Have you ever been in a meeting where:
- you have no idea what the meeting is about?
- you feel that you do not need to be there because it does not pertain to you?
- you see other people not listening or engaging?
- you see a constant sidebar conversation happening?
- you come out with unclear result or plan?
If you answer yes to any of these questions, you already experienced how most meetings are being conducted nowadays. Believe it or not, meetings can be productive and effective. If they are not, everyone’s time and energy would be wasted. If you are in a position where you need to lead meetings regularly, after reading this post, you will have a good understanding on how to conduct a meeting effectively with confidence.
My current job requires me to lead meetings on regular basis all across management level and department. Every month I have to generate a report and present it to the president of the company with other high level managers. In the same month, I typically lead a meeting with 15 attendees or more in a room and on a conference call.
Today I am going to share with you what I have learned from running these meetings.
Here are my top 5 suggestions to have a productive and effective meeting:
1. Always post the objective of the meeting
When you send your meeting invitation for the first time, write down the goals of the meeting in the body of the email. Therefore, all attendees will understand why the meeting is required and whether their presence are needed.
Your main goal is to prepare your attendees’ mind what they should expect to hear from the meeting. You will also want to attach a quick agenda of all the topics that will be covered. Therefore, if you are expecting some tasks to be completed prior to the meeting, no one will be surprised.
By stating the objective of the meeting and sending out the agenda early, you will minimize the likelihood of misunderstanding among your attendees.
I also recommend that you start the meeting by reminding everyone again about the goal of the meeting. Therefore, every attendee will be on the same page.
2. Make sure the decision makers are present
Have you ever led a meeting where you need an input or even worse require an approval from someone, but that person is not showing up in your meeting? Well that happened to me once and I told myself I would never let that happen again.
What happened was I assumed that person would show up to my meeting even though he did not respond to my invitation. I should have known better that not everybody would click “yes” to a meeting invite and I am sometimes guilty of that too.
The last thing you want to happen at the meeting is to inform everybody that the meeting has to be rescheduled because of someone else’s lack of presence. Trust me! It is not a nice feeling to have.
So what did I do differently since then? I personally reach out to the person a few hours before the meeting time to verify his/her invitation response. I only do this for people whose presences are required and busy with their schedule. It is always good to double check.
3. Try a 30-minute stand-up meeting if suitable
Every Monday morning in my company there is a company wide meeting where every department will take turn to report their performance from the prior week and share any important updates.
As you can imagine there are lot people packed in one room. Realizing it is a Monday morning, the leader purposely set up a short 30 minutes meeting with a stand-up format to help people focus on the presentation. Everyone lines up against the wall making a “U” shape and looks at a giant screen.
I can honestly tell you that the majority if not all attendees are paying attention to the presentation. Perhaps our body posture has something to do with staying focus. Maybe when we stand up straight we somehow become more aware of our body and surrounding? I don’t have any study to back this claim but standing up at a meeting feels very different.
Obviously not all meeting are appropriate for stand-up format especially for a meeting where there will be a lot of working session. Nevertheless, if you think the meeting content and duration are suitable for a stand-up format, you should try it. I think it is a creative way on how to conduct a meeting effectively.
4. Start and finish on time all the time
I think many people are sensitive to time! They normally fall into two categories. They either say they do not have enough time or have too much time. I tend to be in the former category.
If you value time highly and you have been treating your meeting time like such, starting and finishing it on time, you may skip this point and move on the next tip.
However, if you for whatever reasons are struggling to start and finish your meeting on time, you will want to continue reading. Sticking to your schedule shows discipline and ownership to your attendees.
You will most likely gain respect from your peers because you have respected their time by committing to your schedule. Always remember that your audiences also have other commitments and things to do.
The best way to start a meeting on time is to come early enough to prepare for your meeting for unforeseen circumstances. I had several instances when suddenly the room’s projector did not work so I had to perform some troubleshooting for a few minutes. On a different occasion, the conference phone did not work so I had to switch the meeting room last minute.
Now let’s talk about some “what if” scenarios:
- What if there is only 1 or 2 people in the room when the meeting starts? Unless there is a valid reason, such as most of your attendees just walk out from another meeting, you want to close the door and start the meeting.
- What if the big boss has not arrived yet to the meeting? Well… my answer will depend on the importance of his/her presence and your relationship. When someone is late to the meeting, she should realize that she is at fault and should not be upset if the meeting has started without her.
- What if you are not able to cover all topics within the allocated time? If you are absolutely sure that you only need another 5 minutes to finish off, ask the audience whether they can stay for 5 more minutes? If nobody objects, quickly continue and conclude the meeting on time. Anything longer than 5 minutes, you will need to either schedule a follow up meeting or explain your last point through email.
Again you are sending a firm message to your peers that you are appreciative for their presence and time.
5. No cellphone or laptops
I know nobody who does not own a smart phone. Even my 90 years old grandma owns one. Depending on your role, your company may provide you with a smart phone.
If you notice that some of your audiences regularly check their phone while you are talking, you want to address that respectfully and immediately. They should know that they need to step out if they truly have an emergency. Not only their behavior show disrespect to you but could also disturb other attendees.
How about having laptops at the meeting? This may not be an issue for you if your company only provides a desktop computer. However, for me it is quite the opposite. Every employee in my company is given a laptop. Therefore, it is very common to see people coming to the meeting with their laptops.
Sometimes it is necessary for your attendees to bring their laptops especially if you are leading a meeting that requires a lot of data input and analysis but most of the time, a normal meeting will not need it. A paper and pen are just fine to write down some notes.
So if you do not want your attendees to work on their laptop while you are talking, you need to mention it in the beginning and respectfully request them to close their laptop. As soon as I make that request, everyone closes their laptop and no one opens it back up until the meeting is over. I think nobody wants to be that first person who is going to break the rule.
OK I know I said 5 suggestions but this last point is too important not to mention. I am making it a short one and straight to the point.
6. There is no such thing as a bad meeting. There is only a bad moderator
What do I mean by this?
I think that leading a meeting is like driving a car. Do you know that most auto accidents can be avoided if all drivers involved in the accidents drive passively? Think about the last time you are in auto accidents or someone else you know, you probably could have prevented it if you just drove differently.
Maybe you were driving too close to the car in front of you? Perhaps you should drive slower when it is raining or snowing? Maybe you should have checked your tire pressure before you leave for work? Maybe you should let that aggressive driver pass you by instead of speeding up your car?
By the end of the day, you have a full control over yourself and your car.
If you want to run a meeting effectively, you need to own it. Sometimes external reasons may result in a not so good meeting but most of the time, you are the reason why.
Do you state the objective of the meeting beforehand so that people can participate and engage at the meeting? Do you make sure all pertinent attendees are present? Do you respect other people’s time by starting and finishing your meeting on time? Do you remove any possible distractions, such as cell phone and laptops?
Do not blame or complaint on things that you cannot control. So if you ask me how to conduct a meeting effectively? My answer is that you own your meeting and take charge!
To Your Success,