4 tips to make your meetings more successful

In project management, communication is key to success. Part of that communication will be face-to-face meetings, which is a very effective way to communicate. However, face-to-face meetings can take up valuable time from other tasks and activities and they can feel like a black hole that’s sucking the life out of your day.

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During the recent movie “Interstellar” with Matthew McConaughey, there is a scene where several of the astronauts go down to the surface of a planet very close to a black hole. Because of this, time moves differently for those on the planet and the person left behind in the spacecraft. When the astronauts get back to their spacecraft, 23 years have passed for the astronaut left above and only a few hours for the ones who traveled to the planet.  As I sat in the movie theater watching the movie, someone behind me sarcastically said, “That’s like a lot of meetings I’ve attended recently.”

How true is that for you? In project management, communication is key to success.  Part of that communication will be face-to-face meetings, and, according to most frameworks, face-to-face is one of the most effective ways to communicate.  However, face-to-face meetings can take up valuable time from other tasks and activities that need every minute or hour of attention they can get.  In addition, if you’ve sat through some of the meetings I have in the past, you DO feel like you’re sitting next to a black hole that’s sucking the life out of your day.  

So what is the solution? Is it to turn into a meeting “nazi” and only allow certain people to talk, and only for 30 seconds at a time? Should you force people to “stick to the bullets” and not allow them the freedom to be more creative? 

While all those options might sound legitimate, I’ve found throughout the years that there is a certain balance to hardline, “no fooling around” meetings AND brainstorming, “letting the creative juices flow” type meetings. Here are a few tips to help you run better meetings in the future.

1.  Shorter is better.  I have never had a project fail or heard of projects failing because meetings were cut short. But to do this, you need to stick to the agenda and know which type of meeting you’re having. Is it a brainstorming session to come up with a solution to an issue your QA department discovered? Then set a timer.  Assign some of the ideas to someone to follow up with and then put the information out there on a portal. A big part of keeping it short is to start on time.

2. Always know the reason for the meeting.  For that matter, make sure EVERYONE knows the reason for a meeting. Have you ever walked into a meeting that you had no idea why it was called for?  Weekly updates, quarterly sales meetings, and annual board meetings all have a purpose. Make sure everyone knows why he/she is there and what is expected of him/her at the meeting.

3. Have an action plan or agenda. Another great thing that several tech companies use is an “everyone contributes to the agenda” mentality.  If you can’t contribute, you don’t need to be at that meeting. An agenda takes vague topics and makes them more concrete and focused. Plus, getting the agenda to the attendees ahead of time is an excellent way to keep the meeting on point and on schedule.

4. Follow up or fail. At the close of any meeting, make sure that you briefly repeat the major decisions reached and the next steps planned. Confirm whether you need a follow-up meeting, and if so, make sure you schedule it right away. Follow up with a brief written recap and a printed copy of the action plan, notice of the next meeting, and a request for any additional agenda items. 

There are many different techniques that can help ensure successful meetings. Know your organization and its culture, and you will avoid making meeting faux pas.   What works at Apple, Google, and other tech companies might not work at a furniture manufacturing company.

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