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8 steps that help make meetings more positive and productive

Do you love meetings?
The answer, as numerous studies has found, is likely to be a resounding ‘no’ – but is there anything you can do about it?
There really is – and transforming stale meetings into positive and productive spaces is likely to win you the favour of everyone in the room. We’ll take you through 8 steps that will see you getting more done – in a better atmosphere.

Escape the office (or at least the chairs)

If your big meetings take place in your office you might want to think about escaping to somewhere else when it comes to meeting time.
It doesn’t have to be far, perhaps you could find a hotel foyer, a coffee shop, a library – or anywhere else that’s just a change of scenery. Studies show that breaking out of the ordinary space means people approach with a more open mind – and from a practical point of view, there aren’t going to be as many distractions as there would be back at base.
Now, if you’re planning on keeping your meetings short – you might not want to bundle out of the office en masse for what’s going to be a 20 minute get together, so if this is the case, mix things up by ditching the chairs and meet standing up.
When we’re stood up we’re more alert – and far less likely to ramble, owing to the lower level of comfort we experience being on our feet. You might get some funny looks suggesting it, but when people realise their meetings are quicker and more concise, every meeting will turn into a standing meeting…

Have an objective

If any of your attendees can’t explain why they’re there in less than 10 words then your meeting is likely to hit problems fairly early. You should either let them be elsewhere (see next tip) or you should have made the objective of the meeting more clear.
If a meeting is a general ‘what’s happening’ update that spans a host of subjects, you’re going to find yourself working against the human brain’s normal way of operating – which is in 20 minute chunks.
In fact, you might be lucky to get 20 minutes – studies show that figure is really the maximum time you can expect from a person engaged in a meeting with no real clear purpose.
Be clear about what you’re hoping to achieve from the meeting well before the it begins.

Be selective with attendees

How many meetings have you been part of where you didn’t open your mouth other than to suppress a yawn or two?
If you know what that feels like, then you owe it to everyone to make sure they’re only in the room if they need to be. That might mean managers feeding back to team members what’s happening – but that’s infinitely more preferable than having a room with 30 switched-off people in it.
Some large companies say that a maximum amount of attendees should be 8 – others say 10. Amazon even say that if 2 pizzas won’t cater for everyone, then there are too many people there!

Leave phones on your desks

Almost everyone (83% of people in fact) believe that using a mobile phone or tablet during a meeting is rude and unnecessary – and while some managers might disagree – it’s probably worth asking yourself what is the absolute worst that could happen if someone couldn’t contact you for 20 minutes or so.
Some of the biggest board rooms in the world operate this policy – including the White House! So if the President of the USA can step away from his phone and Twitter account for a few minutes, you probably can too.

Have an agenda – and be firm

Plotting an agenda is an important part of letting people know what the meeting is about – but also breaks the overall task down into smaller chunks.
For each agenda item, set a time limit – and be firm with what you decide on. When the clock is ticking it’s amazing how concise it encourages people to be.
Also, don’t be afraid to reference back to the original point, talking can quickly change to a different subject if you’re not strict – and while one person might want to change direction, the chances are the rest of the room isn’t interested.
If something comes up that’s not on the agenda – park it. It’s good practice to write it on a sticky note and stick it to the wall – our next tip will cover what to do with them when meeting time is done!

Leave time for ‘parked issues’

As you march, fully focused, through your meeting’s agenda, you’re going to find yourself with a few non-urgent issues parked – perhaps on a sticky note on the wall if you’ve followed our plan so far!
Now, the reason these are ‘parked’ is because there’s every chance you’re going to get to the end of the meeting and find that they aren’t issues anymore, either than subsequent information has covered them – or just that the moment has passed.
Leaving a few minutes at the end to either discuss them briefly – or arrange reconvening further down the line – means everyone’s voice is heard and any unforeseen issues are dealt with.

Have some silence

Science shows that we do our very best thinking when we’re quiet – yet when we’re in meetings we’re often talking reactively with no time to really think about what we’re saying.
Experiment with silence breaks – admittedly, you might need to add a few minutes to your overall meeting time – but as a result you’re likely to get an increased quality of feedback from the people in the room.

Assign tasks

An absolutely vital part of any meeting is understanding exactly who’s taking responsibility for each agenda item discussed.
Making sure there’s a name associated with each task leaves absolutely no room for any misunderstandings.
Effectively, your meeting agenda can look like a grid, with each row covering the following:

  • Agenda item
  • Time spent discussing
  • Objectives
  • Responsible person

Ask yourself – do you need any more information than that? The answer is likely to be no…

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