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How You Can Make Your Meetings Better

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Everyone has been to them, most hate them and few are done well. What are we talking about?


In fact, studies show that poorly run meetings are a multi-billion-dollar problem in U.S. organizations. It’s time to make the most of meetings and make them truly impactful. Meetings are meant to keep people in the loop, involved in the conversation and overall useful for people attending them…so how can you make them positive, engaging and efficient?

That was the subject of Mary Abbajay’s presentation at the Next Generation of Government Training Summit. Abbajay is a leadership coach, and explained to her audience all about the art and science of leading effective meetings.

Making a meeting a good one is both a science and an art, Abbajay explained. There are technical and logistical things you can improve, as well as the artful side – impactful tactics and learned skills to further engage participants and make the atmosphere of the meeting fun and useful.

Abbajay surveyed the audience to find out the most common issues with bad meetings. Time wasted, no decisions made, hijacked intentions, and lack of useful agendas were cited frequently – which Abbajay pointed out, costs any organization money. “Wasted meetings mean lost money!” she exclaimed. “Meetings are not free!”

Abbajay’s biggest point was: “Great meetings don’t just happen. Preparation is key. They’re well-designed, have conditions set for success, and more.”

To start, leaders should determine exactly why they’re holding the meeting in the first place. What are the ideal outcomes? What are the issues? Who exactly needs to attend? Ultimately, leaders should make sure the meeting is a necessity in the first place.

If you’re the host of the meeting, you also need to do a lot of managing – intervening when necessary, steering the topic back to its original intent, foster participation, advancing items. “Running meetings isn’t rocket science, no,” said Abbajay. “But let’s not kid ourselves – it is a LOT of work.”

Abbajay cited three important pillars: design the meeting; leading and facilitating for success; and setting up the follow-up and to-dos.

Design and preparation: Do you even need to have this meeting? If so, what is the meeting objective? Then, what are the items that need to go on the agenda? Who needs to attend? Is there pre-session work that needs to be done, and when should you send it out? Where will the meeting be held, and do you need to conference anybody in?

Leading and facilitating: In addition to the key roles of timekeeper and note keeper, successful meetings require a leader and facilitator, Abbajay said. Often, the latter two roles are combined into one. Meeting leaders and facilitators have several crucial jobs to ensure the session progresses effectively. They should avoid common meeting hiccups, like not starting or finishing on time, not having a clear focus or a failure to take action after the fact.

Follow-up and moving action forward: “This is all about articulating, recording and confirming action items. This means clear deliverables, owners, and due dates for each – and that each of those are documented,” Abbajay said.

Finally, setting ground rules at the start of a meeting can really help set the level of what’s acceptable in a meeting, Abbajay recommended. Ground rules can include ideas like “Only use ‘I’ statements,” “Have one conversation at a time,” “Have dialogue not debate,” “Don’t be on your computer,” and more. These ground rules, set ahead of time, can really help a facilitator call out bad meeting behavior gently and re-set the course.

With some preparation, design, facilitation, and follow up, your meetings can go from meaningless to meaningful.

For more reading on rocking your meetings, check out these resources:

This post was originally published Aug. 9, 2018.

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Avatar photo Blake Martin

This is a great resource, and I loved Mary’s presentation. Meetings can be so much easier if we simply prepare and follow through!