If you’re tired of watching the clock and thinking about the work you could be doing as your client lists off requests, it might be time to refresh your meeting strategy. You’re not alone. In a Harvard Business Review study, 71 percent of managers across a range of industries claimed that their meetings are unproductive and inefficient.
Meetings are an essential time for your team to collaborate with clients, work out problems and realign objectives. However, to make the most out of everyone’s time, you will need to plan and organize these sessions so that everyone arrives prepared to speak only about the issues at hand.
Here are six ways to keep meetings on track so you can get back to work.
1. Establish the goal of the meeting.
Some clients are more likely to micromanage than others. If you think you could resolve your client’s problem with a simple phone call, try sending them an email to ascertain the real objective of the meeting. Once you understand what your client wants to achieve, you might be able to provide a more rapid or efficient solution by scheduling a brief call or just corresponding via email.
2. Prepare and share an agenda.
Although it is occasionally helpful to leave free time for issues that come up, you should try to stick to a moderately strict agenda during your meetings. Beyond setting a general topic for the meeting, write out a set of bullet points about the specific issues you want to discuss, and even assign a fixed period of time to talk about them. You may notice that people restrain their responses so that they fit within the designated time, meaning you waste less time.
Just make sure you send out the agenda a minimum of a few hours before the meeting so that all parties have a chance to review and make any necessary changes.
3. Only invite people who are directly involved.
Meetings tend to drag on because they include far too many people. Even if you are a small team, minimize the number of people who are sitting in. Not only are you wasting their time if they aren’t participating fully, but they also could lower the efficiency of the meeting. A weekly update can occur between just the client and the manager who handles their material, for example.
4. Be on time.
This one might sound obvious, but it can help a lot more than you may realize. A lot of time is wasted as people shuffle in and out of the office, grab a coffee, turn on their computers, or repair their Skype connections if the meeting is remote. If your team makes a habit of arriving five minutes early, you can get straight to work as soon as your client arrives.
This step is especially important if your team works remotely, since collaborating across a time difference can result in confusion and miscommunication.
5. Schedule meetings in the afternoon.
Many people arrive at the office with a long list of action items for the day, so a morning meeting can be stressful. That being said, try to avoid scheduling a meeting right after lunch, since that can be a lull in the day.
Around 3-4 in the afternoon or 10-11 in the morning tends to be the sweet spot of productivity for most people. If you have multiple meetings, try to schedule them all in a row to leave more time for deep work during the rest of your day.
6. Take notes, and send out a summary.
Drafting meeting minutes can be tedious, but it can also be very beneficial to review any critical points after a meeting is over. Taking notes shows your client that you are focused and interested in what they have to say. Spend a short period cleaning up and summarizing your records from the meeting and then send the summary to anyone involved, with action items clearly explained. This practice makes it easy for your client to follow up and feel that the meeting was productive.
Client meetings don’t have to be a necessary evil. You need to be in touch with your clients regularly to make sure you are fulfilling their expectations and to allow them to express any concerns. However, it is your responsibility to make sure that time is structured, productive, and collaborative. Prepare ahead of time so you can make the most of your sessions and you will never dread another client meeting again.
This article first appeared in Entrepreneur Magazine