Ask any regular Jill or Joe in Corporate America what the biggest waste of their time is and they’ll respond, “meetings.”
As meeting professionals, we know instinctively that meeting face to face is the most effective way to communicate policy, reinforce branding, accomplish organizational objectives, team-build, drive sales and any number of things. Thanks to organizations like the U.S. Travel Association, we’re starting to see formal studies that prove that, too.
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Unfortunately, so many meetings end up feeling like a waste of time because, despite all the talk that happens during them, nothing gets accomplished afterward. The afterglow generated by an inspiring sales incentive or phenomenal motivational speaker eventually will fade. And their message alone can’t keep people from returning to old habits.
Fortunately, there are some simple steps that will help you plan more effective meetings — whether it’s a weekly staff meeting or an annual convention. Some will make you say “duh” and others “doh!” But they’re worth repeating, reinforcing and passing on to your friends. Because whether or not you’re in a leadership role, you can influence the meeting design and experience, and help educate your stakeholders and fellow employees on how to meet more efficiently.
Step No. 1: Define the goals for the meeting
Why is this meeting important? What needs to be determined? Who needs to be there? If you can’t answer those three questions, then this meeting shouldn’t happen. The answers not only will shape the agenda, they will inform the meeting design and attendee experience.
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Step No. 2: Make it clear to everyone why the meeting is happening
In an in-house meeting, this happens by sharing the agenda and goals at the very beginning. At a larger gathering, this happens during the pre-show communication and opening remarks. If you let people know what you’re trying to accomplish, they’ll be looking for ways to help you rather than wondering why they are there.
Step No. 3: Determine action items and deadlines
So many meetings end with a vague call to action. That’s why they accomplish nothing. After you define the desired end result, you need to determine what steps must be taken to get there. Then you need to figure out who’s responsible for taking each action, what resources they need to meet their goal and set deadlines that are realistic and achievable. Before the meeting ends, make sure that what’s been agreed to is repeated and written down, and that everyone is clear on what they’re responsible for and what their deadlines are. Also determine who’s going to make sure everything stays on track.
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Step No. 4: Empower people to play devil’s advocate
If something is a stupid idea, or will waste the company’s time and resources, it should die in committee. Similarly, if there is something that is attractive because it’s new and shiny but isn’t a solution to something that’s a burning priority, someone needs to question why it’s so important to do now. If the attendees aren’t empowered to question the authorities — whether that’s a speaker or the CEO — you’ll get a lot of people who listen, nod their heads and walk away feeling like they gained nothing. People need to discuss and debate issues to understand why action is important and how taking action will benefit them. Otherwise, they’ll go through the motions without any investment in the outcome or belief that it will do any good.
Step No. 5: Keep track of milestones and hold people accountable
Remember those goals and action items that were defined? Don’t wait until deadlines have passed to meet again. Check in regularly with each person or department assigned an action item to find out their progress and what they need to make their delivery dates. If someone misses a deadline, hold them responsible and find out when the task will be achieved. Slowly, as people either meet or miss deadlines, it will become clear who the organizational linchpins and liabilities are.
This post explains one of the 33 skills all meeting and event planners need to master. Discover the others here.
The Practical Guide to Meeting Planning
Pages of handy-dandy checklists of essential items and best practices.