Meetings are an integral piece of the puzzle for most organizations around the globe.
In the U.S. alone, it is estimated that around 11 million meetings take place each and every day. There are multiple types of meetings, and an infinite number of reasons why they take place, such as negotiation, collaboration, brainstorming, and briefs, just to name a few.
Yet, a study carried out by Verizon Business reveals that meetings are the number one time-waster in the workplace. This is mainly due to the fact that most meetings are unorganized and often have no real purpose or objective.
All of us have, at least once, been to a meeting that seems to endlessly debate off-topic subjects, which in turn makes it run for so much longer than initially planned. Ultimately, this results in hours of lost productivity for the organization and its staff.
The easiest way to resolve this problem is a no-brainer; preparing a meeting agenda.
While this may look easy, there are several mistakes that you may be making when preparing for a meeting. In this article, we take a look at some key statistics and some tips to ensure your meeting is actually productive.
Very often, you barely have enough time to prepare for an upcoming meeting.
This is the primary reason why meetings turn out to be unproductive for you and other attendees.
Additionally, you may end up spending more time on useless topics if you do not have a properly planned meeting agenda. Consequently, this increases the time it takes to complete the meeting.
For instance, if your meeting is scheduled for Friday afternoon, you should not wait for Friday itself to start preparing for your meeting. While there is no exact time frame here, you should at least start working on it a couple of days earlier.
This way, you get enough time to mind map all topics to be tackled and create a professional document, instead of random notes on a piece of paper.
Moreover, this allows you to share the agenda with all attendees in advance. This way, you can possibly make changes according to the feedback you receive prior to your meeting.
Have you ever been to a meeting and realize that you simply don’t understand the objective behind it?
Unfortunately, this happens way too often. Without a properly planned agenda with clearly set goals, conducting a meeting is purely a waste of resources.
When preparing your meeting agenda:
For example, if you are meeting your design team for a brainstorming session, your objectives could be to identify the colors and fonts to be used on your next marketing collaterals.
Having clearly defined objectives help all attendees know what to expect from the meeting, and what should be achieved by the end of it.
Hosting a meeting is one thing, but running a one-man show is another. Unfortunately, on some occasions, the host monopolizes the available time.
This often leads to boring meetings with low engagement, where 16% of attendees take a nap. Keep in mind that first of all, your organization relies on teamwork and engagement to move forward.
One surefire way to increase the participation of attendees and avoid a one-man show is by directly asking them about agenda items suggestions when you are still in the planning phase. Also, encourage them to provide a reason for discussing this item during the meeting.
If you do not include their suggestions, make sure to provide an explanation as to why you have omitted the item.
As far as possible, avoid running the meeting on your own, and encourage your attendees to provide their input. Engagement is essential for achieving the meeting’s goal.
If you are planning a meeting where several items will be discussed and do not prioritize topics, chances are you may be wasting some precious time.
According to a study, an individual’s attention span is between 10 to 20 minutes. This means that topics discussed after 20 minutes of meeting potentially receive less attention from attendees.
When writing your meeting agenda, add your items in order of importance. It will ensure you discuss the top priority topics first while everyone is fresh and paying attention.
Ideally, you would keep your agenda to around five topics, with each of them taking roughly 4 to 5 minutes to discuss. This way, you are sure that your attendees have not missed out on any points covered.
When meeting agendas are made up of short random phrases, people will most likely understand what the topic is about. This won’t make them curious or encourage them to participate in the discussion. The lack of questions again leads to lower engagement levels from your attendees.
Listing your agenda topics as questions can improve participation and at the same time make it clearer what exactly needs to be discussed.
For example, having an agenda item listed as “marketing collaterals” is way too vague if you are actually looking for colors and fonts to be used in your next marketing project. Instead, “what colors and fonts should be used on our brochure?” is more specific and ensures your attendees are prepared for this item during the meeting.
Some attendees come to meetings completely unprepared and this can be really frustrating.
But can you always blame them?
While some may have purposely shirked their duties, others may genuinely have not had enough time to be properly ready for the meeting. If your attendees are unprepared, this will most likely be again a one-man show; which should be avoided at all costs.
One easy remedy to this situation is by sharing the meeting agenda with your attendees at least 24 hours prior to the meeting. This allows plenty of time to go through the agenda and prepare any questions, thoughts, or concerns for each topic listed.
You can take it to the next level by including a list of responsibilities for each member attending the meeting. Moreover, you will get insights about those who are genuinely committed and those lagging behind.
Most people avoid feedback since they would prefer to dodge any criticism coming their way. Yet, this could shadow improvements that could be made for future meetings.
According to UX designer and manager Kevin Hoffman, “Sticking to a meeting format without further experimentation is like flying on auto-pilot. It only works for a limited amount of time. Symptoms of autopilot meetings include the same, strong personalities repeatedly driving the agenda and people tuning out, agreeing to whatever runs out the clock.”
Similar to how UX (user experience) designers get feedback on their products and improve their designs, regular meeting hosts should ask for feedback and try to find ways to make their meetings more productive. This is especially important if you lead or manage a remote team, as it is part of your duty to continually improve your team’s performance and workflows.
So you’ve been through your mind mapping, drafted your meeting agenda, and shared it with all invitees.
How do you ensure your meeting was successful and productive?
Following your meeting, action items are the next steps to achieve your objectives. Setting up a meeting and gathering all attendees is often resource-intensive.
To make it worth the resource commitments, attendees present need to leave with action items to complete and a clear understanding of why their assignment will help reach the end goal.
Action items can be easily assigned to attendees when decisions are taken in a meeting. Since this will normally happen in real-time, it is essential that meeting hosts document all action items and the individuals or teams responsible for each item.
Follow the guidelines below to maximize your organization’s chances of reaching its ultimate objectives.
As mentioned earlier, running meetings and taking decisions without actions to back them up is a pure waste of time for everyone.
First off, an action item should be clear and easy to understand for all attendees, especially by the person to whom it will be assigned. Whenever possible, if you have all the information at hand to make a decision, go for it now instead of putting it off to a later date or letting someone else figure it out.
When assigning an action item, clearly define the steps to be taken and confirm that attendees correctly understand how and why it should be done this way.
Ensuring that every attendee is on the same wavelength will reduce confusion and stagnation. Also, take a step further to ensure that action item assignees have all the necessary resources to execute their tasks.
Instead of overloading an individual or a team with multiple action items, it would be wise to actually split the workload up.
Generally, projects that are broken up into micro-actions tend to make you reach your goal faster. Break down ‘bigger’ tasks into small, manageable items that can be shared across your attendees.
Also, ensure that the person assigned to an action item has the necessary skills to go through with it. Encourage team collaboration between attendees if they feel they can help each other.
Finally, set down a due date for the completion of the action items and confirm with everyone that the timeframe is meetable by everyone.
Normally, we take down notes of so many things during a meeting that we can easily lose track of decisions and action items assigned.
Keeping track of all action items, who is responsible for each and their deadlines is necessary to reach your goal in due time. If it can make it easier on you, get the help of a scribe for recording meeting minutes.
As an extra layer of protection, share these notes with all attendees and even those who may have missed the meeting. This keeps everyone on the same page and increases accountability for their work.
Finally, follow-up on the progress made at regular intervals and tweak accordingly if necessary.
As highlighted earlier, wasting time in meetings is a real problem for many organizations.
With proper preparation, wasted resources due to meetings can become a thing of the past. It all begins with a properly prepared meeting agenda and ends with a list of action items for your attendees.
Avoid the mistakes highlighted in this article and get closer to your organization’s goals. Strong meeting agenda encourages productivity, collaboration and may even reduce employee disengagement.
About the Author
Silvana Carpineanu is an enthusiast Marketing Specialist who works for mindomo.com. Driven by passion and creativity, she’s responsible for copywriting, advertising, SEO, and content creation.