Meetings are ubiquitous in business. Although they’re often the target of grumbling, they serve important purposes. They enable people to work through important topics. They help move the needle on projects. They allow decision-makers to get together in a room (whether in-person or virtual) to get things done.
Though meetings are necessary and can be productive ways to move projects ahead effectively, many dread them. It’s not hard to see why. It’s a sad fact that not everyone knows how to host a good meeting. If they aren’t executed well, meetings can be a huge time suck. They can also waste resources and money.
If you’re the person hosting, here are some tips for running an efficient meeting your co-workers won’t hate.
Have an Agenda
One way to keep things running smoothly is by having a meeting agenda. An agenda sets the plan for the meeting and creates an outline for how things should go. Many employees find meetings to be pointless. Having an agenda lets them know why you’re meeting. It also creates the framework for the discussions you’ll be having.
Clearly state the topics to be discussed and the people who will be leading those conversations. Specify the type of meeting it will be. Are you gathering to update a project’s status, decide on a new marketing strategy, recap monthly financials, or something else? If it’s a recurring meeting, designate a space for old business and new business. You can even designate areas for action items.
Keep It on Track
A plan is only good if you follow it. Think of your agenda as a roadmap to your meeting. If you go off course, you won’t make it to your destination. As the host, keep participants dialed in. If co-workers start to go off topic, gently bring them back to the agenda.
Sometimes a colleague might bring up an important topic that’s relevant to your overall work. If it’s not the focus of the current meeting, though, it doesn’t belong. A good way to acknowledge their idea but keep things moving is to say something like: “That’s a great idea, but it’s outside the scope of today’s discussion. Let’s follow up on that after the meeting.”
Be Mindful of Time
One reason people hate meetings is they feel the host or other attendees don’t respect their time. If they show up on schedule but are kept waiting for 10 minutes, their resentment is justified.
So be mindful of everyone’s time. Meetings are important, but people also have to have time throughout the week to complete work. If you schedule a meeting for 30 minutes, stick to that — after starting the meeting promptly. And if you’re able to end early, let people reclaim their time.
Tightly focused meetings help move things ahead. It’s easier for people to grasp the reason for the meeting and to make decisions. When you hold a two-hour meeting about everything under the sun, the message gets diluted.
Cancel Meetings When They’re Not Needed
“Why wasn’t that an email?” Anyone who works in an office environment has likely heard that question (or asked it). If you have a standing meeting but no new content to go over, cancel the meeting. Trust that your colleagues will be glad to put that time to another productive use.
This goes back to having a meeting agenda. If you don’t have anything on the agenda, reach out to other participants to see whether they are OK with canceling. If so, you’ll be giving people back a little space in their week.
Show, Don’t Tell
In today’s increasingly hybrid work environment, teams often find themselves holding video meetings rather than in-person ones. When this is the case, prioritize showing, not telling. Using screen sharing to display slides and asking folks to turn on their cameras increases engagement. While in-person meetings can benefit from this tactic too, it’s even more important for virtual gatherings.
It’s easy to zone out when on a video call with only picture circles showing for all participants. If you have your video on, you tend to be more focused because people can see you. Likewise, having visuals and statistics helps engage your audience when you’re the presenter.
Only Invite Key People
Have you ever been invited to a meeting and, halfway in, think to yourself, “Why am I here?” When your presence isn’t necessary, the meeting will feel like a waste of time. The same goes for your colleagues. If you’re hosting a meeting, make sure to invite only key individuals.
Why shouldn’t you include everyone who might be a stakeholder? One reason is that the more people you add, the harder it is to find a workable meeting time. It can also dilute your message. If certain people aren’t involved in the decision-making, their opinions take time away from the agenda.
Inviting tangential participants also wastes their time if they aren’t needed. If you want to include individuals who are more loosely tied to the matter at hand, send them an invite as an “optional” guest. That way, they have the invite as an FYI but know they don’t have to attend if they’re busy.
Meetings can be an effective business practice when run efficiently. By laying out a clear agenda, maintaining focus, and fostering engagement, you’ll enable your colleagues to attend your meetings without a hint of dread.