Six ways to optimize any meeting

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Get the most from meeting face time.

How many times have you found yourself doodling or wool gathering during an important meeting? Bet it is because the topic doesn’t include you or you wonder how things got so off course. The decision to gather busy people into a meeting is prompted by a perceived need that only face to face interaction will accomplish whatever is the need. Here’s how to make the best use of that time.

  1. Make the objective or deliverable clear on the invitation. State at the outset what you need/want. Tell folks to come prepared with solutions, ideas and resources. There is an objective and deliverable for each agenda item. Much time is often spent redefining the problem. This is not necessary if everyone comes with solutions rather than problems. No one gets credit for forecasting rain. Credit is only given to those who bring umbrellas.
  2. Announce the outcome you expect and tell folks what you are looking for; be that ownership, more data, resources or introductions. Assign parts of the topic before hand so each person comes to the meeting an expert on some aspect of the topic. Post your topic and outcomes on your preferred group documents tool. Start the conversation before the meeting and avoid the need for clarification. Update after the meetings with the timelines/ownership. Keep the dialog rolling. (Often meetings are held with stakeholders. If they have no action items, invite them to tell the group their top three priorities for the topic. Inviting stakeholders builds a collaborative environment, yet they may not come if they don’t feel they have a part to play or there is no win for them.)
  3. Make each slide or line item speak to the objective/outcome. In most cases, handouts are given at the end of a meeting as a reminder or meeting notes, emailed to relevant parties. Don’t read the handout or slide deck. Add value. Ask for what you need.
  4. Stick to the topic. When folks get off topic, acknowledge the importance of learning more and insist to talk about it off-line or in another meeting. Do not allow the ‘yes, but,’ to deter you. [Greg Meyer suggests creating a ‘parking lot’ where such, ‘yes but’ items are saved for future discussion or action.] You know the objective of THIS meeting, get ‘er done. Keep to your time schedule. If you said 45 minutes, then make it 45 minutes. Otherwise, folks are reluctant to come to your meetings.
  5. Involve every attendee. Ask their opinion, experience, advice or understanding. If their participation is not required, don’t invite them.
  6. Summarize with the plan of action with ownership and deadlines.

Want to make your next meeting even more efficient? Thank participants separately for their specific contributions. Let them know their ideas are valued. High morale means better meetings.

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