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Make Your Meetings Useful

Ever hear someone complain that they can’t get anything done because “I’m in meetings all day!”

Hanging out with friends is one thing – no one really wants a plan or an agenda if you just want to spend time with people you like. But work is different. Everyone has the same goal (or complementary goals) – to do a good job, to make money, to provide a service, to sell to customers. Work meetings should move everyone closer to the goal, not farther from it.

So how do you make your meetings useful?

  • Know your purpose.

    Notice I did not say “topic.” Anyone can have a topic. That’s just the thing we’re talking about. In contrast, “purpose” implies a goal. There is a reason that people need to have an in-person conversation about, well, whatever the topic may be. What is everyone trying to accomplish together? How will this meeting make it happen? That’s your goal.

  • Only invite necessary people.

    I’m sure Bob in Accounting is a lovely person. Maybe he’s really kind or funny or maybe he’ll bring homemade cookies. These are not reasons to invite Bob to the meeting. Only invite people who need to be there in order to achieve the meeting purpose.

  • Write a useful agenda.

    Agendas tell people why they are in a meeting. They share the meeting purpose and list of invited people; serve to confirm the date, time, and location; and can even be used to track time and move the conversation toward action. A great agenda will have time increments for each item and will end with “Action Items” or “Next Steps” (or however you indicate in your organization that everyone will have something to do at the end of the meeting).

    • Option: leave time off the agenda…

      Yes, I know, I’m contradicting myself. Hear me out: Sometimes we estimate badly, especially when trying to decide how much time is needed for a group to have a reasonable discussion, with everyone present participating. (If not everyone needs to participate, please see above.)

      It might be most helpful to simply set the start and end time, keep an eye on the time as the discussion moves forward, and anticipate ending a few minutes early in order to decide whether the group needs to schedule another meeting. (No one wants to - I know - but sometimes you need to.)

  • Ask someone else to take notes.

    I am a notetaker. I like taking notes. It keeps me on track.

    However, when I run a meeting, I ask if someone else would volunteer to be the notetaker. In running the meeting, I need to concentrate on a lot more than words: people’s nonverbal cues, tangential topics worth noting, time. Ask for help: ask for a notetaker. You can also ask for someone to watch the time, if that’s a concern.

  • End with an action plan.

    Everyone who participates in the meeting should have something to do at the end of the meeting, and they should agree to it during the meeting. Then follow-up becomes easy, because everyone – including you – knows exactly what needs to be done, by whom.

If any of this sounds challenging, or if you’re managing lots of different personalities, or you just don’t have time to handle it all – call in a professional facilitator. We can help.


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