Pointless Meetings and What to Do About Them

A meeting notes pad with handwritten board meeting notes

Can anything be done about pointless meetings?

We’ve all attended plenty of boring and pointless meetings in our career. The meeting that seems to drag on and on. The meeting that goes off the rails. The meeting where one person hogs the entire conversation. Or worse, the meeting that could’ve been an email.

A meeting doesn't have to be something you dread. With a little planning up top, you can organize a meeting that yields fruitful discussion and engagement. And more importantly, you’ll have a meeting that is clearly defined and structured. 

Below are some tips and tricks on how to make every meeting a successful one. 

Does this meeting need to be a meeting? 

First things first, you’ll want to ask yourself if this meeting even needs to be a meeting.

While it’s always great to see people face-to-face we also want to make sure that our meeting is productive for everyone involved. The last thing you want to do is waste anyone’s time. 

Here are a couple of questions to consider before sending that invite:

Why is it important to meet face-to-face? Do you need to have a nuanced discussion around a complex topic or sensitive issue? For example, if you’re discussing an employee’s work performance, then you’ll want to have a face-to-face meeting. Or if you’re finalizing a product launch, then it makes sense to have a meeting to go over any concerns or complex issues. 

Would it be more productive to discuss over email? Some items are better suited for email. The first draft of a speech, for example, would be tedious to review in person, but more productive over email. And if all you’re seeking is a quick response, then email or Slack is probably more effective. 

Have a clear agenda with a specific outcome

A meeting without an agenda is a big red flag. You definitely want to avoid attending any meetings without a specific objective and you also want to avoid running a meeting without one. 

Even a weekly team meeting should have a specific agenda in mind. What is the purpose of your team meeting? Are you gathering updates? Debriefing? Brainstorming? 

Your meeting objective should include a specific verb and a noun. This way you and the participants will achieve a specific outcome or result by the end of the meeting. 

To finalize the marketing strategy for Q4.

To reach a consensus on who we should hire for the new role.

To brainstorm ideas for a new product.

Next, think of 3-4 agenda items you’d like to discuss. You might want to discuss everything under the sun but narrowing your focus will lead to a more fruitful discussion. Otherwise, your meeting will feel disorganized and can quickly go off the rails. 

Curate your guest list

Most meetings feel pointless because you’re not really sure why you’re even there in the first place. Avoid this common pitfall by making sure that your list of participants is well curated. 

This is why having a clearly defined agenda is so crucial to your meeting’s success. Consider your meeting’s objective and refer back to your agenda items. Who would be able to contribute meaningfully to the discussion? Who would benefit from attending?

Also, think about the type of meeting you are holding. If it’s a town hall meeting then it makes sense to have everyone there. But if you’re trying to brainstorm ideas for a product launch, then you probably don’t need everyone from the department, just the key stakeholders.

Send a meeting invitation along with background documents

Along with sending your meeting invitation in a timely manner, you’ll want to attach your agenda and background documents to your invite. By having everything in one central place, you save your participants the trouble of searching multiple emails for various attachments. 

These background materials will also allow your participants to adequately prepare, which will lead to a productive discussion at the meeting. And if you’re a participant, then ask the organizer to distribute the relevant materials in advance. 

Take notes during the meeting 

If you want to avoid pointless meetings, then you need to start taking effective meeting notes. It’s important to have a record of what was discussed and what needs to be acted on. Otherwise, all of your meetings will feel pointless if you’re just rehashing the same agenda items.

So if you’re a meeting participant, use a notebook to record your notes. This will help you keep track of the discussion and retain any new information. At the end of the meeting, make sure to jot down your action items or tasks so that you have a clear plan for moving forward. 

If you’re the meeting host, then assign a note taker so that you can focus on leading your meeting while also having a record of what was said.

Be aware of time

There’s nothing more painful than an endless meeting. As the meeting host, you want to make sure that the meeting is moving along and that each agenda item has plenty of time for discussion.

So assign a time limit for each agenda item. When you’re nearing the time limit, you can say something to the effect of, “We have time for one more question before we move on.”

Not only does this help you run your meeting more efficiently, but it will also help you manage the discussion and prevent your meeting from going off track. 

Have a “parking lot” for tangential discussions 

If your meeting does go off track, don’t despair. Use a flipchart to write down any concerns, issues, or questions that come up but aren’t necessarily relevant to the agenda at hand. Park those meeting items on your flipchart so that you can follow up in a future meeting or over email.

A parking lot is a great way to let people contribute to the meeting and feel heard, while also keeping your meeting focused and structured

If you’re looking for even more tips on how to run a successful meeting, then read our article here.

Written by JiJi Lee

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