As I stated in my last blog, preparation is the foundation of every successful meeting, but as with just about everything in life, the first step is not the last. Preparation without proper execution is like detailing a vacation without bothering to book flights - you definitely won't get anywhere and will be really annoyed about it.
A quick checklist for how to be well-prepared for your meeting would look something like this:
- Sum up the purpose of the meeting in a few short sentences.
- Estimate the time necessary to discuss the topic and weigh it against the time available. (If there is not enough time, either narrow the purpose or reschedule)
- Break down the purpose into specific agenda items to be discussed.
- Allocate time for each agenda item to ensure you stay within your estimated time.
- Determine the participants and if they need to attend the whole thing. (Don't require a team member to sit through an hour-long meeting if only fifteen minutes are relevant to them)
- Determine participant roles. (i.e. moderator, scribe, etc.)
- Book it in!
If you have completed the above list, you're ready to move on to the actual execution. This is the part of the meeting where most of us are way too comfortable with failing.
However, we can (and should) experience success with ease now that we've prepared!
Once the meeting has started, it is imperative to have a moderator in place that can both guide the conversation back on-topic when it inevitably wanders and can urge participants to move on to the next agenda item when the allocated time is up. This will serve to help keep the meeting within the original timeframe by filtering out irrelevant content, making the meeting shorter and more effective.
Throughout the meeting, it is also imperative to have a designated scribe to keep track of key points and tasks that are relevant to the agenda item currently being discussed. For most meetings, it should be noted that important conversation typically arises that isn't relevant to the meeting. Instead of shutting down the discussion or letting the meeting be derailed, designate meeting notes to document important thoughts. They can then be revisited either at the end of the meeting (if there is time left), or you can schedule a separate meeting to discuss that item in full detail.
By sticking to these few principles, your meetings will become more efficient by making the content completely relevant throughout. Discussion will be helpful and focused, justifying the purpose of the meeting. Well documented key points, tasks, and other general meeting notes will serve to make meetings more effective by supplying your team with important decisions and actionable goals. Attaching these highlights to specific agenda items helps remind team members of purpose by allowing them to review the items in context.
Executing meetings according to this effective preparation enhances not only the current meeting, but those to come as well. There will be less need to review minutes at the beginning of every meeting, as everyone will already have access to the important details, and less need for clarifying tasks, as they can see what needs to be accomplished and the discussion that led to that decision.
Meetings have too often become a source of disappointment and low morale, but remember - they can be a powerful tool when executed as planned.