Three Steps for Hosting Effective Meetings

When I say the word “meeting,” what thoughts come to mind? “There are too many.” “They’re a waste of time.” “I don’t know what we are doing.” Sound familiar? I am guilty of thinking this in many meetings at our integrated marketing agency in Phoenix, often wondering if there could be a better way. And, if you are like me, you probably did not get any formal training on how to do an effective meeting. Few do. Meetings can be a colossal cost to the business. This simple meeting cost calculator from the Harvard Business Review puts it into perspective.

Everyone wants meetings to be productive, efficient, and, most of all, effective. So, what makes a meeting effective? I believe it is when the right people are gathered to have an open discussion around a specific purpose that garners a tangible result. Easy, right? Well, not always. But it can be, if you follow three steps: Prepare. Conduct. Follow-up. In essence, meetings have a before, during, and after state, and each of them needs careful attention and effort to render the entire meeting effective.

STEP 1: PREPARE

Evaluate – The very first question to ask yourself before sending out a calendar invite is, “What type of meeting do I need?” There are several kinds:

  • A Status meeting is where you share information, but can often be easily replaced with an email thread or shared spreadsheet
  • Decision-Making and Problem-Solving meetings – ask yourself if a decision can be made or a problem solved in a one-on-one conversation
  • Planning and Kicking-off – ask yourself if all the requirements, information and people are available to have the discussion you need

Agenda – Then ask yourself “What do I want coming out of this meeting?” A decision? Assigned tasks? An agreement? Whatever it might be, know this before going in, and send an agenda with your objectives along with background information and a schedule if needed. This prepares your team for the discussion.

Attendees – Finally, ask yourself “Who needs to be there?” In my experience, having fewer people in a meeting is always more productive. The goal is to get the right people together. If a decision needs to be made, then you’ll need someone with decision-making authority. If things need to get done, you’ll need the doers to be there.

STEP 2: CONDUCT

Make your objective clear – At the beginning of each meeting, make sure your objective is clearly stated. This goes back to your agenda, and what you need coming out of the meeting. A good kickoff at the beginning sets the pace for the meeting and gets the discussion going.

Stick to your agenda – Open discussions should always be the goal to promote dialogue and collaboration but mind the tangent discussions. They can lead the meeting off track, making it more difficult to achieve your original objective. It can also make the meeting longer.

Start on time, end on time – Attention starts to wane after a half hour, so try to schedule short meetings. Also, if someone comes in late, do not stop the meeting and provide a recap for that one person. Don’t reward their tardiness by repeating the discussion to everyone who was on time.

No soapboxes – No one person should be talking more than their fair share. It stifles collaboration, and on the flip side of that, mostly silent attendees are not helping either. Gatherings are to establish face-to-face communications to ensure clarity and agreement. The extremes of talking too much or not at all make discussions more difficult.

Stop multi-tasking – Using technology like mobile phones or notebook computers during a meeting does not demonstrate respect for the people in the room or their time. Banning technology use seems a bit extreme, so be mindful of technology, and request that it not be used during the meeting to set the ground rules.

Q&A – Ensure that an open discussion environment is fostered so that questions are built into the discussion throughout, and not allocated just for the end of the meeting. At the same time, still save time for questions near the end of the meeting.

Recap – It’s best to repeat all the decisions made at the end of the meeting as a wrap-up, and it is a good catalyst for any remaining questions that the team may have.

STEP 3: FOLLOW UP

It’s common for people to come away from the same meeting with very different interpretations of what went on. To reduce this risk, email a memo highlighting what was accomplished to all who attended within 24 hours after the meeting. It’s best when it is done while fresh in your mind. Document the responsibilities given, tasks delegated and any assigned deadlines and schedules.

When meetings have purpose, decisions are made, plans are created, discussions are meaningful and questions are answered. Preparing, conducting and following up a meeting requires a methodical approach, and the steps outlined above can get you there. They are easy to remember but task-intensive, and require significant effort and attention to make meetings effective; but it’s worth it when done right.