Have you looked at your own performance in leading meetings and wondered if it was effective? You may have been tempted to google ‘meeting tips’ only to receive a plethora of Top 3 or Top 10 and the like in your search results. But which one to follow? It seems the number of meetings we attend in a week makes project managers ‘professional meeters’ and one would logically conclude there must be some sort of magic formula.
The reality is that managing meetings effectively takes a lot of practice and a lot of skill. Needless to say that no meeting is ever the same and no attendees are ever the same so dynamics, emotions and agenda items will vary and each will need to be managed. Meeting Management, of course, refers not only to the meeting itself. Meeting Management primarily encompasses three phases, the preparation before the meeting, the facilitation of the meeting and the follow up. The various authors of best practice advice have recognized many components of successful meeting management so each of the three areas has several essential components to consider that appeared most frequently in a google search on ‘meeting management tips’.
Effective Meeting Preparation must include setting clear objectives, setting an agenda and selecting participants.
Let’s focus on the first phase, Preparation. The number one, most frequently given piece of advice is to set your meeting objectives. In preparing for your meeting you should consider if the meeting is necessary, and what the defined objectives are for this meeting. This may detail the specific outcomes from the meeting, such as if you want to merely discuss a topic to level-set or make a decision. Visualize the meeting’s agenda and critically think how you will guide the participants through the topic(s). This will help you firm up the agenda. Consider the level of prior knowledge or interest of the participants and structure the content accordingly. You should start with broad topics and then move to a narrower description, or start to give high level information before tackling detailed discussion. Knowing your participants and selecting appropriate decision makers will be key in arriving at your desired objectives. Sometimes the length of time you have available may not be sufficient to work out the relevant detail so pre-work for participants may be required. This has a nice side-effect in that it may create a feeling of ownership of the meeting and the meeting outcome.
Now to the actual running the meeting. As a project manager you may be facilitating your team to lead a discussion, make decisions, provide status updates, and many other purposes for assembling a team for a period of time.
Facilitate your meeting by controlling your meeting logistics, manage to time and manage your participants.
Aside from planning the obvious meeting logistics, such as selecting the right room, technology and set up there is a number of other logistics items that you can influence ahead of time that will make your meeting run more successfully. Planning a ‘no technology meeting’ and informing participants in advance that no laptops or mobile phones can be used could encourage a faster completion of the agenda and promote more engagement during the meeting. After all, multitasking is a myth, at least if you want to give quality attention to one thing. Another overwhelming number of best practice tips focuses on participant selection. What would a meeting be without its participants and therefore how can you make sure that the right participants will show up?
During the meeting, manage to time. It seems to be one of the biggest grievances of meeting attendees when a meeting runs over time and topics are not handled with sufficient attention. Not only will consistently over-time meetings annoy your patient attendees, it will create a snowball effect for subsequently meetings where attendees show up late. One of these meetings may be your own.
It may sound obvious but facilitating an effective meeting means managing your participants well and this can be one of the biggest challenges. Whether you know your participants well and have to tackle a difficult conversation, or you do not know your participants well and try to get through unfamiliar topics. In the first scenario your challenges might come in the form of unexpected emotions, or on the other side of the spectrum a phenomenon called ‘group think’ where in order to ensure harmony the group may make irrational decisions to keep the balance within the group and what is worse the facilitator is often unable to recognize it. The second scenario of unfamiliar attendees and topics already provides a queue to the facilitator to prepare in advance of the meeting, learn about the individuals invited, and prepare the agenda well.
Follow up and close the loop.
Meeting done and closed. Let’s move on. Not so fast! An integral part of any meeting is to close the loop in the form of action items and notes from the meeting. Following up on the discussions held and making sure that agreed decisions and actions are communicated not only ensures that attendees remember what they agreed to, but it creates a sense of purpose that the meeting was time well spent, opinions and ideas were heard and documented.
Some final thoughts
Did you know that the average office worker spends about 35% of their time in meetings? You may say this is true for you. Or you may say this is widely underestimated. The truth is, we all hate to waste time in badly planned or facilitated meetings only to find that the agreed actions are not followed up. Our job as project managers and meeting facilitators is to make sure that we facilitate effective and efficient meetings that will ultimately further the aims of the project. The above meeting management tips are not a comprehensive guide to any meeting but they touch on the most essential components that authors and meeting facilitators again and again select as their top tips.