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How to Making Meetings Meaningful

After you’ve been working for some time, you will have experienced the meeting that seems to eat away at your day. It can be described by long drawn out tangents, a lack of clear direction, and usually leaves its victims feeling like they’ve accomplished nothing. If you or someone you know has been a victim of life-sucking meetings, continue reading.

Unfortunately, I can’t offer you a 1-800 number to call for compensation, but I can help you rescue others. Here are simple tips that you can put into practice for your meetings. Who knows, your good example could help the whole department.

Before jumping in, know good meetings are just as much about what happens outside of the meeting as what happens during the meeting. It’s like a good football game; practice will decide what happens on the field and the outcome. 

Have a Meeting Agenda

You may think that it is so simple that an agenda doesn’t need to be mentioned, but it does. Every good meeting starts with a clear objective, and that’s where the agenda comes in. However, making an agenda isn’t as much about everyone else following it as it is about giving the meeting structure. 

An agenda also does several other things, like:

  • Giving you something you can bring everyone back to when things begin wandering
  • Allowing people the chance to come prepared for the meeting (there is nothing like being asked for something you weren’t prepared to provide)
  • Helping to define if the most appropriate people are invited to the meeting (more on that later)

Simply put, not having an agenda is like going into the grocery store without a list. You may come out with some food, but it may be things that won’t make a meal or a shortage of what you need.

Invite Only Necessary People

This one may sound harsh, but too many cooks in the kitchen is a recipe for disaster (and long meetings). The more people included the fewer conclusions you can reach. Involve all those that are necessary, but leave out the rest.

When thinking of the list of people to invite, you can ask yourself:

  • What is each person’s role in the project or task?
  • What value will they bring to accomplish the goal?
  • Will they be an active participant in the meeting or someone that just needs updates?

Don’t feel compelled to invite unnecessary people to make them feel included.

Start and End on Time

Make it a habit to promptly start and end on time; even try ending a few minutes ahead of time. It will show people that you value their time and that they can count on what you say. 

One challenge I see is getting people that work nearby to a meeting on time. One technique is to set the meeting start to an off-time, like 8:08 a.m. instead of 8:00 a.m. 

One of the keys to keeping the meeting on schedule is the agenda. Review the agenda and make sure that each item has enough room in the schedule. If not, maybe break the agenda out into more manageable meetings or take some things offline or discuss digitally. 

Follow-Up Promptly

During your meeting, you’ve set follow-up actions, takeaways or next steps. Be sure to follow-up with minutes or a summation of the meeting with the action items clearly identified. This should be done within 24-48 hours after the meeting. This helps to hold everyone accountable, make sure everyone is on the same page and provide a frame of reference to return back. If you wait too long, everyone will get busy with other tasks quickly forgetting about the action items they have. That even applies to you; you may not remember all of the nuances from the meeting if you wait a week to type everything up. 

Sometimes minutes can seem troublesome but the problems they help solve are more than worth it.

Use Digital Tools to Fill in the Gap

Lastly, use the technology that is at your fingertips to help bridge the gap between meetings. Whether you are using Microsoft Teams, Slack or some other type of system, you don’t have to wait for a meeting to get work done. These tools are great for:

  • Keeping everyone engaged and involved
  • Including everyone in the conversation
  • Allowing people to work on the tasks as it suits them

Ultimately, your meetings can be more concise when all the fires have been put out beforehand.

What are some techniques that you have discovered works for you and your team?

Jamie Veals is a GovLoop Featured Contributor. She is an Ohio native living in Maryland, stumbled into local government. With degrees in Computer Science and Networking serving as the entry point, her work bridges the gap between people and tech. With an obsession for planning, she focuses on removing the barriers of government from citizen interactions and making it easy to maintain. With whatever time is left she’s serving in her local church and hosting game nights. You’ll find Jamie writing about doing work tasks more efficiently – whether it’s web accessibility or hosting meetings; anything that could make your transition into government or the digital space easier.

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