By Mark G. Auerbach
Meetings can be of the bane of our work life existence. They can keep us away from important tasks. They can feel irrelevant to our work. They can be boring, and they’re sometimes a total waste of time. We all have war stories, whether we’re working or meeting with a large group of people, a small group that seldom gets face time, or, frankly any group.
So meeting organizer…
-Before you call a meeting, determine its purpose. Why do we need to gather this group together? Can we share the information in another way? Email? Conference call? The purpose and objectives of the meeting must be clear and relevant to all involved.
-Determine the agenda. Set your meeting time for as short a period of time as possible. Make sure the agenda is planned in advance. If you want members to give progress reports on their activities, have them share them by email in advance of a meeting, so meeting members are prepared. Share the agenda in advance. If feedback indicates that an item is missing or an item doesn’t need to be there, revise the agenda, and send it around again–in advance. Spur of the moment revisions or during-the-meeting additions add time to a meeting and bog down the flow.
-Pre-determine the “guest list.” Does everyone have to be there? Develop a participant list of those who are relevant to the discussion, those who will make decisions based upon materials presented. Have a designated person take notes for those who are absent, or better yet, record the meeting on either audio or video and send it around afterwards. That way, non-participants are brought up to speed, and participants are actually participating, rather than note taking.
-Find a conducive meeting space. A high-traffic conference room that also serves an employee break room and coffee center is too distracting. I used to manage a small sales force for a public radio station. We held our meetings at a coffee place away from the station; we had a back table, and we were undisturbed. People had their coffee and snacks, and meetings moved quickly, because after an hour, people would have to go feed their parking meters. We finished in 50 minutes without fail.
-Be prepared. If you’ve got someone doing an audio-visual presentation, make sure everything’s in working order before the meeting starts, so people don’t fidget while four people figure out why the PowerPoint won’t work. If there are handouts or other materials, distribute them the day before, so people can review them before the meeting begins.
-Make sure there are no interruptions. Ask people to turn off their phones. Nothing breaks the mood more than by someone taking a call. Ask the rest of the office to leave your group uninterrupted.
-Timing is everything. First thing Monday morning meetings don’t work, because people need time to readjust to “work mind” and deal with any urgencies to begin the workweek. Friday afternoon meetings don’t work, because, frankly, people are focused on weekend. Early in the day may prevent people from getting up-to-speed, unless, of course, you’re providing coffee and breakfast snacks. Late in the day, people are tired. I’ve always found that 10AM or 2PM worked well in a 9-to-5 workplace.
-Beat the clock. If you budgeted one hour, and you asked people to budget one hour, nothing makes a meeting crowd happier than a meeting completed and adjourned in 50 minutes or less, giving them a break before they return to their work or a chance to schmooze and small talk. And, a happy group of congregants will look forward to the next meeting.
Mark G. Auerbach is principal at Mark G. Auerbach Public Relations, a Springfield, MA, based marketing, public relations, development and events consultancy. You can find more information about Mark at Facebook and LinkedIn.