I attend a lot of meetings in a year. Some meetings are better than others. Some are confusing and I wonder why we didn’t just email instead. (But not call, because we aren’t, like, stalkers, right? Email, please.) In all of the meetings I attend, I have learned some things that make for really productive gatherings. I want to pass those lessons along. And if you recognize yourself in here for doing things right, then this is my thank you for your inspiration.
If you really want to start a meeting on the right foot, learn to start on time. There’s a lot of reasons why. At the top of the list is that your meeting may not be the only meeting of the day. If I have a series of back to back meetings and you begin late, I will, by necessity of getting to my next meeting, walk out before you’re finished. I’m not going to be late for my next meeting to accommodate your lack of organization. So start on time.
There’s another reason as well, which is that it shows respect for the people who arrived on time. If I made sure to be in my seat at 9:58am for your 10am start, then please start on time. There’s a flip side to this. If I learn that you start all your meetings late, I will assume I have ten minutes to go get coffee, make a phone call, enjoy the sunshine, or whatever. If you chronically start late, I’ll arrive late. And none of this, “we’ll just wait for more people to arrive.” No. Just no. If they planned to be there from the beginning, they’d be there already. Please start.
An important next part is to create an agenda that we adhere to. Now I know an agenda isn’t always possible. I mean, if we are only meeting to discuss one topic, then there’s no point in an agenda. But if there is more than one topic, create an agenda. Where possible, send it out in advance. If you can’t send out the agenda, then send out the topics. I want to participate, too. If you don’t want to tell me who we are seeing or what we are doing at any given point, then I assume you either wish you had a blog (like I do) where you can monologue to your heart’s content (yah!) or you’re going to have a “follow up meeting,” which is frequently a euphemism for “stuff I forgot about because I didn’t prepare for this meeting.”
Frankly, not creating an agenda is discourteous. In return for my time, I expect you not to “wing it.” And I don’t want to wing it. My time is valuable and I expect to be treated as if it is as valuable as yours. Which brings me to the next piece, which is to always come prepared to a meeting.
It is my expectation that the person who called the meeting is a subject matter expert. Now I don’t mean that they have all the answers, because if they did, they probably wouldn’t need a meeting. But if the meeting is on, let’s say, trying to determine the best market for selling widgets (everyone is always selling those so obviously there is a need for them), then I expect the person who called the meeting to come in with some knowledge of something. What makes our widgets great? Who uses our widgets? What’s our widget selling budget? Does it include the marketing budget? Come prepared to either Speak to these or take them away for the follow up email. (See what I did there?)
There are times when something won’t be known, or it will be known but it’s buried somewhere in the million-page document you brought to the meeting. (That’s a lot of pages.) If you have to look something up, park it. It is not a sign of good time management for me to sit there and watch you flip through pages because “you know it’s in here somewhere.” You can email that to me later. I’m fine with that. Seriously. Please don’t make me watch you flip pages or scroll through your phone.
Why? Because of what I just said about time management. I kind of said it already, but in case you missed it, time management is the key to every meeting. If we have thirty minutes, we won’t solve the world’s problems, so pick only the topics we can deal with in thirty minutes. Stay focussed on those. if other topics arise, make a note. We can talk about them via email. Or maybe in another meeting. (Oh boy oh boy.) But please don’t stray off course and push us to stretch the meeting into overtime. Focus. Oh yeah. And end on time.
One last thing, also something I touched on, build in time for round table discussions. A good use of my time is not to sit mutely for an entire meeting while you push air over your teeth. I mean, I still might not add much, but don’t just talk to hear the sound of your own voice for 90 minutes. I stopped listening 86 minutes in and then started timing you out of morbid fascination. If you have planned to monologue for the entire meeting time, you didn’t need a meeting.
You could have sent an email.