Inspiration

7 Strategies to Run More Effective Meetings

November 14, 2018

We have all been in meetings that seem to drag on forever, and once they’re over, we can’t quite explain what we’ve gotten out of them. Whether you work for a startup or a well-established company, these types of meetings waste precious time. But, when done right, meetings can advance our ideas and projects, and really bring teams together. To make this a reality, how do we put strategies in place to have more effective meetings? Let’s go over the top tips we believe in here at Proto.io.

1. Prepare Fully

The best meetings have clear agendas. That can mean a number of things. You might have every talking point laid out ahead of time, or maybe the plan is to brainstorm ideas with your team during the meeting. Preparation can look differently depending on what the goal of the meeting is.

Planning inherently involves goal setting: what do you want to get out of this meeting and what do you want attendees to come away with? For meetings with several stakeholders involved, you may want to create an agenda that you send out before the meeting. Because knowing that another department wants to “connect” doesn’t help you get prepared. Instead, tell them exactly what you want to discuss and what documents or data you’d like them to have ready. Clearly stating objectives and key questions for stakeholders will get them in the right mindset for the meeting.

And this agenda shouldn’t be static. As the meeting progresses, it is also a good place to take notes about ideas and clarifications stakeholders express during the meeting. Then everyone in attendance can refer back to it as a single source of truth, instead of relying on their own notes that may have accidentally omitted key points.

2. Don’t Invite the Whole Company (Unless You Need to)

When deciding who needs to be in a meeting, the smaller the guest list, the better. Not every gathering needs to be an impromptu all-hands meeting. You should have a clear reason for inviting each and every person. Do they manage a process that is key to your latest project’s success? Can they explain why a bottleneck is occurring so your team can brainstorm how to alleviate it? Getting pulled into meetings “just because” isn’t always the best use of time.

Several team members smiling and sitting around a conference table.

As an attendee, if you are unclear of your role in a meeting, it is always a good strategy to ask for clarification. Try asking the organizer what you can prepare in advance and anything you should keep in mind to bring to the table.

On the other side of this, if you attend a recurring meeting and aren’t getting anything out of it or if what you can contribute doesn’t align with the goals of the meeting, work with the organizer to determine whether you need to continue attending. This may seem harsh to some, but being upfront about wanting to use your working hours in the most productive way is ultimately in your best interest, as well as the best interest of your company.  

3. Set a Process Around Questions

The most effective meetings stay on topic and leave attendees with new insights. This isn’t possible when attendees are going on tangents and losing sight of the meeting agenda. Set a process for asking questions that work for the group of people you’re meeting with. Does the presenter want to pause every few minutes to ask about any lingering questions? Should all questions wait until each and every agenda item has been completed? There don’t have to be hard and fast rules about question etiquette in meetings. The flow of questions should be tailored to inspire new ideas, while still staying on task.

4. Use Screens Appropriately

In such a connected world, having remote employees is a given. In fact, as of 2017, nearly 4 million US workers were telecommuters, and it will only increase from there. When you can’t all be in the same room together, screenshares become that much more important. They can help align teams and stakeholders since everyone is looking and commenting on the same thing at once.

A woman making a face that shows she is unsure about something.
She might be a little worried about the product strategy she just heard.

Similarly, when connecting across countries and continents, make use of video as much as you can. Fifty five percent of communication is based on body language. Being able to see the way in which attendees are contributing is much more helpful than just hearing their tone of voice. If someone is typically upbeat and agreeable, but their body language tells a different story when they are asked about their opinion about a plan or strategy, get to the bottom of what’s making them hesitant in real-time.

On the other side of the appropriate use of screen time is knowing when to ditch the screens completely. There are times when attendees need to look things up and pull up files to review, but there are also times during in-person meetings when going screen-free is the best option. Screens help facilitate meetings and keep them on track by glancing at the agenda, but they can also be massive distractions. Checking email or getting an unrelated task done means that one less person is engaged. When deep focus or collaboration is required, try going completely screen-free. Taking handwritten notes might work better for your team in certain situations.

5. Iterate in Real-Time

When you leave a meeting with a list full of tasks you need to accomplish, one might end up at the bottom of your to-do list from time to time. But when your team utilizes tools to iterate in real-time, this boosts alignment. For example, if your team is meeting about feedback to your latest mobile app, pull it up using Proto.io. As your team makes suggestions for updates, make them in real-time so that everyone can see what the outcome is. This keeps you from having to send out more emails and scheduling unnecessary meetings because all stakeholders know where the project stands and what needs to be addressed outside of the meeting.

6. Take it Offline

While the phrase “let’s take this offline” might be a tad overused, it is an important aspect of running effective meetings. There are some tangents that help the group understand the key issue at hand, but other times they can derail a meeting entirely. The best meetings spark ideas, and it’s best to address them when they are fresh in your mind. Writing down the idea or Slacking the person who inspired your idea are often better ways to move it forward, than bringing it up for all to hear during the meeting.

A calendar on a tablet next to a desktop computer.
Calendars look so soothing until you get into the day-by-day view!

7. Get the Timing Right

Lastly, but certainly not least, running effective meetings means picking the right amount of time. Your calendar might automatically suggest 30 minute or hour-long meetings, but gauge the topic you’re discussing first. If your calendar is constantly booked, having an hour-long meeting only take 20 minutes can either be frustrating because you could have squeezed another in. Or, it can be helpful to get 40 more minutes back in your day. Regardless of your thought process, the best meetings have durations that meet attendees needs as perfectly as possible.

When it comes to recurring meetings, there’s no harm in changing it up. If it becomes clear that you have allotted too much or not enough time, your attendees will thank you when the duration updates to match up with the new flow of the meeting.

And we can’t forget the importance of timezones in meeting preparation. Make sure you know everyone’s time zone so that you take all working hours into account. With employees and partners across continents, it may be impossible to pick everyone’s optimal time. But being aware is a good start. If you have different time zones, switch it up so that everyone gets to experience the call during their typical working hours.

Closing Thoughts

These seven steps are just a start. There are endless ways to create effective meetings, and all of them boil down to communication. Your team is a unique group of individuals. Taking into account what they need to take the project at hand to the next level should inspire the way you approach each meeting.

Getting your team aligned isn’t a lofty goal. In fact, it is key to meeting deadlines. It’s entirely possible to run better meetings when you plan ahead and start out with these tips.

What are your pro tips for running effective meetings? Let us know by tweeting us @Protoio.

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