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Effective Meetings - part 2

In the last post I discussed what you need to do to increase the chances of a meeting being effective. Here's a recap:

  • Set a goal for the meeting
  • Decide who needs to attend
  • Create an agenda
  • Keep the meeting short (ideally, under 30 minutes).

But we must not become complacent. Now, I’ll discuss what needs to happen during the meeting.


 

1. Getting ready

If you’re the organizer, make sure you have everything you need and ready to go BEFORE the meeting starts. Nobody wants to watch you fiddling around with stuff as the meeting starts. Handouts, hooking up to a screen, audio etc. Oh, and don’t be late.  

If attendees need to come prepared, make any material available in advance. That allows them time to review it. If you’re an attendee, make sure you prepare as well. Nobody wants to go over material that everyone should have read beforehand. It wastes everyone’s time.

If you can’t attend, let the organizer know. I’ve lost count of the times where a meeting is delayed because we don’t know if someone is attending or not.


 

2. Starting the meeting

Start on time. If people are late, that’s their problem. If they turn up late, don’t do long recaps — it’s unfair on the people who were on time. 

Run through the agenda and explain the purpose of the meeting. The topics for discussion (remember, not too many). What decisions do you have to make? Do these things even if the meeting is a one-off. 

If it’s a recurring meeting, start with reviewing the minutes from the previous meeting, then move on to updates for any tasks (or actions). This helps get things done. Few people want to explain to everyone why they didn't follow through with their tasks. Plus, discussing, or mentioning, completed tasks gives everyone a sense of achievement.


 

3. Stay focused

Stick to the agenda, only discuss the topics on the agenda, and don’t be tempted to discuss other things. Make a note of anything else that comes up and set them aside for another meeting. This is often referred to as a Parking Lot. Give someone this as a task — that way the meeting can continue running smoothly. 

Allowing attendees to go ‘off topic’ is okay in moderation. But it can often turn into a pointless discussion dominated by people who love to talk. It’ll waste everyone’s time and you’ll end up having to go over the original agenda in another meeting. 

Decide upfront how much time you want to spend on each agenda item. It’s so easy for time to get away from you and before you know it, the meeting is running over.


 

4. Meeting minutes

I rarely see this done now. Not sure why. Is it because we believe technology will take care of everything? Do we think our memories are so amazing and precise that we don’t need to take notes. That’s what meeting minutes are. Notes. That’s all. There’s nothing mysterious about them. 

Writing minutes does take time and effort. If you don’t write down what happens in the meeting, if you don’t document the decisions and tasks, then you are wasting time and money. 

Minutes help you close and summarize each topic. I bet everyone has experienced the disagreements over what was discussed. Even immediately after a meeting. Writing it down allows clarification then and there. Minutes are a record of what actually happened in the meeting.

Don’t be tempted to leave them until after the meeting. Our memories are very unreliable. Each attendee will have their own recollection of the meeting. Decisions will be second-guessed at the next meeting, and tasks won’t be completed.


 

5. Meeting tasks

As you go through the agenda, tasks and actions will emerge. Attendees might volunteer to complete a particular task. But often, tasks will need to be assigned to the most appropriate person.

Tasks and actions must be documented within the meeting minutes. This creates accountability and responsibility. If you don’t write them down, it makes managing them almost impossible. They’ll get forgotten. They won’t get completed on time, or at all. Don’t let attendees write down and manage their own tasks – it rarely works. 

The bottom line is this: if you do not document your tasks, your meetings are likely to be a waste of time.


 

6. Ending the meeting

Summarize what’s been discussed. Confirm the tasks and who is responsible for them. Note what topics were added to the Parking Lot. Then confirm the date and time for the next meeting if required.
 

Summary points:

  • Prepare and don’t waste everyone’s time at the start of the meeting
  • Start on time
  • Stay focused and stick to the agenda
  • Take meeting minutes
  • Document tasks and who’s responsible for them

That’s it.


 

In the next part we’ll look at what needs to happen after the meeting.


 

Chris Hudson
Client Services Operations Director at Oracle
An early career in Architecture and construction led to seduction by technology and cyberspace. He's a keen problem solver, change agent, generalist and part-time zymologist. Helping teams improve how they work is his legal high.
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