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How to Make Business Meetings More Engaging

By AlexAnndra Ontra,
business.com writer
|
Feb 19, 2020
Image Credit: monkeybusinessimages/Getty
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Many employees tune out during business meetings. Here's how to make meetings less tedious, more engaging and more productive.

"Oh, look at my calendar. I have back to back meetings all day long," often means the same thing as "this day is going to be a waste and I won’t get a damn thing done." Human beings are social creatures and we generate a lot of our creativity and productivity through interaction with others. Hence "the meeting." The unfortunate, other side of that coin is that in today’s business world, meetings can sometimes be unproductive wastes of time if not planned and managed properly.

Often times, people grandstand. They talk for the attention and exposure that they believe they are getting instead of listening and processing the information they are receiving. Essentially, everyone talks to no conclusion. Or even worse, no one speaks up for fear of retribution – the meeting becomes another means of procrastination! Large companies with big projects have a lot of moving parts that require contribution from many entities, encompassing a diverse set of people and skills. Therefore, productive meetings are critical to leverage talent, build consensus, make decisions and ultimately, complete the project.

Here are a few tools and tips you can use to make your meetings more productive and actionable for your team:

An efficient business meeting format

Whether you meet in person or online, whether you are an executive or a junior coordinator, you can organize your meeting to keep it focused so you can meet your goals.

  • Stick to an Agenda: One of the most effective and easy ways to keep a meeting focused is with an agenda and a strong meeting leader who will force everyone to stick with it. It sounds elementary, but how many meetings have you attended that were supposed to be about one thing but ended up going in an entirely different direction? And the takeaway from that meeting was most likely… nothing. You didn’t make any decisions based on the original topic, it just wandered away.

    Having set line items and discussion points printed on paper or projected on the screen in front of every participant forces them to focus their attention on the priorities. And when the conversation goes off tangent, the agenda is there to refocus everyone’s attention and bring the discussion back to the original topic The agenda is a dispassionate, seemingly innocuous document that everyone adheres to.  
  • Keep it Short: A recent study noted that our attention span has fallen to a mere 9 seconds in 2019, from 12 seconds in 2000. We live in a world where everyone is multitasking. Time is precious and we don’t have much of it. Therefore, keep meetings short and to the point – if possible, less than an hour. Take it further and allocate minutes to each line item on the agenda. That way, you can cover all of your points. And your meeting attendees know that they have a limited window to get or give the information they need to produce and move the project along.
  • Invitations: Too many cooks spoil the cake, too many attendees undermine a meeting. Ever been in a meeting where there are so many people, nothing gets done? One person suggests something or makes an observation and everyone stays silent. Speaking in front of a large group is intimidating, and when that group consists of your colleagues and superiors who can impact your career, well that’s even worse.

    The more people in the room, the more reserved people will be with their thoughts and ideas. That means less participation, which is completely counter to the purpose of having a meeting in the first place. You should only include people who need to be in the meetings, either to provide information, provide approval, and help with the execution of the plan. If they are not providing some form of information, approval or input then they should not attend. You are wasting their time. (One exception is for interns and other junior employees who can learn from listening in.)
  • Encourage participation: Once you’ve limited the meeting to only colleagues who have something to contribute, make sure you get their input. That’s why they are there in the first place. Put names next to action items on the agenda, signaling who the appropriate person is tasked with the information needed on that item. This will open the floor for that person to speak up and engage with the rest of the group.  

  • Next Steps: Close the meeting with action items, due dates and responsibilities. Everyone knows what they are supposed to do next and when they are supposed to complete it. It makes everyone accountable to each other.

Choosing the right meeting place

Remote meetings are quickly rising in popularity inside offices around the country. Even people in the same building would rather login to a GoogleMeet than take the elevator to the 10th floor conference room. Boomers and GenX’ers may or may not lament this evolution but Millennials seem to love it, almost as much as they love açai bowls and dating apps (which can also be a great way to meet someone, but that’s another story). So let’s discuss our meeting place options.

Conference room

Even with the adoption of video calls and screen-sharing, the best way to relate and share information still lies in in-person meetings. You can see how colleagues react to topics and ideas. You can read body language. You can get to know each other better and bond. It sounds hokey but we are still social creatures who naturally crave human contact. To this day, I still push to meet my clients and colleagues face to face.

To keep those conference meetings effective and short, limit food and drinks. Some meeting planners even remove chairs and make everyone stand. If they get too comfortable and settled in, they will soon be dreaming of drinking mojitos in Cancun and the meeting will never end. Cushy seats, sandwiches and sodas are a distraction that will increase the length of the meeting.

In a conference room, get to the point, and get out.

Meeting apps

Meeting apps are by far the most efficient and convenient way to meet (and there’s no swiping involved). Login right from your laptop or even your phone. Anyone can share their screen, turn on their video camera and you have an in-person meeting with lots of supporting and reference material. Since most people log in from their desktop, they have access to the majority of files that they can then share as needed. Once dominated by WebEx, the meeting app market has become more competitive as technology has evolved. You can choose from Zoom, Skype, GoogleMeet and a host of others. They all essentially do the same thing.

Presentation technology

With over 500 million users and an estimated 95% of the market, PowerPoint still dominates the presentation software market. It’s like Facebook, everyone loves to hate it but they still always come back to scroll, troll and post what’s on their mind. Here are a few tips and tricks to make the most out of your next PowerPoint presentation:

  • Less is more: The fewer bullets, charts and pictures, i.e.: the cleaner your slides are, the more impact they will have on your audience. Stick to three bullets, one prominent image or a clean, simple chart. The slides are there to support the speaker, not the other way around. If you want your audience to “read” instead of “listen” to you, then send out the whitepaper, and skip the meeting altogether.

  • Go interactive: Just because PowerPoint is linear doesn’t mean your presentation has to be. Skip around, use animations and hot links to zoom in and out of ideas. Present slides during or after someone asks a question. The more everyone interacts, the more likely they are to solve the problem and come to a resolution. Let the conversation follow the presentation. Don’t limit yourself to a rigid slide show.

  • Slide library: Store all of your files and slides into a Cloud-based slide library that is searchable, visual and on-demand. The slide library will make it fast and easy for speakers to prepare their decks before the meeting and they can access the slide library during their meeting. They are also able to present any file, be it a PowerPoint slide, a video, even a PDF-on demand, just in case something is overlooked in their preparation. Using a slide library not only promotes interactive discussion, but it helps keep the project moving forward. With a slide library at hand, you can deal with issues and questions on the spot instead of having to follow-up later.

For your next meeting, keep it short with a tight agenda, make it exclusive to only those who have something to contribute, and use technology and PowerPoint to further the conversation and encourage discussion. Rigidity is out, flexibility is in. Let the conversation follow the presentation

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AlexAnndra Ontra
AlexAnndra Ontra
See AlexAnndra Ontra's Profile
AlexAnndra Ontra is the Co-Founder and President of Shufflrr, where she advises with clients to help establish an efficient presentation management strategy within their organization. AlexAnndra has empowered hundreds of Fortune-level companies, to transform basic PowerPoint slides into vital business assets. After spending the last 20 years helping clients get the most out of their presentations, Alex was inspired to write Presentation Management: The New Strategy for Enterprise Content, a book she wrote with her brother, James Ontra, Shufflrr’s Co-Founder and CEO. Before founding Shufflrr, AlexAnndra developed high profile presentations for diverse clients such as Epcot Center, The NBA, and Mercedes-Benz where she developed her creative, hands-on approach to helping clients drive their business. A graduate of the University of Texas at Austin, in her free time, AlexAnndra enjoys ballet, skiing and sailing.
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