Effective Business Meetings

14 06 2006

Making Meetings Effective

It is universally recognized that most participants consider the majority of meetings to be a waste of time. I have attended 4 or 5 outstanding meetings, out of thousands, during my career. Most meetings are; without leadership, unfocused, rambling, without clear objectives, participants are not prepared or interested and 99% of meetings last too long.

Meetings have specific objectives; Information Sharing, Information Seeking, and Decision-making.

Information Sharing Meetings are designed in order to inform others of project results, economic results, corporate decisions, projects and policies.

Information Sharing Meetings are generally brief, as limited member interaction is required. This is not a meeting that seeks or promotes discussion, but often will include time for questions. An agenda is required and should include time estimates for each item on the agenda, including questions. The presentation(s) should be delivered clearly, in an orderly fashion, and if possible a copy of the presentation and key ideas given or sent to each participant after the event (not during, as it will distract their attention).

Information Seeking Meetings are designed to share and receive information from the participants, to discuss and interact, allowing members to share specific information or analysis, in order to make informed decisions.

Information Seeking Meetings, require a strong leader to maintain control of the objectives and discussions. An agenda should be shared, including time estimates for each item on the agenda. All relevant information should be shared via email or hard copy prior to the meeting, in order to reduce presentation time. It is critical that each member arrives at the meeting prepared with information, comments, analysis and questions that will be shared.

Decision-Making Meetings are for making decisions based upon information gathered independently or through a prior Information Seeking Meeting.

Decision-Making Meetings require a strong leader and all participants must be prepared to make decisions at this meeting. An agenda is required, with approximate times for each item. If the participants are not prepared or informed, or important information is incomplete or missing. Stop the meeting and re-schedule, get firm compromises and dates when the information will be available from the responsible individuals, so that the decisions can me made at the next meeting.

I believe it is an error to try and combine these three objectives in one meeting, although many times due to time and logistics constraints it is required. Information and agendas can be shared prior to any meeting, and will significantly reduce the time required to bring the participants “up to speed” on the topic(s).

The keys to any successful meeting are; the leadership, the agenda, and the preparation of each participant.

Leadership and the Agenda

  • A great meeting will always have a great leader or facilitator who plans, directs and efficiently moves the meeting in a specific direction.
  • All meetings should be announced, and all participants invited, as far in advance as possible.
  • Provide a specific agenda for the meeting, and let each participant know what is expected from him or her during the meeting.
  • Follow-up with each participant and determine if they understand what is required, and confirm their participation.
  • A great meeting leader or facilitator will not allow the event to get bogged down or deviate from the agenda.
  • When faced with a situation that cannot be resolved during the meeting, seek specific compromises with the members about who, when, and what is required in order to move proceed.
  • When the agenda has been completed, the meeting is over. There nothing wrong with a 5 or 10 minute meeting, if that is what the agenda calls for.

Every participant in the meeting should be prepared before they walk in the room.

  • Every meeting participant should understand the objective of the meeting, understand why their participation is requested, and should be prepared to participate.
  • Invite only those individuals that are required to reach the objective of the meeting, if others need to be informed of the meeting results, send them a summary of the meeting. By limiting the participation to essential participants, this will guarantee higher attention levels and higher levels of compromise.
  • If it is apparent that the participants are not prepared for the meeting, cancel it and re-schedule it. Continuing a meeting under these circumstances is a waste of time.
  • Meetings that last longer than 60 minutes will not hold the participants attention, and the information presented is not relevant, or could have been shared prior to the meeting. If there is no reason for every member to be present during certain presentations or discussions, let them leave the meeting.

Business meetings are NOT the place to:

  • Discuss the weather, politics, sports, fashion, cars, television shows or movie stars lives. (Unless you are involved in government or the media, fashion, or automotive industries.)
  • Criticize and discipline participants or presenters
  • Take cellular phone calls
  • Work or send emails on your laptop
  • Clean your nails, teeth, apply make-up, or indulge in any other personal hygiene activity
  • Sleep

When it shouldn’t be a meeting

Many time meetings are called with the intention of forming teams, for developing or strengthening inter-personal relationships, and to discuss a business idea (seek group consensus). These are conversations, and not meetings. These “social gatherings” (albeit a business social gathering) should take place outside of the meeting room and meeting process. These “conversations” are best for the cafeteria, the water cooler or better yet in a neutral or off-site location. Want to kick around an idea? Take everyone out to lunch or for a drink after work. Don’t schedule a meeting for this type of activity, it wastes everyone’s time, and contaminates the real meeting process.


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