Productive meetings are really simple to achieve if you change the way you think about them.
1.Change your mindset
Remember the aim isn't to finish the meeting quickly, the aim is to effectively get the outcome you want. If it takes time, so be it. Just don’t wish the meeting away (don’t lead with how unimportant this subject is and how quickly you can get it done), if the outcome is worth achieving, it is worth doing. Meetings are part of the way we share ideas and information and form part of our work, they are not a waste of time unless the outcomes are not achieved or are not relevant to us personally.
2. Define your outcome
Figure out what you want to know at the end, what is the outcome:
What decisions do you want to make in the meeting or to be able to make as a result of it?
If you want to make decisions in the meeting, make sure it is clear who is making them and that they have or know they have the authority to do so. Make sure they have ALL the information they need to make the decisions. Otherwise, don’t have it yet. Get them the information they need in advance.
Is it just to share information (broadcast only)?
If it is to share information, don’t have it - send a written summary with some pictures first. Then, quiz people to see if it went in and if you must follow up to ensure the message got through.
Is it to get input, really get input?
If it is to get input, consider a workshop. If you want to participate, consider asking somebody else to run it for you.
3. Create Agenda
Once you understand what you want to achieve, ensure you have:
An agenda, which can be very specific and time-boxed or it can be a series of discussions you’d like to move through. But be sure to keep moving. Share this well in advance and make sure that you've got input on the agenda or people will add to it anyway in the meeting. Also, give people option to opt-out if they don’t feel they have anything to add, they can always email their input too.
4.Schedule, Invite, Prepare
Get the right sized room
Check out the technical aspects (if that’s paper and pens or a hangout)
Enough seats arranged in a way that helps you achieve your outcomes (a supportive circle, a presentation style setting or even a panel where you can interview people to get them to talk about the things you want feedback on).
Make sure the right people can and will be there - even go and speak to them to give them context and make sure they know what needs to be done in the meeting
If the right people are not there, don’t have the meeting at all
Implement a 10-minute rule - if people don't show within 10 minutes, cancel the meetingI
5. Engage, Connect and Begin
Allow a few minutes for people to be human and connect with each other - laugh a bit whatever. People need that to warm to each other. Start by stating what you want to achieve, why you’re here and what you need from everyone. If people are doing other work, let them know they can do that you need their full attention (please). Get eye contact, smile and get that meeting started!
6. Manage scope, wanderers and the devil on the fence
Work through your agenda carefully, if there is a good discussion happening but it is going over your allotted time, make a call. Should it continue? Can it close or should you reschedule that part with a smaller more interested group? Make the call, now!
Sometimes, people speak when there is space to speak, regardless of how much they really care about the topic. Manage this by asking a few questions that help gently get them to their point, if indeed they have one or they’re just sharing a view.
So is this a deal-breaker?
Why does that worry you?
What is in your way?
If things are going in circles, make a statement that people can either agree or disagree with to get things moving along. You can even start your meeting with a statement that you’re testing in the meeting, that will stand if not challenged. If your meeting is more than 1 hr, give people notice that there will be a break at a certain point, or people will come and go and you’ll have to loop them back in all the time - it breaks the flow.
When there are 10 minutes left, let people know - go back through and make sure you’re getting your outcome, if not - say so, bring it back. Always bring it back to the outcome you agreed to achieve.
Close at the end, but summarise the discussions and what was agreed by whom. Follow up very quickly, whilst it is hot in people’s minds.
Seek feedback on the meeting, see if people got what they wanted and if not why, include that in your next meeting style.
7. Participants be present
If you're invited to a meeting, presume it is because you're needed. If you're not, ask the organise what they need from you beforehand. If you are there to help with an outcome, be prepared, put the laptop away and listen. Remember, you only need to say something if you really care about it, if it's not important, save it as a side-note.
Be on time
Support the organiser in helping things move along and most of all....
8. Have fun
Most importantly, have fun talking about some really interesting things, with some amazingly bright people, making a difference and getting really good stuff done. That can’t be too hard can it?