Make your meetings more productive with these three simple steps.

Jan 13 08:54 2009 Donna Williams Print This Article


Companies the world over lose millions of dollars every year through meetings that waste time and resources. Here are three simple steps you can take to make your meetings more productive.


When I was in the corporate world,Guest Posting I often got to the end of my workday with nothing crossed off on my to-do list.

The culprit?

In a word…meetings.

My days were so jam-packed with meetings that at 5 p.m. when it was time to start packing up to go home, I was looking at several more hours of work ahead of me.  The day I realized that my workday was out-of-control with meetings was when I found myself shut up in a small conference room with four other high-level executives, meeting on whether or not to have a meeting.

Needless to say, I’m not a big fan of time-wasting meetings.  And I’m not alone.

According to a Microsoft survey of 38,000 knowledge workers, they attended 5.5 hours of meetings per workweek.   The study also stated that 69 percent believe these meetings were a total waste of their time!

So why do so many of us in varying degrees detest meetings?

Because the majority of meetings are notoriously unproductive. Those running the meetings often wander all over the place, while attendees sit and daydream, sleep, or fiddle with their Blackberrys.  Countless millions of dollars are wasted each year through unproductive meetings.

Therefore, any company wanting to find a painless way to tighten their belts need to learn how to run a more productive meeting.

How do you do this?  Let’s start by putting meetings in their proper perspective.  Most meetings are not designed to get actual work done.  Most meetings are designed to be informational so that the real work can be accomplished after the meeting is adjourned.

The meetings that I call and attend these days are very different than the ones from a few years back.  First, I’m very selective in the meetings I choose to attend.  If you have a lot of people vying for your time, it’s very easy to get over scheduled.

Second, I started following what I call ACT in the meetings


ACT stands for Agenda,  Clarity, and Time.  Each of these three elements are important for running a more productive…and ultimately, more successful…meeting.

Agenda
A meeting agenda is important for several reasons:

1.  It keeps the meeting focused on the topic, and keeps it from getting derailed by incidentals.
2.  It allows the person who is running the meeting to provide a logical sequencing of meeting topic, or how you plan on getting from “here” to “there.” 
3.  A timed agenda lets you set time limits on each point so that no one (you included!) goes off on a tangent.
4.  By preparing an agenda, you are forced to put thought into why you are meeting, and what you want to accomplish.
5.  If you circulate the agenda before the meeting, you allow the participants to prepare properly, which in turn makes the meeting run more smoothly.

Whether you’re conducting a large, multi-tiered meeting, or a short, informal one, a prepared agenda will make your meeting much more productive.

Clarity
Have you ever been to meeting, and the end of it you’re scratching your head, going “Huh?” 

Every meeting needs to have a clear purpose.   Before you call any meeting, make sure there is a “reason for being.”  Is it a “touch base” meeting to stay connected, or a meeting to kick off a huge project?  Whatever the purpose, all participants need to understand before the meeting. 

You also need to be clear on who should attend.  Do you need everyone there, and if so, why?  Or maybe a few key people would suffice? Make sure everyone who needs to be there is invited, but don’t invite people just for the heck of it.  If they don’t need to be there, don’t invite them.  They can use that time doing something more productive.

Another thing you need to have clarity on is proper conduct during the meeting.  My advice is to outlaw electronic gadgets during the meeting.  No cell phones, no checking email on hand-helds, and absolutely no iPods!  If it’s going to be a long meeting, you should schedule breaks where they can check phone messages and email, but meeting time should be devoted to the meeting and not distractions.

Also, who gets to talk and when?  Is it a brainstorming session where everyone is free to speak at will, or is it a more formal format?  Determining this ahead of time, and making sure everyone in the meeting knows it as well, will save tons of time!

You also need to be clear on what the outcomes of the meeting will be.  What is the goal?  What do you want to see accomplished and in what time frame?  Who is going to be responsible for what?  Make sure everyone is clear on the outcomes by sending a follow-up email with action items, assignments, and a recap of the meeting within 24 hours.

Time
Meetings need to always start on time and end on time.  One of my pet peeves is people who don’t show up to meetings on time.  To me, it’s very disrespectful of my time.  And if meetings don’t start on time because of latecomers, chances are good they won’t end on time either.

“But people never show up to my meetings on time!” you might say.  One way to fix that is to start the meeting whether they show up or not, and reprimand anyone who shows up late (unless, of course, it’s the client!).  If people understand that you will start the meeting on time, and that they will be held accountable, I guarantee they will start showing up on time.

On the flip side, you need to honor and respect your meeting participants’ schedules as well by ending your meetings on time.  If you have a clear agenda, have scheduled enough time for the meeting, have started your meeting on time, and have stayed focused on topic, then you should be able to get everything done within your time frame.   But if you don’t, you will need to schedule another meeting.

If run properly and productively, meetings can be a critical tool for getting things done within an organization.  But if they waste time and resources, they can be an incredible drain on a company’s finances and employee morale.   ACT now and make sure your meetings are successful.


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About Article Author

Donna Williams
Donna Williams

Donna Williams is the founder and creator of BusinessBurrito.com - a website dedicated to helping small businesses grow to their maximum potential.  She is also a 25-year advertising / marketing executive, creative director, writer, and producer.  Together, Donna and her husband currently own and co-own five small businesses.  To read more of her articles, or to sign up for her free e-newsletter, visit her website at http://www.businessburrito.com

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