Meetings are a necessary evil. Sometimes, you simply have to get a bunch of people together at one time in order to resolve a problem or share information. While Tier 3 was a very collaborative environment where there were very few meetings and information flowed freely, our new parent company (CenturyLink) has 50,000 people spread around the globe who need information that I have. So in any given week, I now have 40+ meetings on my calendar. Good times. Fortunately my new colleagues are a great bunch, but they occasionally fall into same bad meeting habits that I’ve experienced throughout my career.
Very few people LIKE meetings, so how can organizers make them less painful? Here are my top 10 pieces of advice (in no particular order):
- Have a purpose to the meeting, and state it up front. It seems obvious, but I’ve been in plenty of meetings in my career where it seemed like the organizer just wanted to get people together and talk generally about things. I hate those. Stop doing that. Instead, have a clear, succinct purpose to what the meeting is about, and reiterate it when the meeting starts.
- Provide an agenda. Failing to send an agenda to meeting participants should result in meeting privileges being taken away from an organizer. What are we trying to accomplish? What are the expected outcomes? I’ve learned to reject meeting invites with an empty description, and it feels GLORIOUS. Conversely, I quickly accept a meeting invite with a clear purpose and agenda.
- Give at least 1 day of lead time. I find it amusing when I get meeting invites for a meeting that’s already under way, or that’s starting momentarily. That assumes that (potential) participants are sitting around waiting for spontaneous meeting requests that are immediately the most important thing in the world. In reality, that is only the case 1% of the time. Try and schedule meetings as far ahead as possible so that people can make adjustments to their calendar as needed.
- Always have a decision-maker present. Is there anything rougher than sitting through a 1 hour meeting and then realizing that no one in the room has the authority to do anything? Ugh. Unless the meeting is purely for information sharing, there should ALWAYS be people in the room who can take action.
- Only invite people who will actively contribute. It’s rare that a 10+ person meeting yields value for all those participants. Don’t invite the whole world and hope that a few key folks accept. Don’t invite more than one person who can answer the question. The only people who should be in the meeting are the ones who make decisions or those that have information that contribute to a decision.
- Do not cancel a meeting after it’s scheduled start time. Nothing’s more fun than sitting on hold waiting for a meeting to start, and then getting a cancellation notice. Plenty of people arrange parts of their days around certain meetings, so last-second cancellations are infuriating. If you’re a meeting organizer and you are pretty sure that a meeting will be moved/cancelled, send out a notice as soon as possible! Your participants will thank you.
- Start meetings on time. I’ll typically give an organizer 5-8 minutes to start a meeting. If I’m still waiting after that, then the meeting really isn’t that important.
- Schedule the least amount of time possible. It’s demoralizing to see 2-5 hour meetings on your calendar. Especially when they are for “working sessions” that may not need the whole time slot. We all know the rule that people fill up the time given, so as a general rule, provide as little time as possible. Be focused! When organizing any meeting, start with a 30 minute duration and ask yourself why it has to be longer than that.
- Prep the presenters with background material. I enjoy meetings where I hear “… and now Richard will walk through some important data points” and I’m caught by surprise. This is where an agenda can help, but make sure that presenters in your meeting know EXACTLY what you expect of them, who is attending, and any context about why the meeting is occurring.
- End every meeting with clear action items. Nothing deflates a good meeting like an vague finish. Summarize what needs to be done, and assign responsibility. Even in “information sharing” meetings you can have action items like “read more about it here!”
Any other tips you have to help organizers conduct efficient, impactful meetings?