9 Tips For Productive Meetings

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How do you feel when someone wastes your time?

I used to volunteer for an organization that had monthly meetings.  Every month, I would show up on time and wait for thirty minutes while people filtered in and visited.  The meeting that was scheduled for one hour would start late and drag on for an hour and a half to two hours.  Even after the leader of the meeting started the discussion, it would be dominated by two or three volunteers.  We would never accomplish anything until people started to leave and the leader of the meeting would rush through what we should have covered early on.

I started to show up late so I could miss the chit chat session, and eventually realized that the meetings were a complete waste of my time.  I stopped volunteering for that organization and invested my time somewhere else.  Here are 9 tips to help you make your meeting as productive as possible:

Prepare yourself and your team before the meeting.

Review your objectives with your internal team, including any underlying objectives that you have for your meeting.  Know what you would like to say and tell each team member what you would like them to cover so everyone can prepare ahead of time.  If you have a partner organization participating in the meeting, connect with them prior to the meeting.  Explain what you would like to accomplish and let them know how they can help you reach your goals.  Ask them if they have any goals that you can help them with during your meeting.

Distribute your agenda ahead of time.

Your agenda should go through peer review and be distributed to everyone prior to the meeting.  This allows everyone time to prepare for discussion on the topics you plan to cover.  This also ensures that participants who do not need to attend have a chance to change their schedule and use their time more effectively.  You may also avoid having someone else hijack your meeting and dominate the entire conversation by distributing the topics ahead of time.  Read more about creating the perfect agenda here.

State your objective.

Clearly tell people what you hope to accomplish during the meeting at the beginning.  State the purpose of the meeting on your agenda to avoid any confusion.  One of the worst things that can happen is to have someone else take over your meeting and you will not accomplish what needs to be done.  By stating the objective up front, you set the tone for your meeting and help everyone focus.

Start on time, end on time.

You can start your meeting with the customary greetings and small talk as people arrive.  However, keep this to a minimum and when all team members are present, jump into the first item on the agenda.  If your meeting is taking longer than expected, make a subtle comment like, “We only have ten minutes to cover the next three topics, so I will cover item #4 quickly…”  This tells everyone in the meeting that you will be ending the meeting on time, and that you need to move quickly to cover the remaining topics.  When your time runs out, make a statement like, “I know that we did not get to cover item #6, but we want to be respectful of everyone’s time and conclude the meeting for those who need to leave.”  This gives team members an opportunity to step out if needed and shows that you value their time.

Do not monopolize the meeting, but lean on your team’s strengths.

Effective leaders know that they cannot do everything.  They understand the importance of delegating.  Avoid the temptation to speak throughout meetings.  Ask your teammates to cover different topics and use their expertise.  This accomplishes two things:  it will help build credibility with the various members of your team, and it will ensure that your teammates take responsibility for their portion of the project.

Keep the meeting flowing.

Do not allow the meeting to come to a standstill.  When silence creates a void, temptations arise to stray from the agenda.  This wreaks havoc on productivity and leads to discussions better saved for a different time.

Make small promises and keep them.

This not only builds trust, but it sets a precedence on how deadlines should be prioritized.  Remember to keep a running list of follow up items with who they are assigned to.  Distribute the list to the team on a regular basis.  Show the outstanding items at the top of the list with “Outstanding” next to them, then list the completed items below with “Completed” in blue next to them.  This will remind everyone that deadlines are important and create urgency when a team member is dragging their feet.  If you distribute the list regularly, it is less likely that team members will feel like they are being called out when they receive it.

Ask each person by name if there is anything they would like to add before ending your meeting.

This is not always practical depending on how many people you have in your meeting.  You can always ask the main representative from each company if their team would like to cover anything else.  This shows that you value their input and gives them a chance to cover anything that you might have missed.

Memorialize your meeting with accurate notes.

Take complete, detailed notes.  Send them to your internal team for review and make any necessary edits, and then distribute them to the entire group within 24 hours.  Include updates on any follow up items and remind people of any outstanding items.


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