Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Meeting magic

Meetings are probably one of the most mundane parts of an office work environment. Whether your office is meeting-happy or meeting-averse, we've all been in way too many meetings with no clear objective and no clear result. While it's one thing to sit in a boring meeting as a participant, if you're leading a meeting you have more control and can really make the meeting work for you.

Okay, so there is no actual magic formula for making your meeting fun and productive.  Or at least none that I know of. If you have a magic formula, please let me know in the comments.  But hey, every little bit helps, right?  Here are some tips from my (pretty limited) experience planning and leading meetings.

Before the meeting
  • Look at how much you have to cover and set aside an appropriate amount of time for the meeting.  Be mindful of this time allotment when planning your agenda.
  • Pick a setting that is appropriate. If you have a lot to cover in a short amount of time, a lunch meeting at a restaurant may not be the best venue. If you need to get the creative juices flowing, get out of the office or to a new space, which will help people get out of "boring meeting" mode.
  • Plan your agenda and send it out to all participants at least one day in advance (when possible).  
  • Be specific and active in your agenda items.  For example, "Discuss and pick conference giveaway" or "Assign stories for fall issue" so that it is clear what the result of the discussion should be.
  • Note in the agenda who should be leading each item, if it's not always going to be you. (This is where the day-before thing comes in handy...they'll have a heads up that you expect an update rather than feeling bombarded.)
  • Chunk your items topically, so that you can pause after each section for questions and ideas relevant to that section. 
During the meeting
  • Dispelling distractions. While they can't be avoided completely (and the joke or laugh here or there is perfectly fine and may help keep the mood light), if a conversation is getting away from you, squelch it. If it is related but seems to be going nowhere, find out what the actual action participants are expecting from their discussion (if it's nothing, then ask nicely to get back on track). If an action or decision can be identified, direct the conversation toward that. If it is a relevant discussion but out of place in the agenda, you can either take a detour in your agenda (easiest if you're in between sections anyway) or politely ask to save those comments until you reach that point in the agenda.
  • Decide on actions and assign responsible parties to each.
  • When appropriate, don't be afraid to table a large topic for another time. Likewise, if there is a decision that only requires one or two people (out of a larger meeting group), don't force everyone to listen to your discussion; save it for another time with just those involved.
  • Be respectful of time. If the meeting is going great and gaining momentum, and the participants don't seem to mind, your meeting may go over, but if people have places to be, don't be offended or bummed if they scatter when the hour hits. Play it by ear and make sure to hit your must-have items/decisions before they go.
After the meeting
  • Summarize the results of the meeting discussion, paying attention to the next steps that have to be taken and noting in your summary who is responsible for that task.
  • If a follow-up meeting will be taking place, it is useful to summarize what steps should be completed by then and whether any new items will be presented at the follow-up. 
For some more tips for productive meetings, check out this presentation.  When all else fails, I bring food to make sure people show up.  Homemade baked goods are always a hit.

How do you prepare for and follow-up after meetings for the best effect?  Any magic formulas?


  1. Great tips! My pet peeve is when two people have a discussion about something that involves only them during a meeting involving 15 people. What a waste of everyone else's time! Glad you included it.

  2. @ Jeanna - Thanks! I hate when people call meetings to discuss "vague noun." Usually they don't have an agenda--either they have a to-do list or just want to pretend they're making progress on something by saying they met with you on it.

  3. For the first 2 years of work I probably went to a total of 10 meetings. Then I got thrown on a project where I had to run meetings. I had specific action items and cut people off if they got off topic. I had very full agendas. Sometimes that can be bad but I got compliments on how great my meetings were. I thought people were just being polite but since then I got to roughly 10 meetings a week and realize how awful most of them are. spendings 1 hour to "train" someone that could have taken 5 minutes is so useless.
    There are days I have 6 hours of meetings. I always wonder how I'm supposed to get any work done.

  4. @ colleen - wow...yeah, I hate how meetings can really be a productivity suck.

  5. for conference calls i take notes during and afterward email out a summary of what was discussed. i think a lot of people tend to zone out during conference calls, so it's good to send out notes. and if you're the one taking notes, you're going to stay focused!

  6. @ step - Conference calls are the worst! It's hard enough to keep some people paying attention in person.


Like this? Leave a comment!
Comments with emails attached will receive emailed replies; otherwise replies will be added below the original comment.