Tips for More Effective Business Meetings
Whether we like it or not, most of our professional lives are going to have their fair share of time spent in meetings. Be it with our coworkers or clients, a measurable fraction of our working lives will more than likely be taken up in an engaged discussion of tactics, projects, progress, etc. Unfortunately, many of us in the professional world absolutely detest meetings, and abhor giving up any of our precious time to them as they usually end up being a complete waste of that time. As many professionals do not know how to effectively organize and operate a meeting for maximum results, or any at all for that matter. It’s not necessarily our faults that our tend meetings tend to fall short of our expectations given that most of us have not had the best models to learn from. If you have ever sat through an hour plus long bickering banterfest where nothing was decided or no conclusions were every substantially reached, then you can identify with and feel our pain. So below are a few tips for helping get the most out of your meetings. Now given that our meetings tend to fall in one of two categories, either co-worker or client, and also considering that both of these types of meetings are completely different and require different handling, the post has been broken down into advice on both fronts. Consider some of our previous articles
- Getting Clients: Approaching The Company a post from the Smashing vaults about how to handle your initial client meetings.
- 8 Strategies For Successful Relations With Clients is another post from the Smashing archives with advice on dealing with clients.
Meetings With Co-WorkersThe first type of meetings that we are going to discuss are those we have with our co-workers. Given that in most professional environments, these are the meetings that populate most of our day planners. Be they collaborative, implementive, or simply informative there are a few different guidelines you can follow to help ensure that the pace and productivity of the meeting both work out in your favor. Hopefully, turning things around in your meetings and making the most of them will take the sting out. And who knows, if they begin working out, you might just start looking forward to them. Maybe.
Appoint a RunnerNow this is assuming that you have the control over this aspect of the meeting, but the first thing you want to do is to appoint an appropriate person to run the show. To be honest, not everyone has the ability or desire to head a meeting and try to keep everyone on topic and everything progressing towards some sort of end. Basically you need someone steering the ship, controlling the flow of the discussion and moving things on when appropriate, otherwise people are likely to go on and digress. Essentially derailing your dialog. It is not even that people will do it on purpose, but given the opportunity to veer off track, a surprising number of folks will unwittingly fall into this trap. So you need to pick someone who is good at wrangling in the conversation, and not making others feel like they are being cut-off or rushed. If that air appears over the discussion people will withdraw from the dialog, believing that they are not being listened to anyway so why try. This is not the way to get the best from your co-workers on whatever project or issue has brought you all together. So you will want to choose a runner who is patient, but at the same time resolute. Someone who is organized and focused with a natural knack for engaging people so the meeting does have active participation from all of those who are present. If everyone just sits back and absorbs the information offered, but does not contribute to the dialog, then the meeting is not a meeting, and could have been handled via e-mail. So be sure that the runner allows for and encourages input from everyone that has gathered. Things to Keep In Mind Before You Move On
- Without someone to steer, the meeting will most certainly veer off course.
- Pick a person who can engage the others and keep them reigned in.
- They should have strong organizational skills that can stay focused amid the chaos.
The AgendaThe next topic we are going to cover is perhaps one of the most important elements of a meeting that we will discuss, and that is the meeting agenda. This organizational tool should include all of the relevant topics that the meeting will cover, along with any decisions that need to be made or issues that should be addressed. The agenda is extremely helpful when it comes to staying on track and making sure the meeting does not stray to far from relevance itself. There is always a guide to come back to should the digressions interrupt the flow of purposeful dialog, so the runner and everyone else in the meeting basically knows where the discussion is at. To this end, it is ever so important that if you have a meeting agenda, that you in fact stay on the agenda and do not let your meeting’s productivity slip. Also, in order to help facilitate this productivity for your meeting try and get the agenda laid out ahead of time so that you can send a copy of it to all of the participants. This gives them a heads up as to the purpose and topics for the meeting so they can also be prepared and have some idea of what they would like to bring to the table, so to speak. If they get into the meeting and then have the agenda given to them, they have no time to prepare and that can unintentionally slow your meeting way down. It may also benefit you to get input from all of those involved in the meeting as to what should and should not be on the agenda. This can be done as suggested edits being sent back to you once you have supplied them with their advanced copies of said agenda, or it can be done even before that. As one meeting winds down with your co-workers, you could begin working on setting up the agenda for next one that you will all have. Naturally, this does not cancel out the need to get them all copies of the finished agenda ahead of time for preparation, but it does go ahead and get them thinking about the next steps. It also encourages their participation and lets them know that their input is a valued addition to the meetings. Things to Keep In Mind Before You Move On
- Stay on the agenda, and do not allow the discussion to digress often or productivity will suffer.
- Be sure that you get a copy of the agenda out to all participants ahead of time.
- Begin working on the agenda for the next meeting as you wrap-up the one you are in.
- Get the meeting participant’s input to set agenda for more active engagement.
Someone’s Rules of OrderOnce again we find ourselves looking at yet another way to control the chaos of the meeting room which can often invalidate your time spent inside it. This falls heavily on the runner to ensure the proper implementation, but following some sort of rule of order for the meeting is a near must. Though it may frequently rear its ugly head in them, chaos is not the effective way to manage a meeting, so make sure that you have some sort of system for running the meeting in place for making things get done. Robert’s rules tend to be popular in the United States, however other parliamentary procedures might be better suited for your needs. Whichever way you go, make it orderly and fair. Not only does this ensure that everyone has an opportunity to be heard, and counted in the context of the meeting, but it helps to keep the flow maintained without as much pressure on the meeting runner. So long as everyone understands the procedures that you have implemented. This is also a good reason to adopt a well known system that is easy to explain and reference for everyone, so the participation procedures do not make anyone feel like their input is not welcome or encouraged. This would be an unfortunate side-effect to not filling everyone in on the system you have in place for managing the meeting, which once again will impact the meetings productivity. This is something that we keep coming back to, because of its importance in keeping up the positivity and the energy of the meeting so that you and your co-workers are using this time to effectively maximize your projects and professional standing. If run in a consistent, orderly fashion then you and your co-workers will enthusiastically approach these meetings inspired with fresh ideas to bring into the mix. Actually gaining from the experience, instead of dreading it and taking nothing away from it whatsoever. Things to Keep In Mind Before You Move On
- Establish some sort of parliamentary procedure to run the meetings by.
- Be sure everyone who participates in the meeting is aware of said procedure.
- Through this process, be sure everyone has the opportunity to be heard in the meeting.
Be Aware of TimeAnother area to keep in mind when it comes to running a meeting, that also can impact the productivity is the length of time that the meeting runs for. Yes, you want to ensure that no one is rushed or that the discussion is allowed to have the necessary time to develop and grow, but if the meeting begins to drag on too long, you risk losing the participant’s attention. And that, unfortunately, can spell disaster for your meeting. For if you are unable to keep their interest held in whatever is being discussed or decided then chances are, very little progress will be made. Time is not something that you want getting away from you just as you do not want your participants to suffer the same fate. If you lose them, it will be that much harder to get them back on track and keep the correct flow so that you can accomplish what you need to. The more they drift, the more time will slip from your proverbial grips and drag you all down the rabbit hole, where all you are doing is going through the motions without actually making anything happen. As previously stated, keeping on the agenda, sending it out ahead of time, and running the dialog in an ordered, controlled fashion can all assist you in keeping the length of your meetings from getting out of hand. Your organizational skills can also come into play in these meetings with your co-workers. As you are putting together the meeting agenda, try to feel out how much time to devote to each section of it, and if necessary, even make notes about these suggested time frames in the margins. Some people even set a maximum time limit to keep the participants tightly focused on the matter at hand. Some people who respond well to more pressure-type situations may thrive in this kind of meeting environment. This may not work well for everyone and every meeting, but on occasion may prove extremely useful in getting in and getting right to your goal. If the agenda starts to feel too full, perhaps you should split it up into two meetings that can be handled in a much more expedited fashion. This way, the meetings can be held days apart and neither gets bogged down and overly lengthy. So keep everyone focused and fresh, be sure that one eye stays on the clock as you plan and hold your meetings. Things to Keep In Mind Before You Move On
- Do not allow time to get away from you, or you risk losing the attention of your participants.
- Allotting a time frame for each section of the agenda can help keep things moving smoothly.
- Break up agenda into two meetings if necessary to keep time under control.
- Use short focused meetings to keep everyone on point and on their toes.
Make Sure Something HappensAs productivity has been somewhat of a main focus, naturally we are going to wrap up the co-worker meeting end of the discussion talking about just that. Productivity. You certainly don’t want it to all be a waste of time, so be sure that something gets accomplished in the meeting. You have all come together for a specific purpose, and if you are going to claim victory over the disappointing, unproductive meeting gods, then you are going to have to make measurable efforts towards satisfying or achieving said purpose. So above all else, make sure that some sort of decision gets made. If you have taken care to ensure that the other steps have all been seen to properly, then you are almost guaranteed some level of productivity to stem from your meetings, but that does not mean that we can simply assume all will go smoothly towards a resolution. We never want to take our eyes off of the prize, for that is the easiest way to lose sight of an objective. Literally. But the moment that our goals slide from our glance, it can be easy for us to deviate from our chosen direction. A good rule of thumb is to include your meeting objectives in your agenda, even if it is only in your own copy, and to close the meeting with a full summary of said objectives and goals. This summary is an easy way to ensure that what was decided, and aimed for is all fresh on everyone’s minds as they leave the meeting. And as long as you have the goals listed on your agenda, no matter what happens throughout the course of the meeting you have the visual reference right in front of you to keep you grounded in your purpose. And just as it may be necessary to divide up the meetings when the agenda items stack up, it may become necessary to table an issue to committee. It is generally never a good idea to table an issue or idea for fear that it will never rise again, and simply become lost in an eternal tabling loop meeting after meeting. Once an issue has been tabled, it is usually harder to get it revisited given that they were already stumped by it. So you may need to establish a smaller group to committee an issue and settle it without an overwhelming number of people getting involved and delaying the action further. These assignments are another area you want to recover as the meeting closes for sure. This way, progress is always on the horizon. Things to Keep In Mind Before You Move On
- Be sure that you accomplish something so the meeting is not a waste.
- If you cannot reach your goals, assign tasks to help keep the wheels turning outside the meeting.
- Keep your objectives listed on the agenda in front of you to never lose sight of them.
- Summarize the meeting and all points of interest as you wrap to keep it all in everyone’s focus.
Meetings With ClientsIn this next segment of the post, we are going to talk about the other type of meetings that we see a lot of in our professional lives, and those are the ones we have with our clients. Now these types of meetings are completely different from those we have with co-workers, and as such, demand different handling to make sure they are effective. This section also gets broken down into the initial project meetings, and then the follow-ups. The initial project meetings are those when the client first brings us the project they would like us to tackle, and then the follow-ups are just that. Sort of progress reports or idea presentation proposals, in a nutshell.
Initial Project MeetingsWhen you first sit down with a client on a project, you want to hit a few recognizable benchmarks to steer the meeting towards a successful resolution. Now in this context, we are measuring success by the following criteria: that ideas were coherently exchanged, that both parties heard what the other had to offer, and that the meeting ended with a clear and agreeable decision reached by both parties. This simplified chain of events would generally be characterized as an effective initial project meeting, so this is where we shall aim our advice. Now you can approach this type of meeting in many ways, but an easy to follow three-step plan of attack that tends to work from personal experience is listed below. If you go into the meeting prepared in this way you should be able to successfully navigate through to other side where the work begins and things get fun again. Each of the three parts of the process below corresponds and helps to satisfy the criteria mentioned before regarding measuring our meeting’s success, and if you decide to go in with your own approach, just be sure that you note and hit those benchmarks in your own way and you should still be fine.
Part One - InvestigativeIn this part of the meeting process you essentially sit back and let the clients do the talking. This is their opportunity to let their enthusiasm for the project run and they tell you everything that they need this project to be. Not only do you want to listen intently as they lay out the project, it may also be a helpful tip to take notes to reference later in the discussion. This further shows that they are being heard and considered, and that you are not being dismissive to their input. Get as many details from them in this stage as you can. Ask the questions, and get the facts all in line so you have as solid an understanding of their needs as possible.
Part Two - InformativeNow we move into the second stage of this approach, where the talking tables effectively turn to you. This is where you take the time in the meeting to tell them just what it is that you can offer them. Go over in detail not only how you can meet their needs, but why you are the best person for the job. You want to return that same sense of enthusiasm for the project that they showed to you, back to them through your presentational portion of this initial meeting. Furthering their excitement for the idea and their confidence that they came to the right person with this project. Here is where you can initially use all of the notes that you took earlier, so that you can cover specific points that they raised.
Part Three - Get ConfirmationThen we transition to the final phase of our three-pronged plan of attack, wherein we wrap up the discussion and get some sort of confirmation from the client to move forward on. You do not want to seem pushy in your approach to this step, but you do want to be sure that the time was not wasted. So do what you can to get an answer from them one way or the other. Whether it is to move forward with a contract and get rolling on the project together, or simply to set up another meeting after you have both had further time to think over the discussion you have just had. Either way, just make a decision. Let the client know that you understand their time and project are important and that you do not want to slow them down. This way you are getting confirmation and instilling in them that you will meet their timetable. Things to Keep In Mind Before You Move On
- Initial project meetings with clients differ in format and handling than co-worker meetings.
- At first, collect all the data on the project from the client in the beginning of the meeting.
- Take notes to reference later in the meeting and in follow-ups.
- Then cement with the client why you are the person to handle their project.
- Do not end the meeting without a solid answer one way or the other on where things stand.
Follow-up MeetingsNow we are going to talk about how to approach your follow-up meetings to maximize their potential as well, and hopefully yield you the most positive results from these engagements. In these meetings you are generally presenting the client with the ideas that you have come up with based on the initial project meeting and as such, there are certain expectations that will be placed on this meeting that perhaps were not on the first. Remember in the initial project meeting, you essentially set the bar for this one, so now is the chance for you to live up to it and wow the client even more. It is time to deliver. Once again, the approach below is broken into three steps so that you can systematically tackle the follow-up as easily as you did the initial project meeting. Hopefully doing so will keep the meetings short and productive, taking the dread we tend to feel for them away and replacing it instead with enthusiasm. Because it does not matter to our clients whether the lackluster feelings they read from us are because we are simply in a meeting or not. They will more than likely take it as a comment on the project or themselves, and that is not what you want to happen. So perhaps turning your meetings around productively will keep any negative body language from speaking up during these client interactions.
Present Your IdeasThe first step in the follow-up meeting that we are going to cover is a reversal of sorts on the last intial project meeting, because in the first step here, you steer the show not the client. This is another chance for you to prove to them why it is they have hired you as you present to them what you have come up with. Be clear as you present your ideas, and even take the time to explain to them why you made the choices that you made. This is also a excellent opportunity to highlight for them what choices you made based on their initial input and the notes that you took. You want to pull out all the stops in your presentation to drive up their confidence level in you and your work. This is razzle dazzle time.
Get Their FeedbackThen we keep the meeting moving forward and we enter the next phase of the process where they give you their feedback on your presentation and approach. Remember that even if they are not as constructive as you would prefer in their critiques that you go with it, and try not to take it personally. Here you still want to steer this part of the meeting as much as possible, meanwhile actually listening to what the client has to say. You do not want them to feel like you are not giving their concerns or ideas the same attention you have expected from them or shown them in the past, so be mindful of how you navigate this terrain. If their concerns are unfounded, simply acknowledge that you understand how they could see this as a potential problem area, and then explain why it will not be an issue here, but never come across dismissive.
Make Sure that Everyone is on the Same PageFinally, the last stage of the meeting can be entered into, wherein you make sure that everyone is on the same page about everything that has been presented and discussed. As always, clarity is everybody’s friend here, so take care to not let things end in any sort of vague areas. Do a quick summary of the meeting out loud for the sake of everyone attending, so that once again all points of interest are addressed and all decisions can be reiterated. Make sure that everyone knows where the expectations are at this point as you move forward to keep the project on point and progressing smoothly. Things to Keep In Mind Before You Move On
- Be sure that you steer the follow-up meeting (subtly not forcefully) from beginning to end.
- Apprise the client of your progress, be clear on why you made what choices you made.
- Listen to their feedback, without ego, and never be dismissive of their concerns.
- Never adjourn without clearly noting that everyone is on the same page with all decisions made.
The WrapSo as your next meeting approaches, remember that with some easy effort and preparation, you can reach the full potential that the meeting has to offer. And the more times that happens, the less likely we are to dread the time we have to spend in them.
Further ResourcesHere are a few other posts to check out on the subject matter at hand. Hope they help in keeping the dialog evolving.
- Running Effective Meetings is a post from creatly that offers some advice on getting results from your business meetings.
- Meeting Your Clients for the First Time is a fantastic post from Design Informer on dealing with that initial client meeting.
- How To Create an Agenda, Step by Step is a helpful post for putting together an agenda to run your meetings.
- I Hate Meetings is another great post that deals with getting making your meetings more productive.