Imagine the perfect meeting.
Where it always ends on time.
Where the agenda is set and handed over to all attendees prior to the meeting.
Where nobody fiddles on their smartphone or yawns discreetly.
Where everyone’s attentive and engagement is high.
Quick status updates are received. Decisions are made. Tasks are assigned.
Everybody goes off to work on a high note with clarity and purpose.
Seems unrealistic? That's because it is.
A study conducted by Otter.ai showed that employees spend about 18 hours a week on average in meetings.And that’s not even including all the impromptu meetings, standups, and watercooling gatherings that are common occurrences in modern workplaces.
Loom surveyed 3,000+ employees and leaders in the US and UK and found that office workers are wasting an average of one hour and 42 minutes per week scheduling and rescheduling calls – costing businesses in the U.S. $1.85 billion dollars weekly!
A Korn Ferry survey also shows that 67% of employees believe spending too much time in meetings hinders their productivity at work. After all, cost of context switching can be massive.
But there’s a better way.
It starts with preparing for an effective and productive meeting beforehand.
“Too often, the answer to any work issue is ‘let’s meet.’ While collaboration is absolutely what drives innovation and success in today’s global marketplace, it’s time to get creative with how we use our time together.
Here are 7 tried and tested tips for effective meeting preparation.
Determine The Purpose & Desired Outcome
Before you send out invites to attendees, determine your meeting’s purpose.
Why are you holding this meeting?
What outcome do you wish to see through this meeting?
What do you expect from the attendees?
As Roger Schwarz in his Harvard Business Review article states,
“Note whether the purpose of the topic is to share information, seek input for a decision, or make a decision. It’s difficult for team members to participate effectively if they don’t know whether to simply listen, give their input, or be part of the decision-making process.”
Depending on your goal and purpose, there are several different types of meetings you can hold.
The discussion meeting
The purpose of this meeting is to develop new ideas. From brainstorming solutions to problems faced in your workplace, like time management, to discussing ideas for a new project, this meeting covers all.
For example, you just signed on a new client and are responsible for their social media marketing. In this meeting, everybody gets to pitch in and join the brainstorming session on the different ways you can boost their social media presence through organic and paid content.
There’s a lot of to and fro of new ideas, shelving ideas for next meetings, and exploring new and interesting avenues.
The decision meeting
Small, everyday decisions are made in all kinds of meetings. But if you need to make bigger, critical decisions, you need to call a decision meeting.
In this meeting, key stakeholders are invited and attendees need to formally agree on important decisions, evaluate options and identify the best possible solutions, and make plans for execution.
The information-sharing meeting
If you’re looking to share updates, conduct a workshop, or hold panel debates, information-sharing meetings are the best kind of meetings for you.
Since these meetings are for education purposes, they can easily get boring.
If you don’t want attendees to tune out, talk amongst each other, or yawn not-so-discreetly, work on making these meetings interesting.
Try to keep them short and to the point, create dynamic presentations, and foster engagement so everyone feels encouraged to pitch in.
The impromptu meetings
“Have you got a minute?”
Chances are you’ve probably heard this phrase (or said it, too) a time too many at your workplace. There are always decisions about on-going projects that need to be made instantly or important problems crop up that need to be solved immediately.
Firing quick texts or sending off an email can work usually, but oftentimes you need to hold face-to-face conversations to really get to the bottom of the problem.
For that, you call impromptu meetings.
You can hold these meetings with just one person or multiple people, depending on the problem and key stakeholders involved.
The check-in meeting
Checking in on your employee’s performance, getting updates on on-going projects, and keeping a check on your employees well being are all done via weekly or even bi-weekly check in meetings.
They’re usually conducted on a one-on-one basis where managers get a chance to bond with team members and understand if there are any personal problems going on that hinder their work performance.
These are safe places for employees to share everything that's on their mind, discuss ways you can ease their problems, and help them give optimum performance at work.
Distribute Agenda & Supporting Docs
“If I don’t have an agenda in front of me, I walk out.
Give me an agenda or else I’m not going to sit there, because if I don’t know why we’re in the meeting, and you don’t know why we’re there, then there’s no reason for a meeting. It’s very important to me to have focused people and to keep them focused, and not just get in the room and talk about who won the Knicks game last night.”
Says Annette Catino, chief executive of the QualCare Alliance Network
Very few leaders take out time to carefully craft effective agendas suited to the meeting they’re conducting. Research shows that a large percentage of agendas are simply recycled meeting to meeting.
That’s a big problem.
Every meeting requires a different agenda - one that targets specific agenda items that need to be addressed and problems that need to be solved in the meeting.
And a lot of time, managers and leadership will end up not distributing agendas at all - making it difficult for attendees to prepare for the meeting ahead of time.
This further results in ineffective meetings because a lot of time is spent during the meeting trying to explain the meeting goal to everyone.
Discussions are all over the place. Issues other than the current ones are being discussed. Chaos reigns.
This is where a carefully crafted, bullet-pointed, crystal clear agenda comes in.
A Harvard Business Review articles explains,
“An effective agenda sets clear expectations for what needs to occur before and during a meeting. It helps team members prepare, allocates time wisely, quickly gets everyone on the same topic, and identifies when the discussion is complete. If problems still occur during the meeting, a well-designed agenda increases the team’s ability to effectively and quickly address them.”
A good example is the SART meeting agenda by NSVRC.
A good agenda consists of,
Meeting time and location (always double and triple check before clicking Send!).
Names of all the attendees attending.
Roles given to meeting participants so they can prepare according to the topics they’re asked to speak on.
A specific list of agenda items to be discussed - listed according to priority.
Duration of each topic discussion to keep the meeting short and efficient.
Action items - but instead of bullet points, try to reframe them into short targeted questions.
Decisions you'd like to make via the meeting and goals you’d like to achieve through it.
As a manager or team leader, chances are you send a ton of meeting invites.
You quickly type up a snappy email invite and fire it off to your team.
Something along the lines of, “Budget review meeting on thursday 27th august in the conference room at 10 am. Be there.”
I mean it’s an invite, right? Not a presentation or a meeting agenda that you need to think too much about. And you’re quite busy, too.
So a simple, curt invitation should work, right?
The right meeting invitation can make a world of difference in making hosting a successful meeting.
It helps attendees prepare for the meeting
A well thought out meeting invitation tells the attendees what to expect from the meeting. They can then prepare accordingly and come armed with their thoughts in place and notes in hand.
It also gives a chance for people to politely decline your meeting (if they’re unavailable) and let you know beforehand.
It holds your team accountable
A good meeting invite also instills a sense of accountability in your team and you, both. By accepting your meeting invite, everyone is saying that they’re committed to attending the meeting and making it a success.
It excites attendees
The more excited your team is to attend the meeting, the better prepared they will be. And the better prepared they are, the more they will engage during the meeting.
This in turn boosts productivity.
However, there’s no need to pull out all the stops when designing the meeting invite.
Just make sure,
It shows how excited you are to conduct the meeting,
It reiterates the importance of the meeting (because you want everyone to attend and pitch in),
It gives enough information to help team members prepare for the meeting ahead of time,
It has all the supporting documents and meeting agenda,
And, it encourages attendees to ask any questions they might have prior to the meeting.
A great example is Gimmio’s annual staff meeting invite.
Soliciting questions from attendees before the meeting starts is a great way to prepare for the meeting.
Not just for you, but for your team, as well.
Answering questions prior to the meeting ensures,
No time is wasted in the meeting.
It allows attendees to think about the topic at hand, read all the supporting documents attached and come to the meeting with a clear head.
There’s no ambiguity about the topic or the project that is to be discussed in the meeting.
It also helps you prepare for the meeting accordingly - if there are any recurrent questions, you can prepare answers beforehand and quickly answer them before the meeting officially starts.
As a Harvard Business Review article rightly states, “Asking questions spurs learning and the exchange of ideas, it fuels innovation and performance improvement, it builds rapport and trust among team members. And it can mitigate business risk by uncovering unforeseen pitfalls and hazards.”
A few effective ways to encourage your team to ask any questions they might have about the meeting include,
Actively ask for updates regarding the meeting topic. Encourage them to contribute to the agenda if they have any points or notes they’d like to add to it. This way, since everyone is cc'd on the email, they can follow along and get updated with other people’s viewpoints and ideas, as well.
Mention in your email invitation that you’re open to answering any queries they might have.
Conduct a quick Zoom call after sending the meeting invite to answer all the questions they have. This way even the employees that don’t have any questions will be forced to think hard about the topic at hand.
Send a black Docs document and ask everyone to add questions to that document. You can then simply record a quick Loom video answering all the questions or prepare the answers and address them in the meeting.
You ask an employee to create a presentation for you for the important meeting you’ve planned later the day. Or time’s short, so you quickly whip up a simple presentation with a few key points for the meeting.
If you want a productive meeting, you need to spend ample time creating an effective slide deck - one that educates and entertains your audience.
A few tips to help you create a slide deck (one that educates your audience and doesn't bore them!) for your meeting,
Keep the design simple and minimal. Too many colors and design elements can be distracting and take away attention from the important facts being discussed.
Ashg.org explains what not to do when creating your slide deck.
However, do add design elements like graphs, charts, tables and other visual aids to explain and summarize your idea.
Keep the text simple, as well. Avoid adding long bodies of text. Each slide should discuss one idea or one point of discussion. Pay special attention to the font size and make sure it’s clear for even the people sitting at the end of the room. The font type should also be easily decipherable from a distance. Avoid fancy cursive fonts - use professional Sans Serif fonts.
Have a master deck for all the presentations in your meeting. Instead of wasting time switching presentations, it’s easier to just add all slides to the master deck in sequence.
If you’re conducting a discussion meeting and would like to boost engagement, add a question at the end of every slide. This helps to prompt discussions.
But, do you always need a powerpoint slide deck?
You don’t need to create slides for every meeting. Some meetings can easily be held without a slide deck too.
For example, if you’d like to discuss numbers, review performance, bounce ideas, or share information about a certain project, you absolutely need to create a powerpoint presentation.
But, if you’re conducting a simple one-on-one in-person meeting with a team member, share a story, or just motive and inspire your team, you don’t need a slide deck.
Send a pre-meeting Loom video
Agendas are great for preparing meeting attendees.
What’s even better?
Sharing a brief loom and attaching it in your invitation email (using the handy Gmail embed option!)
After all, studies show that our brains retain significantly more information when watching a video as compared to reading text.
A day or two before the meeting, send a pre-meeting loom video to all attendees.
Summarize key details and meeting objectives,
outline everything you’re planning to discuss in the meeting, and
discuss expectations you have from the attendees.
This would help attendees prepare better for the meeting, reinstate the importance of this meeting, and give them the opportunity to engage with you.
If you’ve collected questions regarding the meeting from attendees, this is a great way to quickly answer them as well.
You can also attach relevant files (like supporting documents and agendas) and even add a call to action to your video.
Not only is it effortless to quickly whip up a pre-meeting loom video (long passages of text vs a short and simple video - which would you prefer?), but it’s also a more effective medium to get your message across.
During and After the Meeting
The day of the meeting arrives. Attendees start trickling in. They’re prepped and ready to share their ideas. You’re prepped and ready to lead the conversation. Everything’s on track.
Now how do you make your meeting 10x productive?
Define meeting roles - facilitator, note taker, time-keeper
Start by assigning people the roles you’ve decided for them.
For example, assign a note-taker, the facilitator and the time keeper.
If you’d like certain team members to pitch in on specific topics, let them know beforehand or as soon as the meeting starts so they can prepare themselves accordingly.
The more clarity you provide attendees regarding their roles, the better they can perform in the meeting.
Follow the 5 minute rule
Getting attendees to engage in the meeting can be a difficult task. Not everyone voices their opinions voluntarily or participates in the discussion without being prompted.
Oftentimes, people are prepped and have all the material ready but feel uncomfortable talking in front of an audience. So you need to encourage them. You need to invite them to participate.
The best way to do that is by following Elon Musk’s 5 minute rule. Divide your meeting into 5 minute blocks and after every 5 minute of presenting, call out an attendee and ask them to participate or solve a problem.
Make your meeting inclusive
Working on a diverse and inclusive meeting culture is essential in modern workforces. You want to create a safe place for everyone to voice their concerns, ask queries, and express their opinions.
A diverse and inclusive meeting also means actively bringing all voices in the conversation and giving everyone the same amount of respect and attention.
One of the ways to do this is by addressing people with their names when they enter the meeting room. Conduct a short ice-breaker activity where you ask after everyone’s well-being before starting the meeting.
Starbucks, for example, encourages teams to pour each other coffee and do a quick tasting before starting the meeting.
Be transparent with your team and show them how you incorporate their feedback. This encourages everyone to contribute more freely in future meetings.
Summarize major takeaways and note action items
The meeting went great. Good job.
Now it’s time to ensure everyone leaves the meeting clear about their responsibilities, purpose of the meeting, and what the next steps are.
How do you do that?
Create a document with a summary of all the major takeaways of the meeting, important meeting notes, and a list of action items and follow up tasks allotted to different team members and share them with the team.
The best way to do that is by creating a loom video and attaching relevant and supporting documents to it. Simply email it to everyone after the meeting is over.
There are several advantages to creating post-meeting loom videos.
They are super-easy to create. Create one and you’ll never go back to writing long emails. Trust me, creating loom videos is seriously addictive.
You can also personalize them by addressing everyone who attended. This makes the attendees feel welcome and appreciated.
And, lastly, videos get the message across a lot more effectively than other mediums. I mean let’s face it, would you rather watch a 2 minute video summarizing the meeting, or read a 2 page email?
The former, right?
Use loom videos to let attendees know you’re open to feedback and questions regarding the topic of discussion and encourage them to send them to you in the form of Loom videos, too.