Last week, as I plugged into my computer and logged into my video conferencing software, I found myself asking this exact question. It was the end of a long week, and I was meeting with some industry colleagues to discuss a potential upcoming project. While the work was exciting and I was happy to connect with my colleagues, I found myself dreading this particular phone meeting. Why, you ask?Because the meeting lacked a clear purpose and deliverables. Was I going to have to present something unexpectedly? Were we meeting to get some bad news? Was there even a reason to have this call at all?
After consulting with hundreds of individuals who spend hours upon hours each week in meetings, we've found that people don’t necessarily dislike meetings, so much as they dislike the lack of productivity that can often accompany meetings. And of course, no one likes to be put on the spot unexpectedly. So, how do you make sure you’re walking into a roomful of people who are engaged, not cringing?
Before the meeting
Make sure to give your people a heads up as to why the meeting is happening. Clarifying the purpose of the meeting can help orient people, and might just provide the level of buy-in that you need. Beyond that, you’ll want to set clear expectations around what kind of meeting you are hosting. Are you there for brainstorming? Or are you simply sharing information? Do you plan on coming up with a solution? Or are you just there to compile ideas?
There’s nothing worse than asking people what they think, and hearing the crickets chirp outside the window. By defining your purpose and expectations prior to the meeting, people will know what to anticipate – and are more likely to come prepared if they know they will be asked to share ideas or evaluate information for a decision.
During the meeting
In a perfect world, everyone has read the meeting invite and is prepared to chime in. But either because the world is not perfect or simply because there brains are still planted squarely on the last meeting they attended, you should take a minute to get everyone oriented as to why they are there and what the goals of the meeting are. Below are some key items to cover:
- The purpose and outcomes of the meeting. i.e. Purpose: To brief attendees on upcoming project. Outcome: By the time we leave, people should know their role and feel comfortable crafting their individual preparation plans for the project.
- What kind of procedures we are using? (Is this meant to be interactive? Or are we listening to a presentation? Should we ask questions as they come, or wait until the end of an agenda item?)
- What information base we already have. (history of issue, work that led up to this meeting, prior decisions, etc.)
- How we know that we have reached a solution or targeted outcomes. Will someone claim an action item? Are we simply carving out time to brainstorm? Is there a specific question that we are trying to answer?
This 3-5-minute orientation will help you keep your meeting on track to achieve the purpose. Clarity is a primary need for people being asked to accomplish something in a short amount of time. It’s always helpful when everyone’s brain joins the meeting the same time their body does, and you can impact that with a clear orientation!
End of the meeting
You done all the right purpose-driven things and now it’s time to swing back and give people that warm feeling of accomplishment, so they leave the meeting feeling productive. Time to use the WWW! It’s easy to let great ideas slip through the cracks, but even with just a little bit of intentionality – and this easy to remember acronym – you can ensure that people are crystal-clear on the next steps by documenting:
What is to be done?
Who is responsible for completing the specific action item?
When is it due by?
It's also helpful to document any decisions made during the meeting in the same place.
Finally, finish the meeting by circling back to the purpose and ask the group if they feel the purpose and outcomes were met. If you're not comfortable asking, then there is probably room for improvement. If they were met, people become aware of the success and walk out feeling good about the use of their time in this meeting. What more could you ask?