How to have a productive meeting in 5 easy steps

Ask a few people around you how they feel about meetings and you’re likely to find at least one person who feels meetings are a waste of time. Unfortunately, running an effective meeting is harder than it appears and can be a stumbling block for many. Both experienced managers and new leaders can benefit from a review of what makes an effective meeting.

Step 1: Have a clear purpose

The goal of any meeting should be to share information, make decisions, and make headway on project work; essentially, to get work done — or at least define work that needs to be done.

Leaders must define the purpose of their meeting and create an agenda with specific items to cover. To help keep the meeting on track, estimate how much time to spend on each agenda item.

When sending meeting invites, include the agenda so attendees can prepare and arrive with relevant questions. When a series of meetings will take place with the same group, an agenda may not be ready to send with the meeting invite. In this case, provide the agenda to the group as soon as it is available.

Step 2: Invite the right people

Once an objective or an agenda is set, it will be easier to identify which people to invite to the meeting. Consider inviting key stakeholders, as well as the individuals who will be making a change, creating a policy, or doing the work. But be careful to strike a good balance — too many people in a room can sometimes muddy the waters. Inviting the wrong people can lead to frustration because some attendees likely feel their time is being wasted.

When leading a long-term project, all team members might not have to attend all meetings. Determine whether a project could be divided into phases and assess whether it would be more beneficial to meet with a smaller subgroup. Inviting a guest to specific meetings for insight or expertise may also be necessary during longer projects.

Step 3: Be mindful of time

When people attend a meeting, they commit their time to the cause. Instead of delaying the start of a meeting waiting for latecomers, begin meetings as scheduled. Doing so shows an appreciation and respect of their time.

Inevitably, issues or questions that come up during discussion will sidetrack meetings. To keep meetings on track, acknowledge the concern or the need for further discussion if relevant — but not integral — to the discussion, and suggest that it be addressed in a future discussion. Then, steer the meeting back to the planned agenda.

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Step 4: Leave technology at the door

Research shows that the human attention span is eight seconds. Scientists have reported that due to the use of smartphones, the average person now has a shorter attention span than a goldfish.

Allowing attendees to bring smartphones, tablets, or laptops creates a chance they will send emails or surf the web instead of devoting their full attention to the tasks at hand. Requiring people to put down their technology will help increase focus and engagement with the discussion.

Step 5: Follow up

After the meeting, send a brief email highlighting the key discussion points. The email can also serve as a reminder of delegated tasks or items that require follow-up from attendees. This also provides an opportunity to record any tabled items that will be discussed at a future meeting.

Michael Henckel is an associate editor at J. J. Keller & Associates, a compliance resource company that offers products and services for human resources and corporate professionals. Henckel specializes in topics such as the Fair Labor Standards Act, employee classification, and compensation. He is the author of J. J. Keller’s FSLA Essentials guidance manual. For more information, visit www.jjkeller.com/hr.

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