Nine essential ingredients for a successful meeting
Love them or loathe them, meetings are a part of business life. We have all sat through seemingly interminable meetings and yet some people seem to have made an art form of them. So, what’s their secret and what can you do to ensure the success of the next meeting you organise?
The most constructive meetings are those which not only see you get through your agenda, but which leave you feeling motivated, better informed and able to work towards whatever goals, targets or changes have been discussed.
Whether it’s for a small departmental huddle or a high attendance gathering, here are six top tips for conducting effective meetings.
Define your Outcomes
Time is of the essence, so never go into a meeting simply thinking you can ad lib it. Identify the reason you’re calling a meeting and the outcomes you want to get from it, then you’ll know how best to structure the agenda. Know what you are trying to achieve and structure the agenda, attendees and outcomes accordingly.
Always Have a Plan
Plan how you will carve up the time available to you and think about the added extras you might need from your meeting room such as computer equipment and order them in advance.
To ensure maximum attendance and that everyone comes well prepared, give colleagues plenty of advanced warning. An email letting them know the time and place is a given but providing them with a short breakdown of the agenda and goals will mean you waste less time setting out your stall at the beginning of the meeting. A follow-up prompt the day before the meeting to remind them when and where it’s taking place wouldn’t go amiss, and it means nobody has an excuse for having forgotten.
Begin with a Bang
Start with an attention-grabbing video or statement, relevant to the meeting’s objective, that will motivate and unite attendees in their mission. Make this as authentic and open as possible – this will set the president for honesty and therefore will encourage others to speak openly about ideas they may have been wary of sharing.
Get Your Timings Right
Human beings have short attention spans, so getting the balance right with your timings is critical. Allocate time for each agenda item and keep presentations slides brief, if you’re using them.
Think about the day of the week and time of the day at which you will schedule your meeting. The post-lunch lull really isn’t an ideal time for conducting effective meetings, nor is Friday afternoon when staff have one eye on the weekend. Going middle of the road and choosing a mid-morning, mid-week slot will probably see maximum attendance and maximum engagement.
Pick the Right Venue
When thinking about how to conduct effective meetings, you should keep the venue high on your priority list.
Choose a venue which can easily accommodate the numbers attending, but also think about the additional equipment you might need and the comfort of the space. With so many meeting rooms in London from which to choose, there’s no need to compromise on your choice of venue. Sometimes a meeting conducted away from your own offices in a new and interesting location can liven up proceedings and make your team feel more engaged.
Provide Food for Thought
Nutrition has a significant effect on our alertness and attention spans. But striking a balance is important. Messy or overly fussy food can prove to be a distraction whilst excessive quantities may leave attendees ready for an afternoon nap. If you’re organising the meeting in-house, arrange for a selection of sandwiches and fruit, together with hot and cold drinks. If you’re using a third party meeting room, you may well be able to benefit from expert catering, backed by years of experience.
Learn from Past Mistakes
All event organising including meetings provides a steep learning curve, but the best of us learn from our mistakes. Try to think impartially about where your strengths and weaknesses lie and plan around them. If you’re prone to nerves, for example, think about techniques which have helped you overcome them in the past and repeat the strategy. For those who tend to stray from the agenda, make a conscious effort to give yourself a tick list of what you need to say and how long you’ll give yourself to say it.
The ‘Parking Lot’
In order to maintain focus on the objectives in hand, write out a list of all the things that come up that are not related to the meeting in process. Parked ideas or issues then either become issues for other meetings, or emails to relevant employees.
The Follow Up
After the meeting, it’s worth following up to discover how people thought it went. If you send out detailed minutes and perhaps some links to the slides you presented or tables, charts and figures that you used, people almost always want to volunteer their opinions. Those who sat there quietly while you spoke might now be more willing to express their views and give constructive feedback, so a little polite email prompting can go a long way.