Communication is the bedrock of business, and in many situation a face-to-face discussion is the best way to exchange information, compare options, and make decisions. So why do so many people hate meetings? In most cases, it’s because neither the organizer nor the attendees have prepared properly, so a significant amount of everyone’s time is wasted. To make the most of meetings, and of your and your colleagues’ time, follow a few simple guidelines.
Every meeting needs an agenda, with date, location, list of times and topics, and goals. The agenda and background materials should be sent to all attendees well ahead of time, so everyone can read and digest the information. Ideally, preparing for upcoming a meeting causes attendees to get their materials and ideas organized, so they are ready to jump into discussions in the meeting. Meetings should begin promptly – waiting for late attendees is discourteous to those who were on time, and encourages others to be late in the future. During the meeting, stick to the published timeline, and make notes of items that need to be addressed later (discussions that were recessed for time, or a decision with no clear consensus).
Invite everyone who needs to be there, and no one who doesn’t. Does the person providing background information need to be present to answer questions, or will their written report suffice? Does the person who will make the final decision need to attend the preliminary discussions, or will the summary provide enough information? If there are multiple items on the agenda, does everyone need to be present for all of them, or can they be grouped? If you respect people’s time and only include them when really needed, they will be more willing to attend.
Everyone at the meeting should be focused on the meeting. If attendees are checking email, texting, tweeting and having side discussions, they are not present mentally. Do they need to be present physically? While there are generational differences in technology usage, the meeting organizer should make clear what is acceptable and what it not.
Often, the most important person at a meeting is the scribe who takes the meeting minutes. This list of decisions made, unresolved issues, and action items (with responsible parties and deadlines) is the official record. All attendees should be provided with the minutes as soon as possible after the meeting, with a deadline for additions or corrections. During the meeting, you should be taking your own notes of items for which you are responsible, and make sure those reconcile with the official record. If this is a recurring meeting, the organizer should end the meeting on a positive note, and confirm the date, time and location of the next meeting.
Meetings are a fact of professional life, and new technology is making meetings with geographically distant colleagues even easier. However, since time is one of our most valuable resources, putting in the effort up front to prepare, and thus minimize the time spent in meetings will pay dividends in both increased productivity and the gratitude of your colleagues.
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