Whether you’re a new manager, a seasoned business owner or starting to build your very own startup, holding effective and efficient meetings is vital to the effectiveness, efficiency, and success of your organization.
One thing most experts agree on is that efficiency comes from focus, a clear direction for the meeting that everyone knows about and which can be used to keep everyone on track and on the same page. This means, first thing first, setting a clear agenda for your meeting. You, as the meeting’s runner, get to decide how the agenda is communicated; but, it needs to be communicated. In the case of tangential conversations, having it written on a visible board or a hand-out is probably most helpful so that everyone can easily find their way back to the meeting’s original direction.
This doesn’t mean that the meeting has to be geared toward one goal exclusively; though, it is best for creative capabilities and time-management that you don’t host a meeting with too many large goals or problems to be solved. Everyone just needs to know what the goal of the meeting is, how it is going to start, how it is going to end, and what is and is not on the table. There, of course, is some leeway, say if you want to set up a time for open discussion in an effort to encourage creativity or to make sure nothing is being overlooked; but, put the free discussion on the agenda. It is probably best to put such a discussion at the beginning of the meeting so that the rest of the meeting does not get derailed but extra discussions and so that people don’t get worn down by the other various discussions and feel unwilling or unable to bring up something that may be important.
Whatever you decide to do, plan it and do your best to stick to it. people will feel they can rely on you and on the structure of the meeting; they’ll know when they can bring up what and there won’t be the anxiety and pessimism that can come with a seemingly open-ended meeting.
Also for the sake of efficiency and reliability, set a start time and an end time and do your absolute best to stick to them. This, like your clear-set agenda, is a way to eliminate anxiety and dread-inducing unknown that can come from meetings that never have a clear beginning or which drone on and on with no end in sight. Experts at Forbes and The New York Times both state that this is more likely to guarantee attendance and participation at your meetings. People will know they can rely on your meetings being what they are supposed to be, they’ll know they can plan their schedules around them and that their time will not feel wasted by attending. This is important both to the attendance at your meetings as well as to the likelihood and quality of participation at your meetings. I can say from experience that when I’ve been at meetings where there seems like there is no end in sight, I am more distracted by when and how I’m going to get out of there than contributing to, or getting anything out of, the conversation at hand.
Make efforts to minimize distractions. This may make you feel like the bad guy, but I can also speak from experience that meetings that begin with (rather than ending with) food or booze, as well as meetings where devices aren’t exclusively banned, are meetings where I’m more likely to be distracted and far less engaged than I should be. Part of your agenda should include refreshments if these are going to be a part of your meeting. There should be a specific time for getting refreshments and a specific time for having the meeting. It is an attractive quality for a business meeting to include dinner, for example, but there needs to be a distinction, and a clear one, between eating time and meeting time. If you have food first, set out the agenda that dictates that food happens from now to then and the meeting begins promptly whenever. Alternatively, try to save food and other refreshments for after the meeting, perhaps as a reward for participation and attendance. I greatly enjoyed working for the company that provided booze and pizza at the beginning of each meeting; but, the drunker and fuller I got, the less attention I had to give to the business at hand. Likewise, discouraging device use unless it is for the exclusive purpose of note-taking will maximize the attention you’ll get from your meeting’s attendees. All of this should also be further encouraged to create a concise and structured meeting time that doesn’t run too long and also runs exactly as long as you say that it will.
Finally, end the meeting on both positive and actionable notes. Positivity can be incorporated by calling out employees of the month or successful team efforts that have occurred of late. Actionable moments can mean summarizing what has been covered and discussing how new policies need to be implemented, what improvements you expect to see, how better collaboration or more efficient practices can be introduced and so forth. This will re-focus anyone who is slowly fading toward the end of your meeting as well as giving the meeting a distinct moment that says “this is why we’re here, and this is what needs to happen next.” And beyond that, keep up with the actionable moments and follow-up with your team to see how implementations, improvements or changes are being handled, whether they’re being successful and whether there are any kinks that need to be worked out. Nothing will de-motivate your employees from attending and participating in your meetings than there seeming to be no real effect that comes out of them. Don’t expect that just because you say something to a room full of people once that it will be taken care of immediately and flawlessly; checking in after-the-fact will also guarantee that the day-to-day efforts to implement your plan(s) work on a logistic and realistic level for your team. You don’t want problems with a new strategy to fester for a month or however long until your next meeting; that only creates more problems when you’re trying to solve already existing ones.