9 Tips for More Productive Meetings

Lee Polevoi by Lee Polevoi on November 13, 2013
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A meeting is a terrible thing to waste.

There’s no quicker way to sap morale and productivity than by convening a meeting that fails to produce results. On the other hand, efficient meetings can spark creativity, fuel ground-breaking ideas, and prompt meaningful action.

Here are nine tips for conducting meetings in a focused, effective way.

1. Be sure there’s a good reason to have a meeting. It is counterproductive to hold a meeting just because you think it’s been too long since your employees all got together. Determine what you’d like the gathering to achieve. If your objectives can be addressed with a few one-on-one conversations or emails, hold off on an all-hands meeting until there’s a genuine need for one.

2. Make an agenda and stick to it! Putting together an agenda helps you assess beforehand what you hope to get out of the meeting. Once you’ve decided what your goals are — and the related matters you wish to review and discuss — distribute the agenda to meeting participants. Be sure to give everyone enough time to prepare their thoughts and contributions.

3. Only invite people who have a reason to attend. It’s common for people to be invited to a meeting even if they have little or no stake in the outcome, often as a courtesy or out of habit. But because the meeting has nothing to do with them, they don’t have anything to offer. Restrict attendance to employees whose participation will likely generate results.

4. Start and end on time — no exceptions. This may be the most critical predictor of how successful your meeting is. In general, the most productive meetings last 30 to 45 minutes tops. (People’s attention begins to wane after that.) Short, structured meetings get things done.

5. No latecomers allowed. Nothing disrupts the flow of a meeting like a person who comes in late, takes a few noisy minutes to settle in, and then asks for an “update.” Make it clear beforehand that latecomers aren’t welcome.

6. Ban electronic devices. When employees will bring laptops, smartphones, and other devices to meetings, they force whoever is holding the discussion to compete for their attention. Issue a comprehensive ban on “electronic grazing” during the time you’re together.

7. Encourage everyone to contribute. One or two dominant personalities can take over a meeting, regardless of the value they bring (or don’t bring) to the conversation. Ask everyone at the meeting for their comments and feedback. Monitor the discussion, so that even the shyest individuals speak up. They might offer the best input of all.

8. Enlist a timekeeper and a note-taker. Ask one attendee to watch the clock and either signal you when the discussion runs long or give them the authority to politely intervene. If you say, “We have five minutes left to cover this topic,” the timekeeper’s presence will ensure people believe you. Ask another attendee to take notes.

9. Follow up after the meeting. Compile the meeting’s notes into action items and distribute them to everyone who attended. Appoint someone to keep track of who’s responsible for doing what and by when. This helps people understand that the end of the meeting signals the start of taking action.

Meetings aren’t the place to wing it and hope for the best. Advance preparation and a firm hand on the tiller are likely to encourage a new level of enthusiasm among employees and get results.

Lee Polevoi

Lee Polevoi is an award-winning business writer specializing in the challenges and opportunities facing small business. He is former Senior Writer at Vistage International, a global membership organization of CEOs.

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