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How to get the most out of your meetings

Sitting in back-to-back meetings all day can be excruciating. Especially when the attendees don’t want to be there, there’s no particular objective, and the host has failed to prepare a plan of action.

These of course, are the worst type of meetings. But like it or not, they are a fact of working life. Meetings, when done right, are a means of doing a job well. They gather all of the relevant people into a room to solve a problem, plan a project, generate ideas or share information.

But schedules are busy and time is hard to come by, so getting the most out of your meetings is vital to productive and efficient operations.

Here, we’ve listed some top tips on how to get the most out of your meetings based on our experiences.

Have a clear objective

Meetings for the sake of meetings are the worst kind. Those that are automatically booked into the shared schedule, or expected as a means of routine or procedure. But they can be harmful to productivity and staff morale.

Think before you arrange your meeting: What is it expressly for? What outcome needs to be achieved?

Can the same result be achieved in a faster, more convenient manner? If you’re considering meeting with colleagues or clients in other locations, could the desired outcome be achieved via a video call? Could the presentation be shared through your online portal? Whatever the nature of the meeting, be sure that it’s earned its place in your calendar.

Always create an agenda

If you take away just one of these tips, make sure it’s this one. A timed agenda can be the holy grail of efficient meetings. Listing exactly what will be covered and when, with allocated time slots, keeps everyone on track and merits you the authority to call time when an issue appears to be trailing off course. What’s more, if you create your agenda a few days prior, and share it with the meeting attendees, everyone has time to prepare what they need to which means everyone gets more out of the meeting.

Only invite the people that need to be there

If a colleague is constantly checking their emails or tapping away on their laptop during your meeting, that’s a good sign they don’t need to be there. Time is precious, and it should be treated that way: yours and theirs. So don’t impose on your colleagues’ busy schedules if you don’t need to.

Additionally, the more people in your meeting, the more people to interrupt and add their two-pence, ultimately impacting on the efficiency of the meeting. So, cull your attendee list down to the bare bones. Be clear about who needs to be there to achieve the objective of the meeting and why? And lastly, define what work needs to be done before the meeting so that everyone can come fully prepared.

Don’t even think about ‘AOB’

‘AOB’ (any other business) is an alarm bell for a tangent. It gives people permission to diverge from the purpose of the meeting. And, before you know it, your one-hour meeting overruns into lunch, and you’re rushing to your next meeting late.

Of course, people may well have questions, so consider scheduling in a ‘question time’ slot towards the end of the meeting if you feel it’s necessary. But be strict and vigilant of time-wasters. Genuine and relevant questions should take no longer than a few minutes to answer. If an entirely new subject arises that demands more time, schedule this into your next agenda. This meeting should end when it’s scheduled to end, and any further queries or problems can be allocated their own time.

Instead, consider ending your meeting with a “to conclude” section, whereby you summarise the key topics discussed and decisions made and then re-defined any actions or “to dos” that will be taken by attendees as a result. Failing to conclude the meeting properly can be a hindrance on the final outcome.

Five minutes early is on time

Everyone’s time is as valuable as each other’s, so when people turn up late to a meeting you’ve spent diligently planning, it’s going to set things off on a bad tone. Instead, try implementing a ‘five-minute’ policy. Set the time for the meeting, but administer a new rule that anyone who arrives later than ‘five minutes before’ will be considered late. The ‘five-minute’ policy means everyone is seated, notepads open, drinks made, alert and ready to start on the hour. And, if you have the authority, anyone arriving late could be turned away from the meeting, and instructed to catch up via the electronic minutes.

Meetings can fast become a mundane, routine and expected part of our daily working life. But it shouldn’t be that way. Every meeting should be devised with a clear map of what is going to happen when, the desired outcome, and how it will be achieved. Attendees should leave feeling motivated, clear on the next steps, and satisfied with the result. Not panicking that they’ve wasted an hour of their precious working day on a pointless get-together.

Most of the tips we have mentioned should be easy to implement right away. And most importantly, your colleagues will thank you for taking the steps to make meetings more efficient, productive and meaningful. If you have any more time management or meeting tips, we’d love to know.