Communication is the bedrock of every business, and in many situations a face-to-face discussion is the best way to exchange information, compare options, and make decisions. So why do so many people dislike meetings? In many cases, it’s because the participants aren’t properly prepared, so a significant amount of meeting time is wasted. To make the most of meetings, and to respect everyone’s time, you can follow a few simple guidelines.
AGENDA. Every meeting needs an agenda, with a date, time and location, list of topics, and goals. The agenda and background materials should be sent to all attendees well in advance so they can read and digest the information, organize their thoughts, and be ready to participate in the discussion. Meetings should begin promptly; waiting for latecomers is discourteous to those who arrive on time and encourages others to be late in the future. During the meeting, stick to the timeline. Take notes on the items that need to be addressed later.
ATTENDEES. Invite everyone who needs to be there and no one who doesn’t. Does the person providing background information need to be present to answer questions, or will their written report suffice? Does the person who will make the final decision need to attend the preliminary discussions, or will the summary provide enough information? If there are multiple items on the agenda, does everyone need to be present for all of them, or can they be grouped? If you respect people’s time and only include them when you really need them, they will be much more willing to attend.
ATTENTION. Everyone at the meeting should be focused on the meeting. If attendees are checking e-mail, texting, tweeting, or having side discussions, they are not present mentally. On the other hand, do they need to be present physically? New technologies are making meetings with colleagues who are off-site even easier. Although there are generational differences in technology usage, the meeting organizer should make it clear what is acceptable and what is not.
ACTIONS. The most important person at a meeting is often the scribe who takes the meeting minutes, which should include a list of decisions made, unresolved issues, and action items, along with the names of the responsible parties and deadlines. Attendees should be provided with the minutes as soon as possible after the meeting, with a deadline for additions or corrections. During the meeting, you should make your own notes of items for which you are responsible, and make sure to reconcile differences with the official record. If this is a recurring meeting, the organizer should end the meeting on a positive note, and confirm the date, time, and location of the next meeting.
Meetings are a fact of professional life. Because time is one of our most valuable resources, putting in the effort up front to prepare—and thus minimizing the time spent in meetings—will pay dividends in improving your productivity and garnering the gratitude of your colleagues.
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