When it comes to meetings, time management is important for having quality meetings. For business leaders, corporate meetings don’t always meet the level of productivity we would expect. However, there are time-management strategies that can be used to improve productivity during meetings.
What are some strategies used to have successful business meetings? Cory Cook, Personal Productivity & Time Management Coaching, provides some insight into successful meeting strategies to have quality meetings that are productive and efficient.
Meeting Preparation Tips
To ensure productivity, here are some tips on how meeting attendees can individually prepare for business meetings.
Time spent in meetings is time spent away from performing our actual work. So from a productivity point of view, that time needs to count. Preparedness is key …and it’s up to each and every attendee to ensure the meeting is a good use of everyone’s time.
Prepare to be fully prepared!
The last thing you want is to show up to your meeting ill-prepared, or worse, having forgotten to take care of an assigned task. It happens. But it’s not a good look, and certainly not very productive. As soon as a meeting is scheduled, set a calendar alert at least a day or two beforehand. Use this meeting reminder as a prompt to review any minutes from the previous meeting and, importantly, check that you’ve delivered on all your assignments. If a task that was assigned to you somehow went ‘amiss’, you’ll have that buffer time to do something about it, saving yourself from a brush with embarrassment (or possible reprimand).
Don’t wing it!
Will you be giving a progress report at your next meeting, or perhaps offering some solution ideas on a new agenda item? If possible, know how much time is allocated for this. If it’s not clear from the agenda, ask. Knowing the duration of your time segment will help you keep your delivery focused and succinct, leaving time for questions and discussion. Do a dry run and time yourself.
Also, make a cheat sheet. With best intentions, our brains can be sieves when we need them the most. Therefore, jot notes of all your speaking points. Even a simple bulleted list, that you can refer to, will help keep you on track, ensure you cover everything, and prevent you from leaving out that really important point.
Be prompt, present and proactive.
Make it your mission to arrive a few minutes early; don’t assume the meeting will wait for you. The meeting host, and other timely attendees, will appreciate the effort. Also, it’s not just about being ’on time’, but giving yourself a moment to mentally shift into ‘productive meeting mode’. Cast a glance over your notes and the agenda, so you reconnect with the meeting’s purpose and goals. Put your phone away …ideally, in another room. According to research, the mere presence of your phone, even if it is turned off, is a significant distraction. Be fully present. Respect the agenda by staying on topic. And play a proactive role throughout the duration of the meeting in helping others do the same.
Meeting Facilitation Techniques
Some advice on common facilitation meetings techniques that are effective for meetings?
Start with a few basic, default questions about the necessity of the meeting before you even schedule it. For instance, does the meeting need to take place at all? Could the issues be answered, or decisions made, by a phone call or email? Be selective about who needs to be present and keep it as lean as possible. Is everyone needed for the entire duration, or could a few attendees bow out after their respective segments?
Make it Detailed
One way to ease facilitation before the meeting begins is to give people a good idea of what to expect. Send out a detailed agenda that includes: who is heading up each agenda item, how much time is allocated for each, and what is the goal or purpose of each item? For instance, does the agenda item require a decision, a solution, etc? That way, it’s easier to be clear when each point has been resolved, before moving on to the next item.
When sending the agenda, include a few notes of expectation. For example, state the overall meeting goals and purpose. Remind attendees that, in an effort to respect valuable working time, everyone will be expected to keep to the timeline and stay focused on the agenda items. Include any ’house rules’ for the meeting, e.g. the meeting will start promptly. Advise of any materials to have to hand, or of any reading or research required. If the latter, send the agenda early enough to allow ample time.
Starting Meetings On Time
Now, we all know that starting a meeting on time can be like herding cats. But if your meetings seldom start as scheduled, because ‘we’re still waiting for a few more’, then you’re sending the signal that it’s OK to be late. Time to change the pattern.
One action you can take to minimize latecomers is to simply start the meeting promptly as scheduled, no exceptions. And, when the latecomer arrives, do not stop to bring them up to speed. Otherwise, you kill minutes of productivity, as well as disrespect the time and efforts of those who were there and ready. Another tweak is to schedule an ‘odd’ start time, for instance, 9:48 am or 10:07 am. We tend to pay more attention when the start time is something other than the usual ‘9:00’ or ’10:30’. Mix it up and see what works.
Repeat Your Meeting Habits
Repetition is key. As the host opens the meeting, it’s a great time to remind everyone of the meeting goals and other expectations. Make it clear that you expect everyone to adhere to the agenda topics and timings. Let them know that should discussion veer off-topic, not to be surprised or offended if they get interrupted. If it happens it’s in the spirit of respecting everyone’s time and keeping within the meeting’s timelines.
Assign a Time Keeper
Assign a timekeeper who will monitor and manage the time limits on the agenda, and keep attendees focused and ‘time aware’.
Discussion and brainstorming are of course necessary. However, remember that each agenda item will have some form of goal or purpose. When discussion stays fixed on hashing out the issue, it may be time to steer the discussion towards possible solutions. Attendees may interject if they’re not clear that the discussion is aiding in reaching the goal, such as helping to make a decision or resolve the issue in some way. As the lead facilitator, ensure that each agenda item results in some form of conclusion and next steps. Before moving on, confirm that everyone is clear and ask if there are any further questions.
Designate someone to record relevant details of decisions made, specific next steps and to whom tasks are assigned. Include relevant deadlines or due dates. Following the meeting, distribute to the relevant parties, so everyone is aware of their tasks and has an aide memoire for future meetings.
Ending the meeting
Be aware of Parkinson’s Law, the adage that “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion”. If you set a meeting to last an hour, yet you fully addressed everything in say, thirty-seven minutes, end the meeting! Avoid the temptation to fill up the hour with small talk, rehashing a topic, or some other unrelated conversation. It’s a waste of time. Better to make productive use of those bonus minutes! Allow time for quality discussion. Just consider that shaving a few minutes off will help maintain focus and pace so everyone can get back to work as swiftly as possible.
Managing Meeting Discussion
When meetings get off track here are strategies on getting meetings back on track, and some tips on how it can be avoided.
We’ve all experienced those moments when someone asks an unrelated question, brings up a troubleshooting issue, or starts brainstorming a brand new idea. And just like that, the list is out the window.
The thing is, any or all of those interruptions could be perfectly valid and important. We may be tempted to drop everything to tackle them. However, we must stay focused and remember the clock is running.
Have a plan in place for how you’ll manage those disruptions. The host may have the full power of handling interruptions. But it can also be effective when every attendee is tasked with policing the discussion. Not only does this remove the burden from one person, but it also enables each attendee to be accountable to each other. Encourage everyone to play a part in moving the meeting forward.
When someone brings up one of those unrelated topics, any attendee can step in for quick intervention. Acknowledge the contribution, and guide the discussion back to the agenda. Say something along the lines of, “That’s a great point, may I suggest we schedule a separate meeting to look at that more fully?”
This ensures that fellow attendees are ‘heard’ and their contributions are respected. Also, the meeting is brought back on track and time is saved.
Managing Time Limits
There may be times when a particular topic legitimately needs more discussion time than planned. Or, perhaps some unexpected, but pressing issue arises that could shift meeting priorities. Without over-analyzing, decide what warrants discussion now, and what can be postponed to a scheduled follow-up.
If discussion time often surpasses the time allocated on the agenda, it may be that you’re unrealistic about how much time is really needed. Pay attention from meeting to meeting and adjust the timings accordingly.
Additionally, circumstances may have shifted right before the meeting. Upon opening the meeting it may be helpful to ask attendees upfront of any new developments that may affect or alter the agenda. Pre-emptive measures will help guard your meetings against veering off course.