Meetings often get a bad rep for being inefficient. A Harvard Business Research shows that 71% of senior managers in a range of industries feel that meetings are unproductive. If you are one of the many people who often find themselves looking up “how to run efficient meetings?” but do not find effective tips, you have unlocked the right post!
This article does NOT list the standard tips for running an effective meeting. There is a plethora of articles that share guidelines like:
- Always have an agenda for the meeting
- Start and end the meeting on time
- Be mindful of other’s schedule when scheduling a meeting
- Implement closed laptop/phone meeting culture to promote participation
and the list goes on...
While the above suggestions are easy to implement, they miss focus on a key factor that makes a meeting effective - productive discussion among meeting attendees. So, without further ado, let’s go over the 5 “secret” elements that will empower you to level up your meetings.
1. Share agenda and reading material "before" the meeting
While it is a common knowledge to have an agenda for the meeting, it is surprisingly rare for meeting owners to share agenda and any supporting reading material before the meeting. Sharing the agenda before the meeting gives attendees an opportunity to prepare for a productive discussion. It also promotes a sense of combined ownership of the agenda. One less thing to worry about when this is achieved even before the meeting has actually begun (how awesome is that!!)
Highlighting the importance of being prepared for the meeting, Steven G. Rogelberg shares his thoughts about creating meeting agenda:
“This process may include asking others to suggest agenda items, which not only promotes relevance but also increases ownership and engagement. If you don’t have a clear mission or a list of agenda items, you should probably cancel.”
Sharing agenda with the attendees before the meeting empowers attendees in the following ways:
- It creates an opportunity for attendees to absorb the content at their own pace, schedule, or comfort and prepares them for the discussion. Whereas, reading the agenda for the first time during the discussion might result in less participation since the attendees have to both read and understand the agenda quickly to have a meaningful discussion
- Attendees can preview the agenda and suggest changes if needed. This instills a sense of combined ownership of the meeting agenda resulting in higher engagement to drive the discussion forward
- Meeting attendees might have different preferred channels of communication. There might be individuals that prefer to share their thoughts via email or through other channels and would appreciate the opportunity of having access to the agenda ahead of the meeting
2. Introduce all attendees
Meetings where attendees feel comfortable sharing their perspective and feel heard, often result in effective and productive discussion. The first step towards creating a conducive environment is to ensure that all meeting attendees are aware of each other’s background and area of expertise. This builds context for the attendees and enables them to leverage other’s experience in their functional area. By introducing themselves, attendees also indirectly become responsible for sharing their point of view in the discussion related to their area of expertise and hence, enables participation.
Attendee introduction can be easily achieved by either the meeting owner introducing all the attendees or attendees introducing themselves in a round robin fashion. This might not be valid for team meetings or recurring meetings where the attendees know each other already. However, this becomes essential for project kick-offs, program reviews, brainstorming sessions where the attendees represent different areas of expertise and might not have any prior experience of working with each other.
3. Set the meeting context and review expected outcome
Even though you might have shared the agenda ahead of the meeting, keep in mind that some attendees might not have the chance to review it before the meeting. This holds especially true for meetings with executives and senior leadership where the attendees often jump from one meeting to another without getting the opportunity to go through the agenda. Hence, it is always helpful to take 1-2min at the beginning of the meeting to go over the meeting agenda, provide any additional background that might be required to contribute to the discussion and most importantly share the expected outcome of the meeting. This level sets all the attendees and equips them for an engaging discussion. For attendees that have back-to-back meetings, hearing the agenda helps them reset their attention to focus on the discussion at hand.
4. Plan silences during the meeting
The purpose of meetings is not to talk - the purpose of meetings is to arrive at ideas, solutions, plans, and decisions. Every meeting discussion requires attendees to absorb the content of the discussion, process it and then share their thoughts. Hence, giving attendees a minute to structure their thoughts before beginning the discussion will encourage clarity of thought and robust ideas. It gives all attendees (and the introverts in the room) a chance to ponder over a decision, topic or issue and increases the likelihood of useful contributions in the meeting.
This power of silence is inspired from the Japanese concept of ‘Haragei’ - nonverbal and intuitive communication. It highlights the importance of listening in a conversation, giving time to contemplate and formulating the best response. These moments of silence during the meeting can also be strategically used to pivot discussions, introduce new topics or reset for new ideas. As more teams are working remote, planning moments of silence during the meeting is an alternative to pausing the discussion if you see attendees deep in thought or busy structuring their thoughts with a puzzled look on their face :)
Donal Carbaugh, a professor of communication at the University of Massachusetts Amherst highlights the power of silence perfectly.
“No-one is saying anything but everybody’s thinking. They are engaged. The frame around silence at that point can be very positive.”
So next time when there are a few seconds of silence during your meeting, let it sit and give attendees a moment to reflect on the discussion instead of filling it with words.
5. Summarize meeting outcomes at the end of the meeting or before switching a topic
It is widely known that after a meeting, the meeting owner or the note taker should share the meeting minutes to ensure that stakeholders are aligned on the discussion, key decisions and follow-ups or meeting action items. However, don’t shy away from ensuring this alignment during the meeting itself. The meeting owner should take a minute to summarize the key decisions and action items towards the end of the meeting or during the meeting when topics switch. This ensures less back and forth after the meeting and gives others an opportunity to suggest changes when all the attendees are still present and available for a follow-up discussion.
Alright, there you have it! Our top takeaways to up your meeting game. Here's a quick summary:
- Share agenda and reading material "before" the meeting
- Introduce all attendees
- Set the meeting context and review expected outcome
- Plan silences during the meeting
- Summarize meeting outcomes at the end of the meeting or before switching a topic