We’ve all attended countless meetings that shouldn’t be held in the first place. Did we really need a committee meeting just to decide how cold the refrigerator in the break room should be?
As the aptly named Ashleigh Brilliant said:
Our meetings are held to discuss many problems which would never arise if we held fewer meetings.
That’s about right.
Nevertheless, meetings will continue to be an indispensable part of doing business. During an effective meeting, critical information is communicated, projects are moved forward, and collaboration is established. The question is what makes for an effective meeting? And, effective for whom? Despite their importance, very few people other than the meeting organizer actually prepare to ensure we have effective meetings. Instead, most of us wander in, drink a cup of terrible coffee, try not to fall asleep, and then wander out. [pullquote align=”right”]The question is what makes for an effective meeting? And, effective for whom?[/pullquote]
This is an opportunity I don’t want you to miss.
By actively preparing for meetings, you can significantly set yourself apart from others and ensure that at least you have an effective meeting. Having a game plan for a meeting before it happens, you can achieve more, improve how others perceive you and your work, and have a much greater impact on your company.
Having a game plan requires spending only a few minutes in dedicated thought both before and after each meeting. Yes, I know that to those of you who see meetings as a necessary evil, the thought of giving more time to meetings is horrifying. But spending just 5 minutes before and 5 minutes after a meeting can transform meetings from a fight to stay awake into something that advances your career.
In this post, we’re going to walk through how to ensure an effective meeting every time through mastery of the 10 most important minutes of any meeting.
Before The Meeting
Just like any good sports coach prepares before the game, you need to take a few minutes to create a game plan before every meeting. In that game plan, you must quickly tackle 4 preparation steps:
1. Determine Your Goal For An Effective Meeting
What is your goal for the meeting to be considered effective for you? Gather more information? Update your team on the status of a project? Get the answers to three essential questions? Taking a moment beforehand to clearly identify and outline your primary goal for the meeting will allow you to maintain laser focus during the meeting as well as stay on track throughout the meeting. In most cases you won’t want to hijack the meeting, but you do want to have your own objective.
2. Review the Agenda For Opportunities and Challenges
Reviewing the meeting agenda and making a note of key opportunities and challenges will give you a sense of the purpose of the meeting, as well as prepare you to speak clearly about any of the agenda points. You’ll know where to input and where to keep quiet. As you review the agenda, formulate your questions. This will allow you to quickly get to the heart of issues and not waste anyone’s precious time. Remember this whole process of preparing for an effective meeting is meant to take only 5 minutes. Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good. It gets easier with practice.
3. Gather Appropriate Resources
Don’t trust your shaky memory to remember everything during a meeting. You probably can’t even remember the names of all your children reliably. Collect all the resources you’ll need to speak authoritatively and to take essential follow-up actions. These items probably include:
- Something for taking notes (Evernote or OneNote anyone?)
- Task lists/project plans
- Email software for follow-up
- Supporting documentation
Your goal is to enter the meeting thoroughly prepared to meet your objective.
4. Arrive A Few Minutes Early
We all know that one person who can’t seem to arrive at anything on time. They always show up 5-10 minutes late, attempting to appear “busy.” Don’t be that person. Showing up late reflects poorly on your work ethic and commitment to the organization despite any poor office culture around punctuality. By showing up just a few minutes early, you demonstrate to people that you’re passionate about what you do and can be fully trusted with your contributions to the work.
During The Meeting
There is a huge difference between an active and passive meeting participant. An active participant engages, listening for context and not just data, asking helpful questions and providing insight. A passive participant secretly looks at Facebook memes the whole time. Active participants climb the ladder most quickly at their companies and get the most done. Sure, there will be times when the most effective thing you can do is respond to that urgent email. Just know, you’re undermining yourself while you seek to do the opposite. If you going to be there, be there.
Take these 4 steps to ensure active participation:
1. Take Detailed-Enough Notes
Taking detailed-enough notes to stay engaged, highlighting key follow-up actions, insights and questions which need further answers. It also keeps you from forgetting important items, which will most certainly happen if you try to keep everything in your brain (unless you happen to be like that guy in Rain Man). I also try to jot down my perception of the mood in the room. It helps provide context later.
2. Add or Request Insight
Some of us like to hear our own voice. Resist the temptation, but absolutely do add insight to the discussion or request it from others if you feel it’s needed for the overall meeting objectives. If you do this well, folks won’t mind if you occasionally ask a question more narrowly focused on your objective.
3. Keep A Running List of Questions
When things are muddled or unclear, make a note and either attempt to clear things up during the meeting or after the meeting. Whatever you do, don’t leave the water muddied and blindly hope you pick the right action. That will only create more work (and more meetings!) for you and everyone else.
4. Highlight Post-Meeting Action Steps
Your work isn’t done until you create a follow-up plan. But you can’t create a plan if you don’t highlight post-meeting action steps during the meeting. Depending on your role, you may need to assign actions to others or just follow-up.
For an effective meeting, you need to use checkboxes or some method to capture all action items from the meeting meeting.
After The Meeting
In the 5 minutes after every meeting, quickly take the following 4 steps:
1. Put All Your Action Steps In One Place
You probably have action steps scattered throughout your notes. Gather all your action steps into one location and take note of any deadlines you must meet. If you take notes in Evernote or OneNote, TaskClone is a great service that automatically sends tasks out of your notes and into your task list app or calendar.
2. Communicate With Those Who Didn’t Attend
Most likely, someone on your team will need to know something from the meeting. Spend 30 seconds firing off emails to people, giving them details on what they need to know. These emails don’t need to be epic treatises worthy of the Pulitzer Prize. Quick and dirty is the name of the game. Write them now even if you want to send them later. Use apps like Newton to send the email in the future.
3. Send Out Any Necessary Follow Up Communications
Whether it’s files, sales reports, project timelines, or pictures of cats, people are going to want things from you after many meetings. Taking just a few moments to send those items out after the meeting will instantly boost your credibility with co-workers and will keep you from forgetting. Better yet, delegate!
4. Ask Questions and Fill In Gaps In Your Notes
Unless you have a personal butler who takes notes for you, for most of you, there will be gaps in your notes. Try to fill in those gaps before everyone disperses. Yes, people may be annoyed by having to stick around for an extra minute, but it’s better than you barraging them with emails after the meeting. They should thank you.
Having an effective meeting is really up to you. There’s a really high chance that your co-workers don’t master the 10 most important minutes of every meeting. But, by taking just 10 minutes of preparation and execution, you can literally 10x your productivity and 10x your career. It’s a no-brainer on just about every level.
Or as Michael Scott from The Office said, “It’s a win-win-win.”