“What time is our 9 a.m. meeting?” “Do you know which room we are in today?”
Are these questions you hear too often in your organization? Do you get bogged down in a meeting meltdown when they are stacked on top of each other? Are you meeting after the meeting to clarify what transpired and schedule yet another meeting?
If ideas are the soul of business and entrepreneurship, perhaps meetings are the veins to transfer and cultivate the concepts and visions of collaboration all while occasionally challenging, frustrating and confusing their participants.
We all have our share of meetings, and we need them to manage normal operations, improve communication and procedures and foster innovative thinking. Perhaps more intrinsically, we are social, curious beings that like to discuss ideas and have our chance to perform on stage with an audience regardless of its size.
But what happens when a meeting’s quest for efficiency begets new inefficiencies or additional meetings in troubling meta fashion?
I like to think about miscellaneous projects throughout any meetings I attend and lead. I listen and take notes, but I also scribble down ideas or activities for other projects simultaneously. It’s my own way of feeling efficient, staying focused and planning ahead if a meeting is running long or a discussion has gone off the track. I’m still engaged and still processing all that is going on in the meeting, but I feel the need to be glancing around the corner, asking myself:
- “What are the concrete action steps that should be completed by the group for the next session?”
- “Will this same issue or topic come up the next time we meet?”
I keep a dated page of notes for every meeting and I organize them into the appropriate folder. Sometimes I will refer to the last gathering to review what really transpired. I want to know where there was progress for the group or my own action items. That’s the old reporter in me trying to address the core news-gathering questions.
I aim to maximize productivity before, during and after meetings in the following ways:
- A day or two in advance, I like to email the group a 3/4-page agenda with three or four categories or sections comprised of bulleted updates or upcoming activities.
- I strive real hard to keep it to one hour; 40 minutes is ideal.
- To break up the routine of a standing meeting, I like to invite a guest presenter (where appropriate or relevant) to speak to the group for the last 30 minutes once the agenda has been covered. I used to bring in a different media or advertising representative every month. That worked great until we exhausted the supply of contacts. It was very productive for story idea discussions and networking.
- If I’m not leading the meeting and the discussion strays from the agenda timeline, I’ll try a subtle maneuver to steer the dialogue back to the next matter. A segue comment or “softball/leading” question can often do the trick.
- I like to take my action step notes on the agenda and provide a quick recap of what I am promising to deliver for the next session as the meeting concludes.
- For professional and nonprofit association board meetings, I always skim the PDF packet of minutes before the next meeting to see where ideas are reaching fruition or projects were actually completed [It also helps to do a search for your name to make sure you haven’t dropped the ball on something!].
In closing, if you hold a meeting, prepare an agenda; if you don’t have an agenda, share a story; if you don’t have a story, make a point; and if you don’t have a point, give up the floor and please pass the mic…!”