Whether you're an employee or entrepreneur, meetings are a way of life. What percentage of your time at work do you spend in meetings? If you’re a middle manager, it’s likely about 35% of your time, and if you’re in upper management, it can be as much as 50%. Meetings are an essential way to bring people together so they can discuss ideas and drive outcomes. Unfortunately, the word “meeting” usually evokes feelings of dread in the average worker. That’s because many meetings are unproductive, and most managers aren’t prepared to run an effective meeting. When was the last time you were trained on how to conduct a meeting? According to Elise Keith, CEO of Lucid Meetings and author of Where the Action Is, less than 25% of managers receive any training on meetings. Keith says,
Organizations have this assumption that it's an intuitive activity that people are just supposed to figure out how to do. But it isn't. Meetings bring together a whole bunch of people who are thinking about the question at hand differently. The trick is to get them all thinking about the same part of the problem in the same way, at the same time and for that you need structure.”
How can we make meetings more productive and encourage engagement at the same time? Elise Keith offers advice on how to do just that based on her experience working with thousands of organizations globally to help them run effective meetings.
1. Know the purpose and outcome. Have a sense of what you’re trying to accomplish and how to do that. This will change depending on the type of meeting. If you can't state why people are there and what you're meant to achieve, then you shouldn't hold a meeting.
2. Structure it to achieve the outcome. Structure could mean creating an agenda—but not necessarily. It could be as simple as each person taking ten minutes to provide a quick update. Use the last five minutes to restate what you accomplished and what’s supposed to happen next.
3. Respect people’s time. This includes the obvious—starting and ending on time. Of course, it also involves scheduling only as much time as you need. Things like only inviting people who need to be there and avoiding scheduling meetings at bad times—like in the middle of a big project—also help.
4. Get everyone engaged. Spend the first few minutes making sure every person who's in the room says something. Any kind of ice breaker makes a difference. A simple change that has very positive results is to make every meeting optional. If you want to have engagement in meetings, making sure people don't have to come to them if they're not going to engage is key! Finally, ask for engagement. Keith says, "when I go out and speak, I'll invariably get a question from a leader who is trying to make her meetings more engaging. She'll say, ‘okay, I've tried this format, and then I changed it two weeks later. How often should I change things up until I get the engagement I want?' And I was like, well, that's an interesting question. Have you asked your team to engage? Have you told them why you keep changing things? Most of the time, they say no."
5. Take visible notes and then publish them. This step is critical. If you don't have meeting records and you're not sharing them somewhere, you can't make meetings optional.
6. Don’t call it a meeting! By default, that framing is negative. Whereas if you have everybody showing up to something that is called, “Brainstorm 5-year Plan” that's a different event. Then they walk in the door knowing why they're there.
Once you start with energy, engagement and clarity, you're set up to do something meaningful. Use meetings wisely, and they can be a great business tool.
I write about career, entrepreneurship and women’s advancement.