By Amanda Sackawicz
You always hope that your first week back to work from the holiday won’t be too busy, that you’ll be able to gradually ease back into the daily grind. You always hope for it, but it doesn’t often happen. I was faced with 20 meetings this past week. While this is not a lot compared to some, it was enough to add some craziness and make one fact amazingly clear – most meetings are pointless.
Yep, that’s right, I said it – pointless. Admit it. We’ve all been there, rushing to leave the conference room, thinking, “Wow! I can’t believe I just sat through that!” But what makes a meeting pointless? Our work isn’t pointless. Then how does a meeting that focuses on our work become pointless? It’s actually quite simple – when your meeting attendees walk away feeling less than inspired, like they haven’t been productive or learned anything and wanting that hour of their life back… Voilà! You’ve just created another pointless meeting.
So how does one avoid this all-too-common phenomenon? The problem with a pointless meeting is you don’t know you’ve fallen victim until the meeting’s almost over and you see everyone’s eyes glazed over in boredom. There is no cure for a meeting once it has started traveling down this path; the best you can do is follow these precautionary measures to make sure your next meeting is productive.
1. Learn to say “no.”
Be honest with yourself – do you really need another meeting? Ask yourself this question before you hit send on your next meeting request. If you need an answer to a question or need to clarify a point, a meeting may not be necessary – try an email or calling the person directly. These methods are just as effective in getting the job done and, more importantly, they are guaranteed to add one less pointless meeting to your calendar.
2. Who, Where, When
Let’s face it, you can’t have a meeting without attendees. (Well, you could, but your coworkers may start to think you’re crazy.) Make sure that your attendee list is relevant to the meeting’s objective. It’s important to remember that you don’t always need to invite the entire project team to every meeting. If you’re not sure if a person needs to be included – ask them. It’s better to ask a person if they need to be included instead of adding another pointless meeting to their schedule.
You also can’t have a meeting without a set time and place, so be sure you have this information when you send out the invite. If you have to put the dreaded “TBD,” be sure to make a note to yourself to update the information far enough in advance of the meeting. Keep in mind that you may have attendees calling in, so provide dial-in information as well as a room number and make sure all information is clear and easy to read.
3. Always be prepared.
In every meeting, information is key. It’s important to keep this in mind as you’re getting your pre-meeting ducks in a row; because all the information in the world is not going to matter to your attendees if it never gets to them. Now, you may be thinking that you’re covered because you emailed all the documents before the meetings – wrong. Your attendees are just as busy as you are and while they may see your email, they may not bring the materials to the meetings. It’s your responsibility as the meeting host to keep them informed. So while you did send out that email, be sure to bring print outs if applicable. The more information available to your attendees during the meeting, the more productive the meeting will be.
4. It’s not just preparation, it’s execution.
You’ve brought your print outs to the meetings, now what? Do yourself and your attendees a favor – do not read them. This isn’t kindergarten story time and everyone at your meeting is capable of reading the documents on his or her own. If you have the documents mentioned above (which you should) or the agenda, and have access to a projector or large monitor, put them up so everyone in the room can see and use the documents as a reference point and talk to the people sitting at the table with you. You are the most knowledgeable person in the room on the given topic and you need to be able to share this information freely. Tell everyone, in your own words, the purpose of the meeting and what you hope to achieve. The more relaxed you can make those around you feel, the more willing they’ll be to open up and participate.
5. Let it go.
While it’s important to keep your meeting on topic, don’t be an agenda-stickler. If your meeting falls into a flow of productive open discussion, don’t stop it for the sake of the agenda. Let it go. Some of the best ideas are borne out of open discussions; however you do want to make sure that the open discourse is in line with the meeting. If not, don’t be afraid to get everyone back on track – last I checked, they generally don’t bite unless provoked. The same goes for ending a meeting. If you have already established that no one has a hard stop – don’t end a meeting just because the hour is up if the attendees are in the middle of a conversation which could prove helpful to the project. No one will be upset if the meeting ran over if something was accomplished.
6. Save the victory speeches for the locker room.
While the end of a successful meeting can be a triumph; it wasn’t a playoff game, you’re not a cheerleader and “good-game” ass slaps are not needed. When the inevitable end-of-the meeting occurs, simply highlight any important action items, thank your attendees for their time and send out the meeting notes in a timely fashion. Yes, meeting notes. Just because your meeting was successful, it doesn’t mean that your job is done. Just as it was your responsibility to communicate all the information prior to and during the meeting; it is also your responsibility to communicate any new information and action items after the meeting has ended.
Just a few simple steps and you’re on your way to having productive meetings that won’t make your attendees want to run and hide at the first sight of a meeting request. I know it’s a shocking thought, but it will happen and everyone will be a little happier when it does.