Meetings get a bad rap, yet they’re an essential tool for decision-making in any organization. But that’s only when participants show up having done the needed work in advance.
When a meeting fails to fully achieve its objectives, it’s usually because some individuals have arrived unprepared. Even though the manager is the leader and drives the meeting agenda, all attendees need to be ready to contribute positively to the objectives of the meeting. A successful meeting is a team effort.
Participants might think they can hang back without consequence, but if even one member of the team fails to prepare, it hinders the outcome. Every promising idea not voiced, every question not answered can cause a meeting to fall short of its goals. And unproductive meetings not only waste people’s time, they sap morale.
Fortunately, there are tried-and-tested techniques for optimizing the contributions of all attendees. Take these five steps to ensure that everyone plays their role to perfection so your meetings can be as productive as possible.
1. Establish the Purpose and Objectives of the Meeting
There are any number of reasons you might call a meeting. A meeting could focus on information sharing, problem-solving, seeking input for a proposal, or project planning. When you establish your meeting’s purpose beforehand, you let participants know what to expect. As a result, they can prepare more effectively.
The objectives of the meeting must likewise be clear to the participants. Do you need to leave the room having decided between one customer relationship management system and another? Is the point to assign tasks and establish a timeline for a new project? When participants have a clear idea of the meeting’s objective, they can come to the meeting with suggestions in hand. It will save time and maintain your meeting’s focus if everyone has reflected on the issue well before arriving.
2. Distribute an Agenda Ahead of Time
The best way to get across the purpose and objectives of your meeting is by creating and distributing a meeting agenda beforehand. Meeting agenda templates make the job of creating this essential organizational aid as easy as it gets.
An agenda will help you establish the core objectives of the meeting and inform attendees of the points most likely to be discussed. Distributing it ahead of time lets attendees ask questions, add discussion items, and see how much discussion time will be allotted to each.
Reading the agenda carefully is undoubtedly the most critical step in preparing for a meeting. Regardless of role, attendees should review each agenda item and identify the areas where they can contribute their expertise. At that meeting about CRM selection, for example, both Tameka from IT and Ethan from customer service will have important insights to share. By bringing their specific knowledge and experience to bear, all participants can help the company achieve its goals.
As much as you might wish that every participant with relevant information will share it at the appropriate time, that doesn’t always happen. In such cases, you might need to take a firmer — or at least more intentional — hand. You can ensure participation by every team member by assigning roles and responsibilities that form the components of the meeting.
As you look at your agenda, decide whom you need to hear from on particular topics. For example, you may have concerns about how the new CRM solution will integrate with your existing billing software. Task Tameka with investigating the integration capabilities of your candidate CRMs and reporting back at the meeting. If you’re unsure how your customers might react to the various systems’ chatbot capabilities, have Ethan look into it.
All attendees should be given their share of the limelight to contribute their ideas and suggestions based on the agenda. By assigning responsibilities to every participant and allocating them time to present their views, you’ll ensure they come prepared. Your team will get the information they need from the right people at the right time to fulfill the meeting’s objective.
The objective of many meetings is to make decisions on specific matters. On any major decision affecting your business, there is bound to be divergence in opinions among the team. A majority vote is the most common way of arriving at a decision, but it’s not the only one.
Rather than default to a decision-making method that runs the risk of creating many disappointed people, explore consensus-oriented decision strategies. True, you may not be able to avoid a majority vote all the time. Still, it’s worth exploring tactics like ranked voting and the Delphi technique to get more people on side. Many group decision-making strategies conduct their preparatory ranking via email or text beforehand. That means your team will arrive at the meeting with their choices already narrowed down, which will speed the eventual decision.
If you know there are issues that may cause sparks to fly — and with an agenda, you will — be prepared to defuse the situation. Set a code of conduct for the meeting that will keep tempers in check and the discussion productive. When there is a clear set of standards for everyone, participants are more likely to stick to the rules. Maintaining calm will help prevent the meeting from diverging from its stated agenda.
5. Get the Logistics Ironed Out
Last but not least, consider the nuts and bolts. Remote meetings are the norm nowadays because of the workplace changes forced upon us by COVID-19. However, with more businesses opening up, companies have again started holding meetings in office settings. Often, meetings will be a hybrid of in-person and remote employees.
A face-to-face meeting demands a different kind of preparation from a virtual meeting. In the former, you may have to deal with physical presentation materials like flip charts and whiteboards. For remote meetings, you must make sure slides, charts, and documents are formatted for optimal screen sharing. You don’t want the discussion to be derailed because other participants can’t see what you see.
Before any virtual or hybrid meeting starts, make sure to check that any video-conferencing links are operational. You will doubtless have informed participants of the meeting’s time, location (if in-person or hybrid), and other relevant details in your calendar invite. Still, it doesn’t hurt to send a friendly reminder to all participants a few hours before the scheduled meeting time.
Holding a successful meeting is not rocket science. Some simple yet well-considered preparation will help ensure your meeting goes smoothly. More importantly, it greatly increases the chances you’ll achieve your agenda’s goals.