Beyond PowerPoint: 5 Tips for More Effective Meetings

Meetings. Some welcome the time to connect and get the bigger picture. Some see them as a necessary evil. Much frustration can be avoided by following a few simple steps to save time and communicate effectively. In most businesses, meetings that drag on contribute to employee frustration.

Keeping meetings effective is more than just productivity in the moment. It’s part of building a culture of efficiency. It shows team members you respect them and value their time. Dragging meetings along or conducting them inefficiently communicates the opposite. As much as we love the helpful technology like cloud computing, conferencing apps, mobile gadgets, doohickies, and weebobs built over the years to facilitate communication, sometimes it’s simply most efficient to communicate in person and make sure everyone is on the same page.

Depending on your company, its size, culture, and communication needs, meetings can be as frequent as daily, or as infrequent as once a month. But everyone has meetings at some point. How do you keep them efficient?

Tip #1: Prepare

Any project or company event, no matter how large or small, should be broken into three phases: pre, during, and post. Either create or acquire an agenda template, populate it with relevant information at least a day in advance of the meeting, making sure you leave space for extra information that comes up. Send it to the attendees for review, so you can integrate any necessary information prior to the meeting.

Tip #2: Be Mindful of Time

Someone’s late. How do you handle that? Do you wait for them to begin? Do you pull them aside and let them know that’s unacceptable? Depending on company culture and management style, you may keep this situational rather than hard and fast, but the prima donna who is always late and gets away with it communicates to the other team members that that’s ok. If it goes unchecked, there will be slippage in other areas as well. A target time should also be set for all meetings. Roughly 30 minutes is ideal. Also, the team member who likes to overshare needs boundaries, too. Communicate expectations of length of share time at the outset (this can be on the agenda as well). A good rule of thumb is two minutes. Rather than being the ogre all the time, the manager should assign role of timekeeper to a beloved team member who can set their smart phone in front of them and remind colleagues it’s time to wrap it up.

Tip # 3: Close the Laptops

Every “Zen and the Art of” book reminds us to be here now. We need this reminder even more in the Information Age. Divided attention is unproductive, even though we often excuse it as “multitasking.” Just like being late, letting this go communicates that this information isn’t important, which by extension calls into question the importance of even having a meeting. If it’s important enough to have a meeting about, it’s important enough to have everyone’s undivided attention. Mentioning this at the beginning, or setting this as a “ground rule” at the top of the agenda can be helpful. Ditto with answering the cell phone. This should be explicitly stated at some point, so the prima donna doesn’t take advantage of the ambiguity.

Tip #4: No Response? Have them Talk to a Partner.

Again, depending on company and meeting size, there may be a discomfort to share openly on certain questions. If the meeting is large, and your questions aren’t getting traction, have the group turn to someone sitting next to them, groups of two or three is fine. Have them discuss the question in the small group, then solicit feedback from each group. This simple shift can diffuse tension, and lead to great brainstorm when a meeting stalls.

Tip #5: Capture and Share Next Steps

No matter what organization you’re with, chances are you’ve encountered a situation in which the same people had the same conversation about the same topic and came to the same conclusion twice if not several times in a row. This kind of redundancy leads to organizational inertia. With the right process in place (like, say, an agenda), capture the next steps on a granular level, which means writing down “who does what by when.” This should be established for every actionable agenda item discussed. Once captured, the agenda should be shared with each team member present, whether via email or a documentation platform such as SharePoint.

No organization is perfect, but following simple principles of efficiency can help your company stay productive, retain employees who feel empowered, and gain an advantage on less efficient competitors.

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