Make Meetings Better

Make Meetings Better

Water boarding, sleep deprivation, electroshock treatment. FBI torture techniques or synonyms for meetings?

Maybe meetings aren’t that bad…well, not all of them. Simply put, I hate meetings. Mainly those extensively long unnecessary meetings where everyone gets an opportunity to vent personal frustrations and detour from the agenda.

There are so many other responsibilities to address that are far more constructive and productive than fighting to stay awake while others take turns slowly sucking my life away, blabbering on about issues and concerns that do not pertain to anything meaningful.

I can hear the critics now, “Meetings are important. They build relationships, provide an opportunity to communicate and share information. There’s no substitution for the personal interactions that take place during a face-to-face meeting.”

True, there is something special about human interaction, reading body language, facial expressions, and all non-verbal communication that happens in a well conducted meeting. Emphasis on well conducted.

Don’t torture the attendees at your meeting. If you are responsible for planning and/or facilitating a meeting, here 10 thoughts that may help increase attention, effectiveness, and participation at your next scheduled meeting.

  1. Justify the Need to Meet
    If you’re meeting just for meetings sake, you’re wasting everyone’s time. Ask yourself a few questions before scheduling a meeting.
    Is there really a need to meet? Can anything be conveyed and handled via email, memo, or phone call?
    Do you have enough important information to include on the agenda?
    Is the need to meet beneficial, purposeful, and applicable? Is there learning to be experienced?

After you’ve deliberated over your responses to these questions, determine whether there’s a need to call a meeting. If so, proceed. If not, don’t.

  1. Not Before Lunch or Close of Day
    The worst time to schedule a meeting is the hour before lunch, or time to go home. Few things are more distracting than hunger. Prior to lunch, eating is all anyone wants to think about. No one will focus or give any significant attention to agenda topics. It’s hard enough trying to cover the sound of a growling stomach.

The same is true within the hour prior to going home. After a long day, when you begin to watch the clock, the mind is exhausted. Generally speaking, no critical, higher-level thinking or effective action is going to take place an hour before the work day ends. It’s time to wind down, pack up, and prioritize things for the next day. No one wants to spend the last few moments of the day discussing anything other than happy hour.

  1. Prepare in Advance
    If a meeting is absolutely positively necessary, prepare in advance by soliciting some feedback via email or survey, and asking for questions or concerns on agenda items. This can help you gain an idea of different viewpoints and positions on issues before they are discussed. It can also help in maintaining your focus, and quickly reaching an agreed upon resolution.
  1. Have and Agenda, and Stick to It
    No agenda means poor planning, no direction, no purpose, no guidance, or structure. These meetings are the worst and believe it or not, they continually happen. there is always someone who schedules a meeting… just because. A horrible waste of productive time. However, there’s always someone whose sole purpose in life is to participate on any committee and attend all meetings, to monopolize the discussion. An agenda-less meeting is Heaven for these people. Always have a clear agenda so you can redirect any off topic discussion and bring the focus back to important items.
  1. Have a Virtual Meeting
    We’ve already established that face-to-face interaction is important, so allow attendees to login remotely to participate in the meeting. At least this way, they can try multitasking and they won’t need to hide their social media and gaming tabs. Skype, Google Hangout, WebEx, Join.Me, GoToMeeting, MeetingBurner, and Lync are just a few platforms for virtual meetings. These meetings can also be recorded so those who were unable to attend can view and listen to the discussion later. I don’t know who would want to do that, but it’s an option.
  1. Have an Ice Breaker or Game
    Is it me, or does it seem as if most meetings are facilitated by those who missed personality training? Oftentimes, the desire to be formal can distract attention, give way to boredom, disengagement, and lack of attention.

Loosen up a little, tell a joke, be lively, show some enthusiasm – it can be contagious. Being personable is a characteristic that helps others to understand and relate to you. As the team leader or facilitator, show that you’re not always business. Being a little light-hearted can be a motivator. Make your meeting a little more memorable and enjoyable.

  1. Don’t Allow Drag
    No, I’m not talking about cigarettes or dressing up in clothes of the opposite sex. It’s laboring an issue more than needed. Asking unrelated questions, settling for minutes of uncomfortable silence or addressing topics not included on the agenda, just to extend the time of the meeting.

So what if you have 60 minutes scheduled and you’ve completed everything in 30 minutes? Be respectful of participants time. If there’s nothing else to discuss, dismiss the group.

  1. Provide a Snack or Treat
    At the minimum, water and coffee are a necessity. It doesn’t break the budget to provide something as simple as doughnuts, trail mix, chips, cupcakes, granola bars, fruit, or celery and carrot sticks. Anytime you can appeal to the stomach, it lightens the inconvenience of meetings. Small snacks are a way to show your appreciation for attending the meeting. Snacking also helps you concentrate and focus on the issues to discuss. If most of your attendees are like me, planning the snacks is just as important as planning the meeting.
  1. Nothing Personal
    No one really wants to see all of your vacation photos, your favorite animal Vines, or top 10 favorite memes. Believe me on this one, no one cares.

Don’t spend an hour showing pictures or discussing all the things your kids or grandkids accomplished or how you spent your time off. Again, no one cares. Do not consume meeting time with personal things. This opens the flood gates for all kinds of stories from everyone else. There are issues to discuss, concerns to address, deadlines to make, real work to get accomplished. Did you read #1?

  1. Don’t Have a Meeting
    Rather than scheduling a typical meeting, surprise employees with a sign of appreciation for all of their hard work. Provide treats, play music (live music works best), socialize, relax a bit, and allow a break in the day just to say thank you.

Appeal to the hierarchy of needs as identified by Maslow. Everyone wants to feel appreciated, recognized, loved, and encouraged. This is a perfect unexpected opportunity to do so.

You can use this time to make announcements – who has a birthday this month? Is anyone having a baby? What’s going on in the community? Be positive and encouraging.

After all, if you’re going to take people away from their work, give them a moment to enjoy themselves, and be appreciated. They will reciprocate respect, and be more productive later.

If you’d like additional ideas to make your meetings enjoyable and informative, feel free to contact me at

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