The days of long, drawn-out conference room meetings can become a thing of the past.
Leaders often recognize the power of smaller and shorter meetings, both in-person and online. Brief meetings are often easier to schedule and may also seem more approachable to colleagues. A bonus to short meetings: you can use a few minutes at the end to ask a fun question that helps build your company's team culture.
But let's start with basics.
First, make sure the meeting isn’t something that could be addressed in an email instead. Meetings should be reserved for projects that require hands-on collaboration and brainstorming.
Effective meetings have three main features. They are relevant, have a time-limit, and should end with a plan of action.
To start streamlining meetings, Strategic Meetings Management Program (SMMP) can be a helpful approach. In basic terms, SMMP means coming up with a clear plan for managing your business meetings to stay on-task and productive. Once you have a plan, you can communicate it to your team.
You can create an SMMP meeting plan incorporating these seven easy ways to keep meetings strategic, consistent, and productive.
Time-Saving Tips for Effective Meetings
Running an effective meeting that's short and to the point can help save time and boost attendance and enthusiasm. It can make attendees more engaged and ready to bring their best ideas to the table.
1. Communicate a clear objective in advance.
To run effective meetings, require a clearly stated objective before the meeting starts.
Meeting invitations might state the objective in terms of the result expected, such as, “The goal of this meeting is to redesign our company newsletter.” Try to be clear and concise, but you can include any relevant notes, images, or links in the invite as well.
2. Add an agenda to the calendar invitation.
Outline a brief agenda and include it in the emailed meeting invitation.
Train your team to review agendas in advance and show up prepared. That way, they can think about the agenda topics, look up facts and figures in advance, and arrive with suggestions.
3. Invite only essential attendees.
Want to start running effective meetings? While it might seem efficient to include everyone in one giant meeting, the opposite is often true.
Inviting people who aren’t essential may waste their time and make it harder on others who are essential. The more people, the longer a meeting tends to take and the easier it is for it to become disorganized.
If you need to share information resulting from the meeting with someone, share it after the meeting without including them in the meeting itself.
4. Stick to start and end times.
Meetings should have set start and end times.
To do that, the organizer must often manage the discussion and limit time for each agenda item.
For example, if it's an hour-long meeting with six agenda items, the organizer may need to bring discussion to a close on each agenda item after 10 minutes. If you haven’t finished everything for that agenda item in the time allotted, schedule follow-up tasks.
One technique that some companies use to keep meetings timely is to hold them standing up. Not ready to go that far? You can also display clocks if you're in-person or use built-in timers in video conferencing apps.
If a follow-up meeting is required, consider setting it before ending the first meeting, so it doesn’t fall through the cracks.
5. Have a clear leader.
One of the quickest ways for meetings to get sidetracked is when too many people try to take control or go off on tangents.
If more than one person is sharing information, it typically helps to have one person in charge.
Being in charge doesn’t mean monopolizing the conversation: it means making sure everyone who has something to contribute has space to say it. Team members should be aware that the leader’s role is to keep the meeting moving. If communicated that way upfront, long-winded participants hopefully will understand why they might be cut short just to keep the process flowing.
6. Take notes.
Ideally, key decisions, brainstorming “aha moments,” and to-do’s should be written down.
Consider leveraging technology for taking notes. If you're using a meeting room with a whiteboard or a flip chart, you might snap a picture of the notes with a camera phone. Later, those notes can be transcribed and shared with attendees.
You can also use a notes app or drawing/handwriting tools that let you take handwritten notes and transform them into text. For instance, Microsoft One Note has a drawing function for drawing graphics and notes and the Apple Pencil transforms your handwritten notes into typed text.
If you're holding a conference call, consider doing what we do in my company: take notes on a shared Google Doc or Office 365 document that everyone is logged into. It may be helpful, with this process, to assign a “scribe” at the start of the meeting to capture key points.
Note: Recording the call can be helpful if needed, but make sure to let team members know the recording is going to happen. It's ideal to either make this a standard practice or not do it at all. That way, colleagues know what to expect.
7. Follow up.
After your meeting, participants will hopefully feel confident about what's expected of them next. To be sure you’re on the same page, a simple follow-up email may work. You can also list to-do items and assign responsibilities in a shared cloud document if that's what you used to take notes. If a follow-up meeting is required, consider setting it before ending the first meeting, so it doesn’t fall through the cracks.
These seven meeting processes can become part of your company’s strategic meeting management plan. Get your team to understand them and buy in, and hopefully your meetings can become more productive.
A version of this article was originally published on August 10, 2015.
Photo: Getty Images