“Hey, I’m having a meeting this afternoon, do you want to come?”
“Yes! HOORAY! Thanks so much for asking!” Said no one ever.
Millions of meetings occur in the U.S. every day and most professionals find that they lose approximately 31 hours a month to ineffective meetings.
Why, you ask? Because most people who conduct meetings don’t realize that the success of a meeting is determined long before the meeting begins and continues after the meeting ends.
There are three reasons most meetings are perceived as a mind numbing, life sucking, waste of time:
I. Poor (or no) planning before the meeting
II. Poor (or no) facilitation during the meeting
III. Poor (or no) follow up after the meeting
This week, we’ll look at the first reason meetings fail- a lack of proper planning before holding a meeting. Here are the six biggest mistakes you may be making in planning your meetings:
1. You don’t really know why you’re having a meeting.
Most people have a vague idea why they’re calling a meeting, but don’t take the time to really identify their real objective in holding a meeting. If you don’t know what your purpose is and the outcomes you expect, how will you know if your meeting is successful? How will your participants know what to expect and how to prepare for your meeting?
2. You think a meeting is the only way to achieve your objective.
Many of the issues at the core of meetings I’ve attended could have easily been handled without a meeting. Sometimes I think people hold meetings because it makes them feel powerful or they like to hear the sound of their own voices. However, most of the time, I think people just don’t take the time to consider alternatives.
Before you require people to give up time for a physical meeting (and the additional time getting to and from the meeting), be sure your objectives couldn’t be achieved by another method, such as a phone call, email, teleconference, etc. Even regularly scheduled meetings should be evaluated to determine if they’re still necessary.
3. You invite everyone.
When inviting participants to a meeting, keep in mind the word “participant,” rather than thinking about “attendees.” Invite people who will be actively involved in the meeting and serve a specific purpose for the content of the meeting. Generally, these people include: decision makers, subject-matter experts, thinkers/creative people, information providers, and those who will be required to carry out what’s being decided in the meeting.
4. You don’t have an agenda, your agenda is vague, and/or you wait until the meeting to hand one out.
It’s rare that it’s appropriate or efficient to have a meeting without an agenda. The physical format is less important than the contact. Here are some things a great agenda includes:
– Date/time/location of the meeting
– Names of participants
– Discussion topics (in order) as well as discussion time allotted for each
– Name of the facilitator for each topic
– Activity to be conducted to complete each topic (brainstorming, vote, discussion, etc.)
– Goal/outcome desired for each topic (a list of ideas, a decision, etc.)
5. You don’t tell people what they need to do before the meeting and what they should be prepared to do during the meeting.
Sometimes participants will need to do some pre-work or research in order to be able to make decisions or have intelligent discussion on your meeting topics. If homework is required prior to the meeting, tell your participants. Additionally, if a topic facilitator requires some homework be done, be sure to ask him/her to provide it to you so you can pass it along to the other participants.
6. You don’t think strategically about location and other “little details”.
If you want your meetings to be productive, you need to ensure the facility has enough space for all, writing surface for all, electrical outlets, etc. Additionally, consider layout and design as well as participant seating. Boardroom style with a “head of the table” sets a different tone and establishes different communication paths than several small tables where small groups will sit. You might also need to consider relationships of participants. For example, sitting two adversaries next to or across from each other is asking for trouble. Allowing “factions” to sit together can also set up an “us” against “them” feel to your meeting.
Do your homework regarding layout/design and seating before you select or set up your room.
Finally, be sure you have a checklist to ensure all the “little details” are covered, such as refreshments, nametags/nameplates, markers, equipment, internet access, etc., etc.
This is part one of a three-part series. See the next two parts below: