Does it ever seem like you’re spending way too much time in meetings, burning through valuable time that you could’ve used to actually work? Do you leave these meetings confused and unsure what you’re next steps should be? You’re not alone. Executives report spending an average of nearly 23 hours per week in meetings. But rest assured, successful meetings actually aren’t unattainable.
Conducting a successful meeting can be difficult, but if you prepare, you can maximize efficiency and ensure productivity. There are a few rules of thumb that make meetings run smoothly. Be sure you address all of the items below at least a day before your meeting.
- Distribute agendas (something 37% of meetings in the US fail to do)
- Brief attendees accordingly beforehand
- Establish a chairperson
For both the chairperson and the other meeting attendees, there are specific duties to keep in mind, both during the preparation phase and during the actual meeting.
The Role of the Chairperson
For the head of your successful meeting, it’s critical to establish expectations set clear goals. Failure can cause confusion, and you will inevitably fail to achieve your objectives, leaving members with no clear path to success or even basic next steps.
To make sure that everything proceeds smoothly, you needs to start with the basics.
- The chair has to be in control of the meeting and observe the tenants of meeting management in order to provide direction to the rest. Remarks should flow towards the chair, then be redirected by the chair to other members.
- Politely discourage members from having side conversations and interrupting one another. Not only does that create an inefficient flow of information and isolate ideas, it also prevents other members from getting the most out of the conversation.
- It’s also important to emphasize consensus and building agreement between members of the room.
- Listen to objections; hold a vote if the objections persist, and ensure that members of the minority stick to what the majority decided.
After discussions start, preventing the room from becoming too lopsided is one of the major duties of the chairperson. Some people naturally dominate the conversation and a good chairperson wants to make sure that their voices don’t drown out the more timid members of the meeting. In order to achieve equality, it can help to measure and report progress to the other members of the meeting at intervals. A sense of achievement and forward momentum can make it easier for members to speak up.
For maximum impact, a chairperson should also redirect the conversation when necessary. If progress isn’t being made, then it may be time to guide the conversation towards a different topic. This can include setting aside a matter that isn’t making much progress now or identifying when a topic has concluded. As long as one explicitly identifies the key points and handles any misunderstandings as they come up, a meeting can finish ahead of schedule.
When a meeting finally ends, it’s up to the chairperson to create a sense of finality and accomplishment. Point out what has been achieved, thank members for their contributions, and set up a schedule for the next meeting.
The Role of the Members
The chairperson is the most visible part of successful meetings, but real success comes from a collaborative effort that depends on members knowing not only what to do and when to do it, but also what not to do.
- First and foremost, members need to do their research and prepare beforehand. They should ready any material that they are presenting, but they should also familiarize themselves with the work of any other members that they might need to comment on in the course of the meeting.
- Second, when it’s time for the actual meeting, every member should go in with the proper mindset. They should arrive on time, show up ready to receive the ideas of their peers, and maintain an open mindset as the meeting goes on. It can be easy to fall into the trap of spacing out or sticking to preconceived notions, but that kind of mentality can only hurt the meeting.
- Third, it’s critical to participate correctly. Too little or too much and ideas won’t be properly shared, team cohesion can be weakened, and an imbalance can be created in the meeting. In order to make sure that everyone says their piece and shares the information they’re bringing to the table, it’s necessary to keep a keen sense of self-awareness about how much one is talking. For members that find it difficult to participate, it can be doubly important to ask questions in order to get a better understanding of the meeting. This is a smaller leap than presenting a topic on their own and can build confidence for higher levels of involvement in the future.
- Fourth, it may be necessary to defuse tense situations. Disagreements can quickly turn into arguments and stall progress while creating a negative atmosphere for everyone who is sitting idly by and watching. Therefore, it’s necessary to not only limit confrontations with other members, but also to intervene when it comes to arguments between other members. Reduce tensions and encourage a more productive way of resolving the argument, ideally in a way that would simultaneously advance the purpose of the meeting.
- Fifth, it can be difficult to avoid, but members should avoid having side conversations. A quick clarification from time to time before presenting is acceptable, but too much conversation can distract and halt momentum. If the room devolves into side conversations, then not only will people not be taking in the content of the speakers, but it can be very difficult for the chairperson to right the ship and regain control of the room.
- Finally, behavior after successful meetings can be just as important as behavior during them. Diligent members should note down the decisions made, including when the next meeting should be held. They should then convene with others if necessary and make plans for the immediate future. However, it’s important that this isn’t used as a time to share information that should have been shared during the meeting.
Common Problems in Meetings
When it comes to conducting a successful meeting, there are some problems that continually pop up. By identifying these possibilities ahead of time and having a solution prepared in advance, a chairperson or member can minimize their impact on the meeting.
- The meeting should never be driven or dominated by minor issues. It not only wastes the time of everyone involved, but also saps away momentum and motivation that’s better spent on the key issues.
- In order to conduct a successful meeting, you need to have a clear objective when it starts. The chairperson needs to know what that objective is and convey it to the members immediately so that minimal time is wasted.
- Stylistic clashes between the chairperson and other members can come up when new individuals are attending meetings, so it’s a good idea to identify any potential issues ahead of time. Everyone at a meeting should be on the same general page when it comes to how the meeting will be conducted and what sort of discourse is permitted.
- Adding more and more members to the meeting can have a certain appeal in terms of maximizing the spread of information, but too many people can cripple a meeting and lead to a variety of problems. If too many people are speaking, the meeting can run far longer than necessary. If many people are present that aren’t speaking and merely need to hear the information presented, then it might be better for them to receive the contents of the meeting after the fact.
- Decisions made in the meeting should come from what the majority wants. It can be tempting for the chairperson or other influential members to push through their own perspectives, but that can lead to resentment and an inefficient solution. Sometimes, respecting the rule of the majority and a less efficient solution can lead to a better outcome than splitting the room and forcing through a solution that looks ideal on paper.
- If progress slows, it can be tempting to call a meeting to a close and prepare to tackle the issue on another day, but that can lead to a vicious cycle of stagnation. When putting a pin in a major issue, ensure that progress is made on some minor issues to foster a sense of progress and forward momentum.
The Bottom Line
Conducting a successful meeting isn’t an exact science of applying a formula and producing the right result every time, but if you consider the pertinent factors, you can minimize problems and maximize productivity. As long as the chairperson is leading effectively, the members are contributing when needed, and both groups are working together to mitigate any problems, the meeting will have the highest chance of success possible.