Tips for Designing Effective Meetings

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Your employees and colleagues are usually just as busy as you are, so when you call a meeting, it is your responsibility to make it efficient so you can all accomplish what you need to do in the meeting and be able to get back to your other tasks. One of the best ways to do this is by designing your meeting intentionally, ideally spending more time in preparation for the meeting than you spend in the meeting. Use several strategies to make the most of your time during the meeting.

Identify Core Ideas
Before calling a meeting, identify the core ideas you want to get across at the meeting. Boil them down to the need-to-know information for your team or the things you absolutely must brainstorm together. With each item on your meeting agenda, consider whether you could accomplish it more effectively through written communication or with a one-on-one meeting with a key person rather than everybody you were planning on inviting to the meeting.

List Required Attendees
Given the topic of the meeting, consider who really needs to be present and who can sit it out without negative consequences. The fewer people you have at the meeting, the faster it will go. Plus, the people who aren’t at the meeting will appreciate that you aren’t wasting their time if you really don’t need them there. List the specific people you need to have at the meeting and leave off those who won’t contribute anything or who can get just as much out of the meeting by getting a quick recap from someone in the department who did attend.

Budget Your Time
Go down the list of things you need to address at the meeting and plan how long to spend on each one. Add up the total time to help you determine how large of a block you need to schedule when you call the meeting. After you pick the time for the meeting, go down your list and write the time at which you need to start each section. This will help you keep the meeting on schedule as you are running it. Of course, you can deviate from the plan a little, but if you are going way over, be prepared to cut something from the agenda to show the others that you respect their time and commitments and are willing to end the meeting on time.

Provide Background Information in Advance
Type an agenda for the meeting and distribute it to the people who you are inviting. In addition to the agenda, give them anything they need to read, study, or consider before coming to the meeting. Therefore, rather than explaining information at the meeting, you can just add any comments to the background they already read and studied. In addition, prepared attendees will have significantly fewer questions, and when they have questions, they will generally be well thought-out and important for the team to hear the answer to. Providing information in advance also gives your team time to think of any responses they might need to give to the prompts you will have. For example, if you plan a brainstorming session as part of the meeting, include the prompt in the background information so people can start thinking and come with their ideas rather than having to waste time sitting in silence at the meeting as they think.

Get Down to Business
Start the meeting promptly, without any of the small talk or introductory material that is not actually essential for the tasks at hand. There is no excuse for a late meeting, and even if not everybody is present, go ahead and start on time. As much as possible, avoid the urge to recap the meeting for anyone who comes in late, which has the same effect as starting over from the beginning and makes the people who were there when you began feel like you are wasting their time. The people who attend meetings will quickly learn that if they don’t show up on time, they will miss out on content.

Make Meetings Interactive
The most effective meetings are ones in which participants have to stay on their toes, not only listening, but also making their own contributions to the meeting. Design at least one portion of the meeting to be interactive, allowing people who attended to let their voices be heard on important topics. This provides a mental change of pace that helps them stay more engaged, in addition to giving you a short break from talking so you can mentally review where you are in the agenda.

Stay on Topic
Having an agenda isn’t much use if you follow every rabbit trail that comes up and end up talking about material that you didn’t even plan to mention at the meeting. As much as possible, stick to your planned agenda and only cover what needs to be covered during this meeting. If other topics come up that you think are important, write them down on a piece of paper next to you. If your meeting looks like it will wrap up ahead of schedule, skim over your list and mentally assess whether talking about any of these items now would be better than saving them for a later meeting. Otherwise use the list of things that come up to help you craft future meeting agendas.

Make Follow-Up Plan
Before leaving the meeting, write down anything you need to keep in mind going forward. For example, you might have assigned tasks to people and need to check up with them in a few days to get an update on their progress and gather information for your next meeting. The meeting also may have brought up things you need to discuss one-on-one with some attendees later.
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