I very much enjoyed Ethans recent post about avoiding vampire meetings and thought Id share a few of my own tips for getting the most out of your meetings primarily from the perspective of being the organizer and facilitator. For the love of God, please respect your poor colleagues time.
- Circulate an agenda – An agenda should show the planned steps that get the meeting from here to there. It helps the participants prepare appropriately and anticipate the kind of information they might need to produce. Most importantly, it works as a contract with the participants: heres why this is a great use of your time for n minutes.
- Have a theme – Meetings shouldnt be meandering tours of each participants frontal lobe (unless well unless thats the actual agenda). Make it clear why this meeting is happening, why each person is participating at a given time, and then use your agenda to amplify how the theme will be explored or tackled in each section of the meeting.
- Set (and honor) times for beginning, ending, and breaks – Theres nothing worse than a rudderless meeting that everyone knows will just prattle on until its leader gets tired of hearing himself talk. You own your meeting by putting up walls provide structure and be firm about respecting everyones time. Give short bio and email breaks on a regular schedule. Honor the time walls.
- No electronic grazing. Period. – Laptops closed. Phones off. Blackberries left back in the cube. Youre either at the meeting or youre not at the meeting, and few things are more distracting or disruptive than the guy who has to check his damned email every five minutes. Schedule breaks for people to fiddle with their toys, but fearlessly enforce a no grazing rule once the meetings back in session. Emergency call to take or make? They have to leave the room. No exceptions. If youre too busy to be at the meeting everyone else has made firewalled time for, just leave.
- Schedule guests – Do not put thirty people in a room for three hours if twenty of them will have nothing to do for all but the last ten minutes. In your agenda, make it clear when people will be needed and youll encourage best use of everyones time. Its also extra incentive (or even an excuse) to tick off agenda items in a timely manner. (Well, it looks like Henderson is here to share his sales report, so lets move on.)
- Be a referee and employ a time-keeper – If you can afford it, have one person in the meeting be the slavish time-keeper so you, as the leader, can focus on facilitating, summarizing, clarifying, and just keeping things moving. Working closely with the time-keeper, you should not be afraid to announce things like Okay, we have three minutes left for this, so lets wrap up with any questions you have for Alice, then move on.
- Stay on target – Any item that can be resolved between a couple people offline or that does not require the knowledge, consent, or input of the majority of the group should be scotched immediately. Close ratholes. As soon as the needed permission, notification, or task assignment is completed, just move on to the next item.
- Follow up – If you have been utilizing a project manager or note taker (and God knows you should), be sure to use a few minutes at the end for him or her to review any major new projects or action items that were generated in the meeting. Have the PM email the list of resolved and new action items to all the participants.
- Be consistent – Take any of these tips that work for you and many certainly may not but understand one thing above all; meetings do not run themselves, and if you have any desire to make best use of valuable peoples time, youll need a firm hand and a lot of thoughtful planning. Set a pattern of being the one whose meetings dont suck and youll start seeing the productivity, tone, and participation in your meetings consistently improve.