If you’re reading this blog post, I know you’re someone who values productivity and making the most of every moment.
Unfortunately, sometimes work makes it hard for us to use our time effectively. A perfect example of this? Meetings.
Meetings facilitate information flow throughout an organization, which is critical, but they also take precious time. Time is your most valuable commodity, and too often, it gets sucked up by conversations that go off track and long discussions that don’t end in action.
Luckily, there is a lot that you can do to make the meetings that you are in better — or even amazing.
See yourself as a leader in every meeting
Unless your role in a meeting specifically designated as an observer or note-taker, then you should be actively adding value to the group. Just sitting there and letting a meeting drag on should not be an option. Even if you aren’t the one who called the meeting, it is your responsibility — to yourself and everyone else there — to make sure this time isn’t wasted. (We’ll go over tips for doing this below!)
And if you are the person who called the meeting, it is your job to do everything you can to make it a valuable use of everyone’s time. How do you do that? It starts with planning and preparation.
Time-saving meeting preparation tips
Answer the “why”
Why are you having this meeting? If it’s “just to check in”, that’s not a good enough reason.
Define the questions you need answered, or the actions you want to be taken. Every meeting should have a goal, and everyone in the meeting should know that goal. Figure out in advance what question you are trying to answer before you invite people.
Put the goal in the meeting invite, and make it clear. Don’t just call it “Events Team Meeting”; instead, call it “2017 Summer Fundraiser Preliminary Planning Session” so everyone knows *why* they’re going.
Figure out who really needs to be there (including you)
One of the biggest wastes of time is being in a meeting you don’t need to be in. Bringing in extra people rarely adds value and always adds extra time.
If there are people who don’t need to be present for the actual discussion, but who are involved with the topic at hand, put together a list of their emails and send them the meeting notes afterwards instead of inviting them to the meeting just to listen in.
If you’ve been invited to a meeting that you don’t think you need to be there for or that doesn’t have a clear goal, don’t just accept the invite. Check and see if the goal can be clarified, or if you can get the meeting notes instead of attending. This is your first chance to help this meeting not be a waste of your time or anyone else’s.
Paste any required reading or info right in the meeting invite
In an ideal world, everyone would put at least a few minutes of preparation in before every meeting they attend. In actuality, most people don’t. Make it as easy as possible for people to do what you need them to do so they can show up prepared!
I am guilty of not clicking on links or attachments in my emails. I have so much email to get through every day (on top of everything else) that any steps beyond simply reading the message are often just skipped.
That’s why it’s better to copy and paste ANYTHING you want read before the meeting right there in the meeting invite or email. Don’t make any additional steps for the person. If you want them to do something, make it dead simple
Making every meeting you’re in amazing
Clarify the goal at the beginning
As soon as everyone is there, lay out the goal of the meeting clearly, and go over the agenda’s main points. What questions need to be answered? What do we want to walk away with?
Write the goal on the whiteboard, along with any key people or departments that will be important to hear from during the meeting. This will help people stay on track, since the map will be right in front of them the whole time.
Use creative ways to pull ideas from the group
Sitting for too long makes it hard to focus. Try having people write their suggestions on post-it notes and then get up to put them on the whiteboard. Getting people out of their seats wakes them up, and seeing their ideas on the wall helps them engage with the conversation.
Keep the conversation on track
The whiteboard can also help you out if the conversation is going off track. If someone is talking too much or going off on tangents, jump in and say:
“This is a really interesting avenue, and we definitely want to come back to it. Let me write it up on the whiteboard so we make sure to record it, and then let’s get back to answering this question…”
Even if you’re not the person running the meeting, it it always helpful to have someone who is guiding the conversation in the right directions. There is no rule that the person running the meeting is the only person who should care about keeping it on track. Adding value in this way will most likely be noticed and appreciated by everyone.
Use multi-voting to make quick decisions
Making a decision with a group is HARD. Everyone has an opinion, but different people have different goals and reasons and motivations. Even people who agree might not be on the same page about why.
Multi-voting is a way to get a group to narrow down a long list of options. After a brainstorming session, you may have 10 solid ideas to choose from. Debating each idea and narrowing down to just one choice takes a lot of time. Multi-voting speeds that up.
Here’s how to do it:
- Write your list of options on the whiteboard. (While you’re looking at them all together, see if any of them can be combined to make the number of options even smaller!)
- Give everyone a maximum of 5 votes. Out of every option on the board, they’ll vote for 5. (For a shorter list, you can give everyone 2 or 3 votes instead, to speed up the process.)
- Tally everyone’s votes and see if there is a standout option that has gotten a landslide of votes. That’s your winner!
- If there’s not a clear winner, take a look at which options have the most votes. Discuss if desired. Narrow the voting down to just include those options, and vote again (giving people fewer votes as needed) until one option stands out as the top choice.
Take good notes that you’ll actually use
Taking good notes is critical, especially if you’re sharing notes with people afterwards.
We had a couple of people in our office who would take notes during meetings for everyone’s use afterwards. One of them would take, essentially, a transcript of the meeting. It had all the information there, in the order it had been discussed.
The other one took notes that highlighted key points, questions, and action items. Instead of just listing everything that happened, this person’s notes focused on the information that really mattered.
If we had a discussion about colors for a website that didn’t get resolved in the meeting, this person’s meeting notes would say: “To do: finalize color for website. Purple was discussed as a good option. Kate to circle back with decision from design team by Friday.”
If you have trouble synthesizing your notes on the fly, don’t worry about it. You can still take copious transcript-style notes in the meeting if that is what works for you; just be sure to synthesize them later (before sharing them) and highlight all calls-to-action as you go so they don’t get missed.
Follow up and move the project forward
Synthesize your notes and share them out
Be sure to send out your notes within a day after the meeting, both to attendees and any people who weren’t there who might benefit from reading what was discussed.
Don’t send a long page of notes that simply relays everything that was said. Turn your notes into a concise document that can be easily skimmed for action items and important questions. Aim for making them one page or less; remember that everyone who is receiving these notes is busy.
Help progress keep moving ahead
A good meeting should result in action. A meeting that just results in another meeting is not really a success.
By highlighting action items and questions in your meeting notes, you should be able to make it clear fairly easily what next steps need to take place. Use techniques that make these progress steps impossible to ignore.
For example, you can send out meeting notes with all action items in bold, so they stand out. Put a person’s name next to each action item, whenever possible, so it is absolutely clear who is expected to take the action. (Even if it seems obvious, this can make such a big difference!)
You can also try organizing the meeting notes with a section called “Next Steps” or “Action Items” at the top, so it’s the first thing everyone will read. Some people won’t skim the whole doc, so putting the really important stuff at the beginning is always a good idea.
Tell us how you make amazing meetings happen!
So many of the tips in this post have come from my own experiences of being in many bad meetings, and many have come from suggestions I’ve received from smart friends and coworkers!
Do you have your own amazing meeting tips to share with us? Help us all be smarter and more productive by sharing them on Facebook!