It’s such a universal truth it’s like a bad joke: most meetings suck. When they’re bad, they are the epitome of bad corporate culture, inefficiency and mediocrity.
But they don’t have to be.
Innovative companies like Google and Apple understand that meetings are necessary, but that they don’t have to be bad because they don’t have to be done the way they’ve always been done.
Whether you’re the CEO or the low man on the totem pole, you can take it upon yourself to use one or more of the following suggestions to improve meetings where you work.
15 Ways to make meetings work:
Ask yourself, do I need to be there? For many the answer is probably no! We attend so many unnecessary meetings… If you’re the one organizing the meeting, limit the size. Don’t invite everyone who might possibly be related to the topic. Instead, take copious notes (see 14) and distribute them after.
If yes, then prepare. I can't stand it when people come unprepared (an acceptable norm in many companies). What a waste of everyone’s time!
Make sure the meeting has an agenda or stated purpose or goal. It sounds elementary, but you’d be shocked by how many meetings don’t have a specific purpose. Let everyone know the goal ahead of time.
Provide background material ahead of time. Save the info-dump for email; don’t waste time bringing everyone up to speed in the meeting.
Prepare key questions you have and make sure they get answered. Even if you’re not in charge of calling or organizing the meetings, this is a great way to make a good impression. It shows you’re engaged and thinking about the problem.
Prepare key points you want to make and make sure they get heard - but don't reiterate the same messages others have said. Be respectful of people’s time.
Start at an odd time. Research shows that scheduling meetings for 10 minutes after the hour or 9:58 am makes people sit up and take notice, cuts down on stragglers, and helps things start on time.
Who’s driving this thing? Every meeting should have a leader/decision maker designated before you get to the conference room.
No tech at the table. That means no phones, laptops or tablets. Take notes on plain paper. This rule will almost definitely ensure things stay short!
Avoid formal presentations. There’s nothing worse than being read bullet points off a PowerPoint slide. Instead, distribute the presentation ahead of time and use the meeting to discuss actionables.
Try standing or walking meetings. This is a growing trend with some companies. It keeps things short, keeps people on point, and is better for everyone’s health.
Keep it short. Have a maximum length for meetings. Some companies say 30 minutes; some say an hour. I say it should be the shortest possible time to achieve your goals.
Set an end time. And stick to it. Research shows that people are actually more productive when they understand that there is a limited amount of time to complete a task.
Walk away with actionable next steps. This is key to making sure the meeting isn’t just a meeting. Make certain that everyone knows what his or her next steps are and that the meeting leader is responsible for keeping everyone accountable.
Document the meeting results and distribute them. This ensures that everyone in attendance walks away with the same understanding of what was decided; plus, it’s a written record of your action items.
The biggest takeaway here is that meetings should respect everyone’s time and actually accomplish something.
And remember that change comes from within. Even if you’re not in a position to dictate how everyone in your company runs their meetings, you can have a positive impact on the meetings you organize and attend.