Workplace meetings often bring to mind the opening scene of John Hughes’s “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.” Like Steve Martin’s character, you’re probably familiar with long, boring meetings that consistently run overtime. Stuck with a boredom-induced headache, you start daydreaming about everything else you could be doing with your day. As the meeting drags on further and further beyond its scheduled endpoint, you watch the clock in growing irritation.
Fortunately, workplace meetings don’t have to be an annoying waste of everyone’s time. The key to productive meetings lies in making them brief, focused, and as considerate of people’s time as possible. No one will object to attending your meetings when you do your best to make them painless.
Do the Needed Prep Work
Before scheduling a meeting, begin by determining whether it is truly necessary. There are many scenarios where the information covered in a meeting could be communicated perfectly well in another, less time-consuming way. We’ve all heard the lament: “This meeting could have been an email.” Some meetings could even be a Slack message or a comment thread in your project management software. Make sure yours isn’t one of them.
If you decide that a meeting is absolutely necessary, the next step is to plan the meeting. Meetings should have a goal and an agenda before the invite goes out.
Without an agenda, a meeting can easily lose focus or run into overtime. Your agenda should state the meeting’s purpose and the topics to be discussed, by whom, and for how long. Attaching the agenda to the meeting invitation will allow attendees to ask questions or propose other subjects for discussion beforehand.
Once you have a written agenda, go ahead and schedule your meeting. While it can be tempting to cram a meeting into any open time block, some slots are more eligible than others. A U.K study found that 2:30 p.m. on Tuesday is the ideal meeting time, but any midweek, midafternoon slot should suffice. Use your team’s calendar app to find a time when all the necessary participants can attend.
Keep It Concise
A general rule of business writing is to use as few and as simple words as possible. The same applies to running a productive meeting. Avoid lengthy statements and steer clear of jargon. And remember that meetings aren’t supposed to be a one-way mode of communication. Open the floor for discussion, asking questions of attendees and inviting them to raise questions of their own.
That said, be mindful of losing focus during the meeting. Confine the conversation to agenda items and table unrelated topics. More narrowly focused subjects can often be handled better in smaller settings.
In a meeting, less is always more. You want to make sure attendees aren’t overwhelmed with information. Meetings should convey enough information to enable a decision on some issue or the setting of action items. If you find yourself citing chapter and verse, you should be sharing a document instead.
Add Some Creative Flair
Meetings can’t be painful when you make them fun. With some creative thinking, you can add aspects to meetings that encourage camaraderie and deter boredom. Brainstorming new ways to run meetings can be a great way to engage participants and add some excitement to the office.
If this sounds frivolous, note that these add-ons can be fun while helping to keep your meetings on track. At Buddytruk, for example, the team has a surefire way of ensuring its meetings end on time. If one runs over schedule, the last person speaking has to do 50 pushups. At Just Fearless, attendees get their chairs taken away when the time’s up.
Not only do these tactics encourage team bonding, they also make it clear to attendees that their time matters. When your meeting participants know you value their time, they will respect you more in turn.
Probe for Pain Points
OK, so you’ve tried to hold a painless meeting. You let your attendees know the meeting’s goal and provided a clear agenda ahead of time. You encouraged a discussion that was free-flowing but on point. You even introduced a few fun — but focusing — elements to the proceedings. How did it go?
Meetings don’t always run perfectly, no matter how hard you try. Instead of striving for perfection, strive for continuous improvement.
As with most things, feedback is the best way of judging the productivity and success of your meeting. You can get a lot of natural and authentic feedback just from gauging attendees’ reactions during the event. If attendees look distracted or bored, it’s probably a sign that the meeting isn’t proving as effective as it could be. If they pull you aside to ask tons of questions afterward, that’s another indication the meeting didn’t convey needed information effectively.
Sending a short survey directly related to what was covered in the meeting is another good strategy for eliciting feedback. It will help you figure out what was clear to attendees and what wasn’t. You might also ask them to rate the meeting or state what aspects they liked and didn’t like. This information will help you make future meetings even more pain-free.
To show meeting participants you appreciate their time and attendance, it’s a good idea to touch base with them afterward. A simple thank-you email can make attendees feel valued and respected — and more willing to turn up at your next meeting.