We have all read hundreds of articles about meetings - our days are consumed with meetings that often lack substance, structure or value. There are thousands, if not millions of resources on how to run a better meeting, yet we still attend thousands of meetings annually that simply are not well-run. Perhaps the problem isn't that we don't know what to do as much as how to do it. Today, we'll boil it down to a few simple things that, if you do consistently, will result in better meetings.
1. Don't call a meeting in the first place. In project management, there's always the "do nothing" option that must be considered. The same holds true in this case. Before calling a meeting, ask if the situation would be better served with a conference call, an email or an internal blog post update.
2. Be very clear and specific about the purpose of the meeting. Before you call a meeting, be very clear in your own mind as to the objectives and required outcomes of the meeting. Don't call the meeting until you are clear on this.
3. Send the invite with required attendees and the objectives, outcomes and agenda. In the invite, be clear if you need alternates if the invited person cannot attend. This is not always the case, so be sure of who needs to attend and why.
4. Start the meeting on time. Period. Start by reviewing the objective, the desired outcomes and the agenda. Then get started on agenda item #1. If someone arrives late, don't recap for them. Let them catch up via meeting notes later. It's rude to all the other attendees to go back over what you'd just discussed. There are some exceptions (VIPs, executives, etc.), but as a general rule, forge ahead.
5. Actively run the meeting. There's almost nothing worse than a meeting that has no one driving it. If you called the meeting, it's your meeting. Drive it. Encourage discussion, gain agreement, document decisions. Don't allow a small group to dominate discussion and do call on people who have not contributed to give them an opening to speak. Phrases like "Thanks, Chris, I'm sorry to interrupt, but I'd like to give everyone the chance to weigh in. Josh, what do you think?" If you're not comfortable doing this, practice with a small group of trusted colleagues who can play 'bad actors' in a private setting.
6. Use a parking lot list for items not directly related to the meeting. This will help you avoid getting side tracked. As soon as an item like this pops up, say something like "That's an important topic, but let's put that in the parking lot for now and continue discussing x."
7. End the meeting with a quick summary of outcomes, action items and next steps. Allow about 5-10 minutes at the end of your meeting for a quick recap of the desired outcomes of the meeting, whether or not they were met, the key decisions made, action items assigned and next steps. After gaining agreement, adjourn the meeting.
8. Anytime you can end a meeting early, do so.
9. Send summarized meeting notes within 24 hours.
Send out a summary to all invitees and attendees (not always the same) with outcomes, key decisions, action items, owners, timelines and next steps. You should be able to do that in a few paragraphs.
10. Practice, practice, practice. We have all sorts of meetings for all types of reasons. The more you practice these basic steps, the more they will become a habit. The better your meetings are run, the more likely it is that people will come prepared and be engaged. That leads to shorter and more effective meetings. Ask your peers for feedback about what worked and what didn't work and keep tuning up your skills.