How to Keep Meetings Productive

6 min read

Meetings are one of the most powerful business weapons in the competitive business world. Are your meetings as effective as they could be? Scheduling productive business meetings is an entire process that you don’t want to get wrong.

Your meetings should always produce outcomes or solutions without wasting time. It’s easy to put a bunch of people in a small room to talk about something that can go in different directions, which can lead to sidetracking, arguments, and loss of focus.

The goal is to schedule a meeting where everyone is actively listening to one another and sharing beneficial information. Furthermore, an ideal meeting should generate new ideas and spark innovation within the workplace. When and if a decision is made, each person involved should understand the reason why they were made and what that means moving forward.

Throughout this article, we are going to first tell you when you should hold meetings and why. Then we will move on to discuss the agendas you should have at your meetings. We’ll go into the actual meeting itself and talk about how to keep meetings simple, to the point and on track.

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Is the Meeting Necessary?

Ask yourself if the meeting you’re about to schedule is necessary. This is because it can actually be more beneficial to try and move the same discussions out of meetings and straight to where people are sitting instead of pulling them away from their focus. This can also save time for everyone who would have to attend the meeting. Let’s talk about alternatives for meetings you can use.

Slack

Slack is a very popular tool for employees to communicate and schedule with one another. It saves time that was once spent on bringing lots of people together that can now communicate with each other instantly from more than just one building. Slack allows you to share documents and create multiple groups for specific teams or projects.

But then again, Slack isn’t great for long and important conversations that need to go in-depth. Slack is more for communication that is short and kept to the point. However, it does have the option for teleconferencing, which allows teams to have longer discussions. This feature comes in handy especially for important discussions that have to be held nation or worldwide. Even though this attempts to resemble a real-life meeting, it does not have the same dynamic as if it were face-to-face such as the eye-contact, body language, active listening, and much fewer distractions.

There are other times when you won’t need to teleconference and can simply talk from your fingertips about something quick to save you and your colleagues more time.

When Are Meetings Necessary?

Even though these tools are extremely useful and save hours, this doesn’t mean you should cancel all your meetings, those are still important. The most important reason for a meeting is when a decision or solution needs to be made, the decision-maker does not have all the information needed and that information is given to more than one person. Another reason to have meetings is to create relationships that only human interaction can make.

Meetings are useful for sharing important information and enhancing team spirit. In smaller companies, it’s easier to make everyone feel that they have a role in the decisions that are made for the company. For small businesses to succeed, everyone in that environment should feel like their voice is being heard and that they are valued. For larger companies this is more difficult, so they typically have to make do with using memos to share information.

So, ask yourself these questions before scheduling a meeting…

  1. Is a meeting necessary or can the same information be exchanged differently?
  2. What benefits, if any, will this specific meeting bring that messaging or calling can’t?
  3. How long will the meeting take and what can be done to reduce the time?
  4. Is the time the meeting will consume worth the benefits it will bring?

Once you have come to a decision on whether to have a meeting or not, you will need to create an agenda before you schedule the meeting.

Preparing an Agenda

A poorly held meeting is what’s going to waste your time. Usually, that leads to bad decisions. Avoiding this happens before the meeting even starts. Meaning, it must be properly prepared.

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Pick Your Participants

Choose participants you believe are going to contribute most and actively listen. Keep in mind more people attending means more voices to be heard and more comments to be said. This usually means the meeting will take longer. So, only invite the people that really need to be there.

Because you may not be able to invite everyone to the meeting, consider asking those not attending for agenda suggestions or other topics they feel are important so they feel represented and included. After the meeting takes place, thank them for their contribution whether it’s sending a quick message or telling them as you stop by their desk.

Although you won’t be able to talk about all the points people suggest, collecting them from everyone makes them feel included and can give you a variety of new ideas.

Pick Your Time

Now you need to find a time that everyone can make. Using a smart calendar may make this step a little easier as you can see everyone’s availability. Sending emails back and forth to find a time for everyone will get tedious and potentially messy. A company-wide calendar that everyone has access to will save you much more time.

Transform Topics to Questions

The way your agenda is written needs to be more than just listing off discussion topics. It needs to guide your participants. For instance, titling a section of your agenda as “Marketing Research” won’t stimulate participants to come up with as many ideas. Wording it as a question such as, “Should we shift research to different demographics or continue to stay the same?” would get your participants actively thinking for answers, especially when your agenda is out before the meeting.

The purpose of having your agenda sent out before your meeting is so people can gather their ideas, suggestions or solutions. The actual meeting is not when people should be thinking for the first time, it’s when they should be presenting their ideas.

Not only does framing your agenda in question form get all the participants actively thinking beforehand and save tons of time, but it also gives the organizer power to direct the conversation. Open-ended questions can go several different ways while questions with only two possible answers limit the arguments or comments. Word questions to what’s best worth your time and remember that the meeting leader should be the person who organized the agenda.

Go Over the Decision-Making Process

You can ask as many questions as you want, but those all lead to what’s most important: making the final decision. On your agenda, include how those decisions are going to be made by the choice of your meeting’s leader. This lets the participants know what direction their contributions will lead to.

Furthermore, showing the decision-making process ensures people that their voices are heard and they are making a real influence, giving them more confidence and motivation to do their jobs and frequently participate.

Set a Timer for Your Agenda

Each topic (or a question) on the agenda should have an estimated time limit. Of course, you can extend the time if valuable ideas are being presented. Letting people know how much time they have to present their ideas makes sure there is no rambling and that everything they say is valuable.

Say Goodbye to Distractions

Although everything may be prepared beforehand, nothing is perfect. Even the best-planned meetings can still go off-topic. This can happen for various reasons, which we have solutions for.

Multitasking at Meetings

Many people think they can multitask during meetings. Even if you’re just checking an email or replying to a text, you aren’t fully paying attention. Your team may have their phones turned on silent, but any notification that pops up will tempt them to look at their phone or send a quick reply.

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Here are a few ways to fix that.

  1. Take their phones away. It may sound like a hassle but all you need is a designated phone bucket. Remind your attendees it’s so everyone can stay focused since some people make take it offensively.
  2. Limit the number of attendees. The fewer people you have, the harder it is for them to check their phones without anyone else noticing. With 20 people in a meeting, it’s much easier to hide if they are on their phones. More participants create more distractions.

Start Broad, Then Narrow Down

Not all topics on your agenda will be relevant to everyone at the meeting. If meetings are more efficient when they’re smaller, focus on the topics that are relevant to the people who are actually there. This will help you save time and keep people engaged. Make the first few topics relevant to everyone, then dive into the specifics for your attendees.

Cut down on Note-Taking

The best meetings share information that isn’t just exchanged, the information is turned into a plan for action where everyone is aware of their responsibilities and deadlines as they head straight back to work, leaving the meeting more knowledgeable than they were before.

As always, too much of something can have a backlash effect. Participants scribbling to keep up can cause them to be focused solely on their notes, not on contributing, listening or thinking about the meeting. If you notice people are more focused on their notes, consider taking a break. Tell everyone to take a break from notes and just talk for a little bit.

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Meetings are for talking and listening. Think about bringing in an assistant to take notes and then share them with everyone after the meeting.

Get Rid of Audio-Visual

What’s worse than a meeting? A meeting with a PowerPoint.

More often than not, they are just a waste of time with slides that are filled with too much information. Audiences end up reading more than listening. Once done reading, the presenter says exactly what was just read, losing the audience’s engagement.

If you really need to use a PowerPoint, get rid of everything you don’t need. Use the most important elements to structure your presentation, not to replace it. Also, make sure the computer, projector or whatever you’re using works! Don’t waste ten minutes of your meeting time setting up the PowerPoint either.

Productive Meetings Wrap Up

In a perfect meeting, no one would be on their phones, everyone would actively listen and contribute to the conversation to come to a solution. There would be one designated note-taker for the meeting who would distribute the notes to everyone after. PowerPoints would not be the go-to but if one needs to be used, it would be rare and engaging.

Preparing and managing meetings is a crucial skill for a business leader to have. However, it is sometimes overlooked.

Everyone has left a meeting feeling like they went nowhere and that it was a waste of their time. Everyone has felt left out once or twice during a meeting. Even though this can’t always be prevented, we’ve shown you there are ways to improve meetings for everyone.

As we mentioned before, meetings are one of the most important weapons a business possesses and they are a key element in a company’s growth. If you plan and prepare it right, everyone’s time will be spent efficiently.

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