~ By Brad Egeland
In the workplace, it can seem like we are constantly attending meetings, calling meetings, or possibly trying to figure out a way to skip meetings. If you are in the same majority as the rest of us, you probably see meetings as a drain on your productivity. You probably feel frustrated when you're forced to attend many of the meetings you're invited to - because you probably see 80% of them as a waste of your time. In fact, you're probably one of those that takes your laptop and continues to do 'real work' while you attend another 'senseless' meeting. Does this sound familiar?
Now put yourself in the place of the meeting planner/organiser. Because that's often you as well. If you're a project manager or in a PM-related role, then you've called and will continue to call your fair share of meetings. Do you want this to be your attendees' feelings toward your meetings? Do you want them to be feigning participation while they are really working and thinking of ways to get up and leave? Definitely not…and it can be distracting to you as the facilitator to look around the room and see people typing away on laptops, not making any eye contact, or texting on their iPhones. Productivity down the drain.
So how do you make sure your meetings aren't like everyone else's? You can't guarantee that everyone will look forward to your meetings, or that they will be an overwhelming success. What you can do, however, is take every measure possible to try to ensure that you'll have the highest possible degree of attendance, the most productive meeting possible, and keep everyone's interest and participation going for the duration of the meeting. To do that, I always try to follow these preparation, planning, and execution steps for the meetings I need to facilitate:
Too many people just jump into 'calling the meeting' without planning exactly why they're calling it or what they want to accomplish. It's not a gathering of friends…it needs to actually accomplish something or you're going to find yourself with no one showing up for your future meetings. Figure out what needs to be discussed and what the outputs or deliverables from this meeting need to be.
Next, put together a detailed agenda for the meeting and don't be afraid to put time allotments next to the major items. You'll give potential attendees hope that you intend to stick to your planned meeting time. Too many people call 30-minute meetings that turn into two-hour meetings. Don't let that be you. And avoid holding your meetings in the late afternoon. Many attendees may be physically there, but mentally already on their way home. One study showed that the most productive time of the day working is 10:26am and the least productive time is 2:55pm. Use that knowledge to your advantage.
Send the agenda out to several key participants - or to the project sponsor if it's a key project meeting. Make sure they understand the objectives of the meeting and that they know their participation is critical. Incorporate any feedback you get from them into the revised meeting agenda. If this becomes an ongoing project meeting - like a weekly project status meeting, for example - then after doing this a couple of times you probably won't need to include this step for future meetings.
Next, call the meeting by sending out the invitation - and planned agenda - to your participants. Make sure your correspondence isn't too wordy. Make it concise or they may be concerned that your meetings will be as unfocused as your email correspondence. A meeting invitation should not read like a casual discussion - it needs to sound professional and formal.
Finally, for ongoing meetings, be sure to stick to the schedule. You may think that skipping weekly meetings when there isn't much to discuss is a good thing for everyone but it isn't. Hold the meeting even if there isn't much new material - just make the agenda reflect that fact. But do hold it anyway. If you start to skip regular weekly meetings your weekly attendance will drop off as well because individuals will start to see your meetings as not really that necessary.