Running Productive Meetings

Running Productive Meetings

Over the years, I have run a ton of meetings and attended even more. I am not going to tell you that I always run the most productive meetings, but I try. Recently though, I was chatting with a client. She was complaining about her board meetings, how they ran on for so long, and how unengaged people were. I spoke about a client staff meeting I had recently attended and how it was much the same. So I did some research (online, asking others, and using personal experiences) and came back to her with a plan for running meetings. I thought I would share it with you.

First, you need to make people accountable. If they are attending, they are there for a reason and should come prepared. Instead, some will ask questions that they would not if they had read the materials, and as a result, they derail the meeting. Others will arrive late, leave early, or leave the room to take a call. So be it. That is their issue. You need to manage the meeting as though people will give it 100% attention and come prepared. So, when someone asks a question that was in the prep notes, you cut them off saying, “As you are probably aware, that was addressed in the prep notes. Rather than reiterate what each of you have already read and been prepared to discuss, we will just move on and you can check the notes now or later.” You can’t just surprise them with this, you need to let them know that is the way you will conduct meetings. For those arriving late or leaving early, “No, we will NOT recap what we covered before you arrived. You can read the minutes (if there are any) for what you missed by leaving early.” They just need to be educated or re-educated. Harsh? Yes. Productive? Absolutely!

So here is what I can share.

  • Provide everyone with a detailed agenda in advance—the topics/subtopics and any supporting material. If it is a quarterly or monthly board or committee meeting, this should be cool. If it is a weekly sales or staff meeting, the same goes. If it is a client discussion or strategy meeting, all of this still goes, but the lead time may not be there. For an impromptu meeting (‘I need you in the board room/ Zoom call in 30 minutes for an important meeting to discuss something that has come up’ type meeting), you likely won’t have an agenda to circulate or time to have folks read materials prior, but typically this type of meeting has all the players that are “in the know.” So, the session leader puts an agenda on the whiteboard and it flows from there.
  • Start and end on time—period. Whether everyone is there, or only half. Start on time. People will learn that you start meetings on time and end on time. They can be respectful to be on time because you are letting them out on time. If you will not finish the agenda on time, plan for a follow-up meeting. You have everyone in the room now, so choose a new day and time to continue while everyone is there.
  • Plan your agenda timing. Can you really accomplish all 12 items in a planned 30-minute meeting? If not, try to tackle five, or whatever. One trick I use on agendas is listing the topics and then placing a section at the bottom for “Future Topics.” If you finish early, you can tackle others. I always make sure there is time at the end to look at the future topics and determine which are priorities for the next meeting, if any.
  • On the pre-circulated agenda, list everyone who has been invited. Let people know who will be in the room.
  • Finally, for each item, you need to cite the goal of that topic. It might be just awareness, it might require a decision to proceed or not proceed with the topic content, or it needs to be taken on and people have to determine who will lead the new project. Ensure you have outcomes or goals for each topic.

It may seem drastic, but if you implement these suggestions, you will have productive meetings that run on time and that people feel good about (eventually—after they have complained for a while)!

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