Although you may schedule a meeting with good intentions, it’s easy to let it fall off the rails when you don’t make the right preparations.
When executed well, a good meeting can provide a ton of benefits for a group of colleagues.
Getting together to go over project planning, communicate with external vendors, and finalize details is fundamental to any organization.
But just as colleagues can leave a meeting feeling accomplished, they can also leave feeling confused about what needs to be done.
Worse, they can exit a meeting feeling as though their time has been wasted – and when you’re in a busy company, every minute counts. That’s why you should be able to identify pain points in your typical meeting setup, and how you can avoid them. A good meeting should provide clarity and unity to a situation; a bad meeting can muddy the waters even further. Fortunately, there are plenty of ways you can turn a bad meeting around, and even more ways to avoid getting stuck in the first place.
Let’s take a look at five things that can take a meeting off track, and how you can prevent them from happening.
Problem #1: Lack of Purpose
This might be pretty obvious for the first meeting problem on our list, but it’s also probably the biggest. “It is interesting how tightly some companies try to control small expenses, yet anyone in the company is permitted to call a meeting of a dozen people and waste thousands of payroll dollars,” says an article at Time Management Ninja. “Often, hastily scheduled meetings result in wasting large numbers of wasted hours, especially when you multiply it by all of those present.” You need to make sure a meeting will be time well spent.
So before you make the decision, step back and consider whether or not you actually need a meeting. Can this be resolved over an email thread, or a conference call? If so, go with either of these routes instead – they will keep employees free to multitask while they contribute. But if you believe that a face-to-face group meeting will be beneficial, then set it up. Just be sure to send out invitations to the meeting with enough notice – your colleagues likely have their own busy schedules, and they’ll probably need to work your meeting in amongst others.
Problem #2: Not Checking Equipment Beforehand
Imagine spending all your time on a great PowerPoint presentation, but once you arrive at the meeting room, you don’t have a projector or a working computer available, or a cord is missing, or the files are unreadable by the computer. Nothing sinks a meeting faster than not having vital information available because of a simple (or not so simple) tech issue.
When you’re booking the meeting, take a look at the space where you’ll be holding it, and make a note of the equipment that will be available to you – you won’t want to Skype in a bunch of out-of-town colleagues if you don’t have the tech! Once you’ve got an idea of what the phone and computer capabilities will be like in the meeting room, you can then plan out what multimedia you can use.
On the day of the meeting, if you’re bringing your own files, put them on a thumb drive and email backup copies to an inbox you can easily access in case of emergency – and instruct the same of any attendees bringing data or presentations to display. Also, be sure you know how to reach the nearest IT person if a phone cuts out in the middle of the meeting or if a computer stops working.
Problem #3: Lack of Preparation
Time Management Ninja puts it plainly: “No preparation will kill a meeting before it starts. If you walk into the room at the last second, then spend 20 minutes getting the computer working or making handouts, you have already wasted half of the time.”
Instead, give yourself at least 15 minutes beforehand and get the room prepared. If you have handouts to provide to your attendees, make sure you’ve got them printed out and ready to go. (Likewise, if the people attending your meeting need to come prepared with documents of their own, give them advance notice so they can put their notes together.) Having everything ready ahead of time will go a long way in ensuring that your meeting starts on time.
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With regards to timeliness, you don’t want to get there early, spend time getting the room ready, and then sit for ten minutes past the meeting’s start date as attendees trickle in. Emphasize clearly when the meeting will start, and decide in advance how long of a grace period you’ll allow for attendees to show up. Latecomers can disrupt the flow of a meeting agenda, so be ruthless in closing the door and starting your meeting on time!
Problem #4: No Clear Agenda
Speaking of agendas, if you missed Problem #1, you’re likely heading into a meeting without any sort of defined order as to how the time will be spent. While this format might work for something like a loose brainstorm session, you’re going to want your meeting to accomplish something, and so you’ll need to determine what points need to be covered – and for how long.
A good meeting needs structure, and that’s where an agenda comes in. Figure out in advance what items you want to cover, and establish how much time should be spent on each. Once you have this accomplished, put it in a document and make printouts for everyone attending, so people will know what will be covered and just how much time will be spent on each item.
Problem #5: No Help
Planning an important meeting is stressful enough, and planning a meeting with no help can be a huge obstacle to overcome. If you’re planning your meeting for an offsite location, make sure that you pick a location with knowledgeable staff that understands the intricacies of what you need from your event. The more help, the better.
Problem #6: No Objective
As with a lack of agenda, a missing objective can sink a meeting. If you can’t clearly state just what you hope to accomplish through a group meeting, then it can seem like a waste of time for everyone involved. “Every meeting should have a planned success or outcome,” advises Time Management Ninja. “What is to be accomplished in the meeting? It could be a decision to be made, or a budget approved. Whatever it is, make it part of the meeting details when you send out the invites.” Not only does this give a meeting some credibility, it also helps the attendees have a goal to work towards.
Also, when you’re putting together your agenda, include a clearly defined goal at the very top of the page. If your attendees have a sense upfront of what needs to be accomplished, they’ll be more focused and feel more productive by the end of the session.
Avoid these Meeting Mistakes
Although you may schedule a meeting with good intentions, it’s easy to let it fall off the rails when you don’t make the right preparations, come up with an agenda, or determine an end goal. Instead, always make sure that your objective is communicated to the team, and that all the necessary materials are ready to go. With a few quick fixes to common problems, you’ll be able to host a meeting that’s both productive and valuable to your organization.
What’s your top issue with meetings, and how do you get around it? Tell us in the comments.