Make your meeting time useful

Authors, trainers and other random humans have made a living talking about what is wrong with corporations and their bureaucratic processes. One fan favorite – the hows and whys of corporate meetings.

As a professional project manager (PM), I’ve experienced the best and worst in how to run a meeting. If you are a person that finds themselves stuck in not-so-great meetings, there are a few specific tasks you can perform to be sure your meeting will run better.

1. Know your purpose – There are times when a meeting isn’t really necessary, and maybe just a few phone calls and an e-mail will do.

Weekly status meeting – if you are meeting once a week to go around the room and hear what has changed, remove that from your agenda. If that was the agenda, then cancel the meeting. Set up a weekly recurring task in Outlook and use that to collect status.

2. Know who will be attending – Every attendee should be there for a reason. If someone is being invited out of respect, or “just in case” be sure to tell them what you do (and don’t) expect of them.

I sat in a meeting where I had just arrived on time, and heard one of the primary speakers say “let’s wait for a few more seats to be filled.” Someone astutely asked, “Joe, who else are you expecting?” The answer? “I don’t know, but I thought there would be more people here.” Luckily we live in a wireless age; one of the other attendees pulled up the meeting list (set up by someone not in attendance) and mentioned a couple of folks who we should be looking for. Once they arrived we were able to start.

3. Have an agenda – be sure to provide it at least a day in advance. Stick to it.

4. Take notes…and send out minutes – keeping minutes will help keep people on track, and it allows you to know what was decided and what was tabled for future discussion. Plus, when key members know they may not get an *asterisk by their name indicating attendance, they may feel more compelled to attend.

5. Keep an integrated action list – any action items from the minutes need to be maintained in a central point.

6. Get it over with– Tip of the year!! Don’t try to fill the meeting time “just because we are all together” or try to allow off-track discussion that are “okay because it was a good discussion.” I’m not a big fan of this phrase personally, but put off-subject discussions in a parking lot for later discussions. If the meeting is over early, then you can adjourn, and offer to talk about those issues with whomever wants to stay.

It just takes a few small efforts to improve your meetings. Make these changes, and you will not only get more done, you will also be more likely to have folks attend your meetings, because they’ll know what to expect.

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