How to run an effective meeting

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Leadership, Teamwork

How to run an effective meeting: 4 essential ingredients!

Imagine a meeting that you leave full of energy. Encounters with colleagues and talks that just greatly inspire you! Unfortunately, these kinds of meetings rather seem an exception than a rule. There are some worrying figures out there that underline the ineffectiveness of most of our meeting behavior. According to research conducted by American software company Altlassian:

  • … 31 meeting hours per month are considered unproductive
  • … 91% of the average meeting goers daydream
  • … 50% of the average meeting goers consider meetings a waste of time

Altlassian puts the cost of unnecessary meetings to US businesses, in terms of wasted salary hours, at $37 billion. In short, it seems your staff meetings are considered productivity killers.

We hear you thinking “Hold on, we can’t just stop having meetings then?”. Indeed, we can’t. Although, are you really sure? In most cases the answer indeed is no: we can’t stop hosting and attending meetings. We’ll therefore have to come up with different strategies. How to run a meeting that is an effective meeting on one hand and still a pleasant contact moment on the other hand? There isn’t a specific template to apply, but there are some pretty straightforward guidelines to follow. Start experimenting with a few of these ingredients and you’ll see your meetings change to the better!

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Pre-meeting input: What to prepare in advance of the meeting?

Obviously, when there is more at stake, the more time you’d like to invest in preparing your meeting. And there’s more to prepare than you might have expected – and so, more to be successful at too!

  • Define your goal: An open door? Maybe, but in practice there aren’t many meetings that start with describing the goal of “why we’re here together”. As a meeting host, make sure to define your goal as concrete as possible and share this at the start of the meeting – or even better, enclose it with your meeting invitation. In it also describe the form of the meeting: is it a brainstorm, an informative session or do you want to have a debate?
  • Meet online or offline: Do you need to reserve a meeting room? What if the same meeting can be attended online via a conference call, Skype or a livestream? With help of Sendsteps, online attendees can vote on proposals or reply to questions during short presentations. If technology can be an alternative for your physical meeting, then think of the costs you can save in terms of time and travel!
  • Who’s joining?: Consider who is invited to your meeting. Select strategically and be aware of team member roles. Which colleagues have a large network? Who is a subject expert? Is there a good balance between introverts and extraverts? Our recent blog about “How to build trust in the workplace” might give you some more ideas.
  • Pre-meeting survey: Once your goals are clear, when you know who is joining and how your meeting takes place, then make sure to setup a short pre-meeting survey: this way you can collect expectations from all attendees. This will help you, in the days before your meeting, to further tailor the meeting to everyone’s information needs. For those with a [free] Sendsteps account – check out the Sendsteps Survey functionality and get started straight away.

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Setting the meeting stage: How should you the ideal meeting space look like?

A comfy space helps us to concentrate and to get inspired. So, let’s see what’s there to improve in your meeting room.

The space: To start with, a tidy space gives space in your head too. In a number of studies, plants also have shown their positive effect on the work floor. According to US Professor Roger Ulrich: “They attract attention without effort and evoke positive emotions that can respectively promote renewal of the capacity to concentrate and interrupt the stress process”.

Did you ever consider the factor ‘color’ upon answering the question of how to run a meeting? Well, you can go as far as adapting the color scheme in your meeting room. Scandinavian hotel chain Radisson SAS took the factor color very serious in designing their hotel meeting spaces: “Each color has both a physical and mental influence on our wellbeing and general health”. Bright colors make us want to engage stronger, nature colors express harmony and reliability and green in all its tones stands for innovation and optimism.

Finally be aware of what impact your seating plan has on the meeting. If as a host you want to make a decision at the end of the meeting, you might want to sit at the head of the table. However, if you rather like to have a brainstorm, then it makes more sense to have somebody else take a seat at the head of the table. Or to make use of a round table. Or like in many Japanese meetings: don’t have a table and chair at all and have a standing meeting. According to Forbes, this will even cut meeting time by 36%!

The meeting space getaways: If your own office simply isn’t the most inspiring place, or if you don’t have the space to host larger groups, then there’s hundreds of alternatives. In larger cities you see more and more smaller meeting spaces being offered, that have the vibe of a living room. In Amsterdam, Singel 80 is a good example of a living room-style meeting space in an old canal house. Next to popular meeting centers like Seats2meet.com and Spaces, international hotel chains like citizenM and The Student Hotel also do a great job on offering creative and fun places to meetup. Go out of your office and leave the comfort zone!

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Time management tricks: How to cleverly deal with the factor time during your meeting?

Now that you’ve prepared and organized both the content and the meeting venue, it is time for the actual meeting. Factor “time” is one of the most important influencers on the success of your meeting. That’s why we take a closer look on clever time management tricks:

When to meet: Pick the right moment of the week for your meeting. Mondays are often packed with “to-do’s” after the weekend and Fridays can be lower in energy. So, pick a Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday.

Attendees tend to lose focus after 45 minutes, so plan an hour and try to squeeze it into 45 minutes. Also, the moment of the day matters. Early morning meetings often loose time on people catching coffee, colleagues running late because of the traffic or colleagues not awake yet. Yet late in the morning people are most alert and therefore are a good moment to meet. However, don’t schedule it too close towards lunch time; The meeting might become unnecessary long because of colleagues wanting to use the lunchtime as extra meeting time. It remains to be seen how effective this extra time is and how strong the decisions will be.

Manage speaking time: Delegate a timekeeper who makes sure to stick to your agenda time slots. Announce him or her upfront, so that attendees are familiar with the person’s role. You can prevent individuals to “monopolize the conversation” not only by strong chairmanship, but also by making use of technology. Sendsteps allows you to quickly collect data during a meeting. For instance, by letting attendees vote through their smartphone versus live reflections of individual attendees. Once the results are on the screen, you can spend time on a general discussion about the outcome.

In the same way, you can also let attendees send in questions, that don’t necessarily need to be answered during the meeting; but you can filter the most important ones and answer the rest at a later stage. You might even want to appoint a “sidekick”, a team member that monitors all incoming messages through the Sendsteps message filter and who interrupts once there is interesting content to share.

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Post-meeting follow up: create ownership and activate team members

Once your well-prepared meeting has finished, you might want to follow up with a few last activities.

  • Evaluate: In your last agenda item, briefly make a round and ask attendees “what went well and what’s there to improve in the next meeting”? Alternatively, you can do the same by asking your attendees to fill out a short online questionnaire [e.g. via the Sendsteps Survey functionality]. When asking to evaluate within the same meeting, you’ll not only get more responses [‘your attendees all have something else to do tomorrow morning’], but also higher evaluation scores.
  • Create ownership: Instead of creating your own work out of a meeting, make sure to assign activities towards individual attendees. This not only makes your work less, but you also easily create ownership over a project or activity. It also helps to distribute a short list of outcomes after your meeting. This is something else than minutes: more compact and to the point. Combine these notes with some of your poll- and evaluation results, and people will be eager to attend your next meeting. And, you’ve showed them how to run an effective meeting!