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11 Tips For Effective Meeting Management

by Dan
11 minutes read

Meetings are supposed to help us align, boost productivity and essentially, get shit done – effective meeting management is key to achieving this. However, the sad reality is that many meetings are unproductive, unnecessary, and a waste of time. Almost half of all meeting attendees will say that meetings are the biggest time waster in their week. Not only can meetings be a waste of time, they can also be a waste of money. The Harvard Business Review has a handy calculator to help you figure out how much money you could waste on meetings.

Whether you love meetings or hate them, there’s no getting around it; sometimes, they have to happen. So here are my learnings from a career plagued with meetings on how effective meeting management can boost productivity and save money.

Be clear on your objectives.

If you’re unsure what outcome you need from your meeting, you can be sure you won’t get any outcome. Do you need to generate a new idea? Finalise a decision? Share information? No matter what you think you need a meeting for, you need a clear picture of the desired outcome. There shouldn’t be a meeting if there’s no real purpose to the meeting.

While you’re figuring out what the objective is, it’s worth considering meeting alternatives. I’m sure everyone has heard the phrase “This could have been an email”; you’ve probably used it yourself. So consider alternatives to meetings. Could you get achieve the same objective with an email? A Loom recording? Even a survey? Some of the most effective meetings are the ones that never happen.

Effective meeting management can only happen when you’re prepared

There’s a saying that used to get thrown around a lot by one of my old colleagues, I hate it to this day, but that doesn’t make it any less accurate. “Fail to prepare, prepare to fail” – it’s not too dissimilar to a quote by a much more famous person…

By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail

Benjamin Franklin

The first thing anyone planning a meeting should be prepared is an agenda. Your agenda should include:

  • Details of when and where the meeting is to take place.
  • A description of the meeting’s objectives.
  • A heading for each discussion point, along with the name of the person who will lead that particular discussion.
  • Any background information that might be helpful to those attending.
  • For bonus points, a good agenda will even have time allotted to each discussion point (more on that later).

Now that you have an agenda, the next step to effective meeting management is distributing it to anyone invited to the meeting (well before the meeting starts to give everyone time to prepare). Finally, all that’s left is to follow it religiously. Here’s a simple agenda template you can download and use if you need one.

Be selective about who you invite

So you have your objectives and agenda, but who are you inviting to your meeting? Draw up your list and ask yourself, do all these people need to be in this meeting? Like really? You can give 2 hours of productive work back to your business just by crossing off 2 names off your attendee list for that 1 hour meeting.

So who should be at the meeting? The answer to that is pretty simple if you think about it. The only people that should be there are the ones that will genuinely benefit from a discussion and who can influence the outcome. So would your CFO benefit from being in a meeting about finances? Absolutely. But your graphics designer probably wouldn’t. “Oh, but the meeting is about the graphic design budget”, I hear you say… that’s great, but does your graphics designer need to be consulted or just informed? If it’s informed, well, that probably could’ve been an email.

Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos has an excellent idea for keeping your meetings small. Following the two-pizza rule. If two large pizzas aren’t enough to feed everyone, the meeting has too many attendees.

Start on time and manage the time

I was recently part of some business coaching sessions with a guy named Sid. One of the quotes he threw at us about our meetings was, “If you’re not early, you’re late”. I love this. Pleasantries and general chatter can easily eat away the first 5 or 10 minutes of your meeting. That’s eating into your meeting time. If you’ve got six people at your meeting, and they all spend the first 5 minutes chatting, that’s a half hour wasted.

Equally, late arrivals to meetings can quickly eat up 5 or 10 minutes of your meeting time – which usually results in your meeting running over. Not only is this a waste of time, but it’s also unfair to those who bothered to turn up when they were supposed to. The solution is simple. If your meeting is scheduled to start at 11, it starts at 11. Anyone who didn’t make it on time will have to catch up.

Now back to your agenda. If you went for the bonus points, you’d have allotted a set amount of time for each discussion point. This is great for keeping a meeting on track and ensuring everyone gets to the point quickly. If you’ve only given a topic 10 minutes for discussion, you’ll be surprised how much get’s communicated and decided on in that time (probably just as much as if you didn’t set a time limit). This is a balancing act; overly strict timescales can stifle creativity and lead to rushed decisions – so it should be more of a guide than a rule.

Keep the meeting short

Long meetings take a lot of mental energy to stay engaged with. You might find that after around 30 minutes, attention and interaction can start to drop off. This isn’t (always) down to boredom and distractions; it’s usually a symptom of people trying to take in and process a lot of information.

Keeping meetings short is a great way to keep focus and attention high. Use your agenda for this by having precise time scales for discussion points and even adding a ‘hard stop’ if you feel it’s needed.

Steven Rogelberg goes as far as to suggest that meetings should only be 15 minutes long. This idea is something that many tech companies are already embracing. Google even has a giant timer in some conference rooms that count down the remaining time for the current meeting or topic.

Even if you’re not ready to embrace the 15-minute meeting just yet, it’s worth remembering that research shows the attention span of the average manager is only 52 minutes. So scheduling meetings to last longer than an hour is generally a bad idea for effective meeting management.

Quit trying to multitask

You might think you’re being super productive and efficient by answering that email during your meeting, checking a text, or trying to do anything at the same time as your meeting. Unfortunately, here’s some bad news for you. Multitasking is a myth. Your brain is just simply not capable of it. Instead, what it’s doing is switching between the two things you’re trying to do. Some people are better at this than others, but regardless of how good you think you are at it, it’s costing you time, efficiency and mental capacity.

There are some simple solutions to preventing anyone in the meeting from trying to disprove the myth that is multitasking;

  • Leave phones or other electronics out of the meeting room. This removes distractions and the temptation to ‘just check that notification’. And unless you need a computer for your meeting, you should turn it off.
  • Encourage note-taking on paper and capture meeting minutes by hand. Not only does this remove the need for electronics, but writing stuff down is a proven way to help process information mentally.
  • Assign roles for your meeting. At the very least, every meeting should have a facilitator and note-taker (they shouldn’t be the same person). Assigning roles and being clear on who is doing what is a great way to keep the meeting focused.

Stay on topic

Staying on topic is critical to effective meeting management. Someone at the meeting always goes off on a tangent or starts telling a story unrelated to the discussion. While this can be fun and interesting, it does not help get things done. This can often happen when the topic of discussion is not completely clear.

One of the hardest things to do when leading a meeting is keeping everyone on point. Someone should take charge of pulling the conversation back if it starts to wander. Give this power to everyone in the meeting. Give everyone a metaphorical tangent card, and let them raise it anytime the conversation wanders or starts going over stuff already covered. This keeps everyone involved and can help keep the discussion on topic and stop you from going over old ground.

Meet on your feet

Want to make your meeting feel more urgent? Have it standing up. In my Tesco days, we used to have two meetings a day, the morning and evening handover. Both meetings were around 15 minutes long and always took place in the corridor, standing.

Standing meetings are a great way to keep people engaged, energised, and less territorial. It also gives you a sense of wanting to move, which can speed things up.

stnading meetings help with effective meeting management

Standing meetings are a great way to keep people engaged, energised, and less territorial. It also gives you a sense of wanting to move, which can speed things up.

Be interactive in a meaningful way

Everyone at your meeting should be there for a reason. One of those reasons should be that you value or need that person’s input. Focussing too much on getting through your meeting agenda can stifle discussion and curb creativity. The best results will come from getting everyone participating, not just attending.

A simple way to get interaction is to invite feedback through the meeting. Try asking, ‘What do you think of that idea’. Ask the question directly to individuals; ‘What do you think of that idea, John?’. This encourages people to think (not knowing if they’ll be asked next) and gives the individual a sense of importance and value.

Don’t be afraid to leave

This is less about effective meeting management and more about supporting someone to manage a meeting effectively. If you feel you’re not contributing to a meeting or getting value from the discussion, without trying to sound harsh, you should do everyone involved a favour and leave.

This can feel difficult to do and even more challenging to allow. But what is the point of having someone attend a meeting that isn’t contributing if you think about it? Equally, if someone feels they aren’t contributing or getting value from the meeting, this will make them even less likely to contribute and lead to the inevitable “This could have been an email”.

The idea of leaving a meeting if you’re not contributing is a rule Elon Musk is well known for implementing at Tesla. From experience, I can confirm it works and allows you to get on with more productive tasks, like reading my 5 productivity tips for the real world article.

Next steps and follow-ups

Have you ever left a meeting and can’t remember your action points? Or discussed the meeting later with a colleague only to find you both have a different idea of what was agreed? This is really common. Arguably the follow-up and next steps are more important than the meeting itself.

Every meeting should end with clear meeting notes and documentation of who will do what next, along with when it will happen. Handwritten notes should be cleaned up and distributed to everyone, ideally on the same day the meeting took place.

Sharing clear next steps with your team makes checking in and following up easy. It also creates an excellent document you can use at your next meeting to review and track progress. If your team works digitally, it can often be more straightforward to get all this logged in a task manager, but equally, a PDF will work just fine.

Effective Meeting Management Bonus Tips

Here are some bonus tips for effective meeting management…

  • Have a Q&A section on your agenda at the end of the meeting. This dedicates time for questions and allows people to clarify anything they are unsure about.
  • Finish the meeting with a recap. Go through the discussion points and list the agreed next steps. You’ll end the meeting with the actions and desired outcomes fresh in everyone’s mind.
  • Meet outside of your office (this could even literally be outside). Find somewhere new to meet. This can help remove workplace distractions and keep people focused without interruptions.
  • Always focus on the problem, and challenge it, not the person. Blaming someone will only drive a wedge between you and won’t move you any closer to a resolution.

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