How to Make Meetings More Meaningful

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The average business’s workforce spends 15 percent of its time in meetings. This figure has increased year on year since 2008, and senior executives lose two days to meetings every week. Worst of all: Unproductive meetings cost U.S. companies an estimated $37 billion annually. Meetings that fail to deliver any valuable insights, goals or actions are a waste of time. But what can businesses do to make their meetings more meaningful and productive?

1. Understand Your Goals

“The question I ask myself … almost every day is, ‘Am I doing the most important thing I could be doing?’” This quote from Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg highlights just how crucial it is to focus on setting and achieving goals, even if only on a day-by-day basis. And this is as true of creating meaningful meetings as anything else in the workplace.

Every meeting is an opportunity to identify problems and define solutions. Even the shortest, simplest meetings must have a goal. There’s no point in gathering employees together for an hour twice a week if nobody has an issue to discuss or an objective to achieve. Identifying a clear goal and defining key discussion points will maximize productivity. Sitting down with only a vague idea and no actionable suggestions, on the other hand, may lead to meandering, meaningless conversation.

2. Invite Essential Participants Only

Once a meeting’s core focus is defined, only those people with the relevant insights, expertise and experience should be invited. Employees with no real value to contribute may become bored and lose time they could spend better elsewhere. All invited parties should be sent an agenda and key discussion points and challenges to be addressed. This gives them time before the meeting to consider ideas and ensure they’re focused when they arrive.

3. Appoint a Reliable Moderator

Inviting one attendee to act as a moderator helps to keep meetings focused and on-track. They can review topics covered, remind everyone of those still to be discussed and move the conversation on if it strays into irrelevant areas. But another key advantage of appointing a moderator is having someone ready to assume control if the meeting stalls. They should understand the core objectives of each meeting and help inspire new ways to look at the issues being discussed.

A blog post at Meeting Tomorrow hits the nail on the head: “Meetings work best if everyone is allowed to contribute. If no one offers any ideas, [it’s] the moderator’s job to try brainstorming techniques to help come to a decision on a topic.” Moderators can end meetings by reminding attendees of the next one scheduled and distributing notes on the main points and solutions raised.

4. Earmark Sticking Points and Move On

One of the simplest ways to address sticking points is to request those affected resolve issues at another time. Otherwise, in-depth discussions unrelated to the meeting’s goals can lead to digressions and waste other participants’s time. Alternatively, a point may be too complex to solve during the slot allocated for the meeting or without access to specific tools. Again, a waste of everyone’s time. An effective solution is to record all relevant details and invite those involved to collaborate online after the meeting. This isn’t ignoring sticking points. It’s transferring the conversation to a more appropriate time and place to increase productivity.

5. Outlaw Non-Essential Devices

A meaningful, valuable meeting should be a smartphone- and tablet-free zone. While most workers feel their devices boost their productivity, it’s best to leave them outside the meeting room just in case. Just one person picking their phone up every two minutes, or the sound of it vibrating in their pocket, can distract those around them. Request that participants leave their phones and tablets elsewhere for the duration of the meeting, though anyone required to present data or discussion points should get a pass. Eliminating, or at least minimizing, distractions may make meetings more focused and productive.

6. Establish a Start and Finish Time

Setting a timeframe is a simple way to prevent meetings taking longer than they need to. The more time participants spend going round in circles, the less they have to invest in their work. Those responsible for scheduling should review the points to be discussed and determine how long is realistically required to address them. There’s no need to allocate a two-hour slot to discussing new stationery or just 10 minutes to improving customer-satisfaction levels. At least one person in the meeting room should be responsible for monitoring progress and reminding everyone of the set end-time. Any unsolved issues can be addressed online or in a follow-up meeting (or both).

7. Recap Key Takeaways and Confirm Actions

At the end of each meeting, key takeaways should be recapped to reinforce their value. Participants may forget important points raised early on in the meeting by the time it wraps up. A recap, even if its brief, helps keep them fresh in people’s minds. Any actions attendees are required to take must be addressed, too. It doesn’t matter whether this is a small solo task or a job for the entire team. Reminding all parties involved what’s expected of them ensures they know which steps to take next. A quick refresher gives attendees the chance to ask questions or admit when they’re uncertain how to accomplish a goal, too. This reduces the danger of costly mistakes and saves time down the line.  Employees should have an online space to discuss issues, share ideas and expand on the topics covered after meetings. This may inspire further meetings and, as a result, breakthroughs.

Follow the tips explored above to allow attendees to prepare in advance, ensure discussions stay on-point and confirm everyone knows which actions to take next. Working to enhance the value of meetings and reducing time wasted can cultivate a more productive team. Businesses will benefit from committing to proper planning and implementing a more structured approach to meetings in the long run.

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