By Melissa Lagowski
How many hours do you commit to meetings in a week? Out of 40 hours in an average work week, the majority of us are in meetings for at least half of that time. According to some stats in the nonprofit world, this could catapult to 65 or 75 percent. With so much of our lives devoted to collaboration via these collective encounters, let’s look at some ways to make your meetings more effective.
The first step to more productive meetings is that everyone must understand the purpose or reason for the meeting so they can prepare for it. Many groups convene with different ideas and/or priorities in their minds about why the meeting is being held. When you schedule the meeting, be clear about your intentions; likewise, if you are the recipient of the invitation, be sure to ask the organizer for this information so that you can plan accordingly.
Create An Agenda
Agendas are instrumental to meeting success. By outlining what will be discussed and in what order (always put priorities items first), you can start to outline what needs to be covered during the group’s time together. This premeditation on what needs to be tackled can be a gamechanger. You can request the information you need to keep the project, committee or team moving forward in a productive manner.
Our team will often put the project goals at the top of the agenda to also keep our objectives front and center. Since every decision is based on whether it helps to advance the desired outcomes, by having the goals listed in front of everyone, it is easy to reference them to keep people on point and chart the best course for your organization.
Share The Agenda In Advance
Once you have an outline created, share it with all the invitees at least 24 hours before the meeting so that participants have time to review the plan and get their thoughts organized. You can also invite others to add to the agenda if there is something people want to address outside of your items. By identifying this on the front end, it can help to prevent your meeting from veering off-track and careening into a ditch.
Hold Firm To The Agenda
Meeting management is a skill that every leader needs to practice, and the number-one task as a meeting leader is to hold firm to the agenda. Some meetings benefit by listing time limits for discussion so that you can keep a busy meeting progressing effectively.
If a guest brings up items that are not pertinent to the discussion, be prepared to put those items in a “parking lot” for discussion at another time, or perhaps you will have a personal follow-up about that topic outside of the existing meeting.
A meeting leader should also tell guests if they are addressing something that will be covered later in the meeting. It is not uncommon for people to want to speak to the agenda items out of order so use a simple redirect of, “That item is further down on the agenda. We will be discussing that shortly.” This is kind but firm for holding to the order of business at hand.
Always start your meeting on time and keep a steady pace for the group. Time is the most valuable asset we have, so we need to use it well and be respectful of other’s time. If someone is late to the meeting, it should be on them to feel like they missed out and/or need to catch up. The attendees will appreciate this.
The pace of the meeting is also important. Have you ever sat in a meeting that feels like it just drags on and on? It is difficult to hold people’s attention if you don’t maintain a steady pace for the discussions. Keep the meeting moving, and don’t linger on discussion points that are finished. Move on promptly.
Ensure All Voices Are Heard
Some people are natural leaders and, without even thinking, they ensure that everyone has shared their thoughts on critical topics and new ideas. Strong facilitators have to sometimes notice if someone hasn’t spoken, and then call on them to ask for their perspective. In most groups, there might be an overly vocal participant, but you want to make sure that no single person runs away with the conversation. Sometimes the quietest person in the meeting has the best solution. People will enjoy participating in gatherings where they feel seen and heard.
Effective Note Taking
Meeting notes remind people of the decisions that were made in a meeting. By accurately collecting these records, minutes can help prevent your committee, board or team from discussing the same item ad nauseum three sessions in a row.
Documenting and circulating these records also helps anyone who was unable to attend to quickly get up to speed. At Big Buzz Idea Group, we recommend drafting and distributing the meeting summary within 24 hours so you can record details with more clarity and then send to other attendees to review the notes while things are still fresh in their minds.
Share A Post Event Summary
In addition to documenting decisions, use the post-meeting summary to share action items. It is most helpful when you include who is responsible for each task, as well as any deadline that might be imposed for any of the follow-up items.
Whether you are the organizer or a guest, these useful tips will help you lead more productive meetings. Even as a guest, you can speak up in a meeting to keep participants on point and ensure better outcomes.