A friend recently remarked about how she was bored to tears at one of her team meetings. I was surprised to learn there is a name for this feeling– “meeting narcolepsy,” and even a support group on LinkedIn for employees suffering from it. Meetings happen in every office, every line of business, and there’s no way to avoid them. But they are also opportunities to build camaraderie, demonstrate credibility, and hone leadership skills. Here’s how to make them more interesting and effective.
Do you need a meeting at all and, if you do, define the purpose and goals. I’m not one to meet just for the sake of meeting and I don’t like to waste my colleagues’ time. Effective meetings start well before they actually occur. When scheduling a meeting, explain in the invitation the purpose and goals of it. Doing that will avoid catching attendees off guard and it can help you make sure key stakeholders are invited to the meeting. As the meeting date draws near, refer back to that statement of goals to build a more detailed agenda that should be distributed a day or two before the meeting. For large meetings especially, it can help to break down the agenda in increments with a start and end time and assign responsibility for who will lead various discussion topics. Build in a comfortable cushion of time for open discussion. Ideally, make sure the assigned “owners” of each topic will actually attend the meeting and that they understand and are prepared to lead the agenda item. It may also be helpful to assign roles like a notetaker (so that you, as organizer, can pay attention to the agenda and not be distracted by capturing the discussion); a timekeeper (to avoid having a speaker ramble on about a certain topic and derail the agenda); a “Devil’s advocate” (to make sure all angles are explored); and, dare I say it, a peacekeeper to mediate any heated discussions.
Make sure the technology works. It goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway, that meetings should start and end on time. Did you know that senior executives lose up to five days waiting for late meetings to begin? Often, the culprit is technology glitches such as distributing the wrong dial-in number, complicated steps to log in to web-based presentations, or required software updates; they can be embarrassing for the organizer and frustrating for the attendees. Leave enough time to test the equipment and technology.
Make it interesting and keep them interested. I don’t know anyone who enjoys sitting through a dry lecture or participating in a meeting without knowing the gameplan for it. Carving out some time at the start of the meeting to socialize, take a roll call to introduce attendees to each other, and summarize everyone’s roles and responsibilities can start things off on the right tone. Depending on your office culture, you can hold meetings outside or start them off with brain teasers or short games to get the creative ideas flowing. You may want to consider a “no devices” rule to avoid distractions. Calling on people who normally stay quiet can keep attendees on their toes. Visual aids like powerpoint slides, or more interesting animations using Prezi or Visio, can also liven up the discussion. You can get attendees physically engaged by having them change seats periodically or putting large posters on the wall with challenges to the group and have everyone write down their ideas. Whatever technique you use, make sure the group conducts an in-depth discussion, examines the issues from all angles, and action items are clear with responsibility delegated.
Follow up. It’s fruitless to have a meeting without following up. Send out meeting minutes within a few days of the meeting, while everything is fresh in the minds of the attendees and to leverage the momentum of the meeting. Use the agenda as your template and summarize the discussion, action items, issues, any decisions made, responsibility for next steps, and deadlines. When sending out minutes, thank attendees for their time and remind them to review the minutes and calendar their key deadlines. I also like to do a follow up with myself: what went well, what didn’t go as planned, and what will I do differently next time.