‘If you had to identify, in one word, why the human race has not achieved and will never achieve
its full potential that word would be meetings’
  Dave Barry

Whether they are face to face, virtual, one to ones, team, planning, reviewing, strategizing, or back to back, meetings seem to dominate the working lives of many. Yet, when asked to articulate their feelings towards these get togethers, people’s dialogue rarely overflows with enthusiasm. What was that all about? Why was I there? I really did have better things to do. All are thoughts that can cross the mind as the chair closes proceedings.

So how can you ensure that attendees have a sense of purpose on arrival, and that they are enthused for action on departure? The first thing to ensure is that you get the basics right?

  • Agenda – An agenda that is copied and pasted week in week out, will become white noise; it is likely to be ignored. If you want to evaluate the attention that is paid to those weekly bullet points this simple experiment may help. Edit one of the usual items that appears, e.g. Item 4 may typically be Financial Update, replace this with A visit from Coco the Clown and see how many people notice this amendment – the number is likely to be less than 50%. Can you create an agenda that has interest: ‘Financial Update’ could become ‘How we have hit our cost saving targets for March’, you could use a motivational statement at the top of the agenda, even a different font or colour is likely to get more attention!
  • Pre-meeting papers – these should be submitted to the attendees at least 24 hours before the meeting if you want people to read them and reflect on them.
  • Space – Try and mix up the location or, if this is not possible, ask people to change the place that they sit. If you are having a meeting of less than 30 minutes, consider no chairs – stand and talk (the meeting is likely to conclude in the allotted tome).
  • Devices – There will be some occasions when there is benefit in people taking digital notes or referencing papers; there will be others when having a laptop open, disengaging from the meeting and doing your own thing is downright rude. So as a basic rule – if the meeting is based on fact and intellect then yes; if the topic is sensitive or has an emotional undercurrent then no. Of course, if the chairperson states at the start of the meeting whether this is a laptop open or closed session, people know where they stand!
  • Walk and Talk – A good way to hold a one to one meeting is to walk and talk. Aside from the obvious benefits of exercise and daylight there can be other pluses. The side to side body position naturally reduces the eye contact, the physical barrier that may occur in a face to face encounter across a desk is eliminated, and a less intense environment is created.
  • Timing – Too many meetings either start late, run over, or run out of time. If one person turns up 10 minutes late and there are six people attending, it does not take a genius to work out that an hour has been lost by the collective. If you have a culture of back to back meetings and feel that you never have time to reflect on the proceedings you have just attended, you can experiment with start and end times. One method that seems to work is to ensure that instead of working in sixty minute chunks you look at a standard time of forty minutes. Start at ten past the hour and finish at ten to the hour, do this and you have reclaimed 33% of your time. Time that may be useful for reflecting and acting on all the things you and your colleagues have been discussing. It is also likely that you will have achieved in 40 minutes what you thought would take an hour.
  • Respect the full agenda – How often is it that item 1 on the agenda gets 90% of the meeting time and then items 2, 3, 4 and 5 are squeezed into 10 minutes? A meeting that overruns may suit you, but how is that impacting on everyone else in the room? A ‘time monitor’ (ideally not the Chairperson) can help police the minutes and ensure that each item receives attention.
  • Energy – Sometimes an all-day meeting is required. If this is the case you should think how the energy, across the group, can be maintained. Regular breaks, hydration, movement, and fresh air will all help, as will creating clear focus around what the meeting will look to cover in the next hour. Do not let the meeting or the energy drift.
  • Chairperson – Chairing is a skill underpinned by efficiency and calm. If these traits are not your forte there can be benefit from finding an alternate. Equally, there may be some meetings where there is greater benefit in the leader contributing as a participant rather than adopting the neutrality of the chair.
  • Right people for the right occasion – If agendas can adapt then so can the participants. Too often the wrong people are in the wrong place at the wrong time. It is possible that someone’s time might be best spent elsewhere, and remember that as long as good communications are in place (minutes, conversations or even a recording of a zoom session are options) absence in person does not mean exclusion from the subject.

Meetings are unlikely to disappear so, hopefully, these tips will be helpful in creating greater energy and enthusiasm for what can so often take up much of our working day.