three: After The Meeting
Send a follow-up
If you had a note taker for the meeting, you could assign the follow-up responsibility to them. Generally, your follow-up should include all action points you’ve agreed on. You may also want to share interesting highlights and links. Don’t make it too long as people won’t read it, and time is money.
Your follow-up email is an excellent opportunity to share the outcome of the meeting with relevant people who didn’t attend, so make sure you copy them in.
The outcome of a meeting is not an email but the actions afterward.
Set reminders for action points
Your work isn’t done with the follow-up email, sorry! It’s just a starting point for tackling the action points and getting everyone on board with the tasks to complete.
Create a rule that the follow-up email thread should be updated after each action point deadline, even if the work hasn’t been completed. It’s a great opportunity to bring more transparency to the process for everyone to see the progress.
For tracking these deadlines, set yourself reminders on each action point’s deadline and ping the people responsible for completing the task.
Ask for feedback
If you’re organizing a series of meetings, get some opinions from your colleagues. Find out what people think of the meeting organization and content and what they think you could improve. This way, you’ll be able to integrate ideas you might not have considered and keep things productive.
Ready to revolutionize your meetings?
Organizing a meeting may sound straightforward, but it can be tricky. Finding a time slot that works for everyone is only one of the challenges! Making your meetings productive takes more effort than merely scheduling an event in everyone’s calendar.
Productive meetings are rare, and the organizers are even rarer. It’s time to stand out as a productive meeting maestro and boost your professional reputation with these tips.
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