We’ve all been to those golden meetings full of energy and real productivity. But too many meetings end up being a waste of time where everyone is dozing off or doing other work.
According to a study reported by Fortune, the average employee sends three emails for every 30 minutes of meeting time. Conference calls make it even easier to zone out. Another study found that 43% of conference call attendees spend part of the meeting checking social media while 65% are doing other work.
Why are attendees so distracted? They are bored!
Here are five common – but easily fixable – meeting mistakes that could be the real reason your attendees are bored to tears.
1. It’s too long.
Because they typically need to meet every day, software development teams often have a “daily stand-up.” It’s exactly what it sounds like: Everyone stands and discusses what needs to get done that day and potential blockers.
The idea is that is everyone has to stand for the entire meeting, it won’t be a 90-minute talkfest. People won’t ramble or get off-track. And nobody will be hiding behind their laptop, appearing pay attention but really checking Facebook. In fact, the daily standup usually lasts no more than 15 minutes. Sounds great, right?
You can do something similar. Give your meeting a start time and promise your attendees it won’t go a minute longer than necessary. Maybe that means it will take the full 30 minutes. Or maybe — fingers crossed — you’ll all be done in 14. (Check out our tips for effective stand-up meetings.)
Even if a stand-up format won’t work for you, chances are you can still make your meeting shorter and more focused. Here are a few tips:
- Cut out unnecessary information
- Distill information to the key, actionable points
- Only invite truly necessary people
- Make sure everyone has relevant information they need for the meeting beforehand
- Actively moderate discussions and keep everyone to the point
- Narrow the scope of the meeting (try a series of shorter meetings with a clear purpose rather than a long meeting where you try to cover everything)
- Prepare more than you think you need to, which brings us to the next mistake…
2. You didn’t prepare.
There’s a saying in the literary world: “Hard writing makes for easy reading.” The more effort you put into drafting your novel, report, or email, the easier (and more enjoyable) it will be to read.
The same is true of your meetings. Don’t pull everyone into the conference room or ask your remote team to hop on a conference call if you don’t have a clear purpose for the meeting and a plan to get through it.
Prepare a thoughtful and detailed agenda — then hone and revise it. An effective meeting agenda includes:
- Meeting topics
- How you plan to cover them
- Who is responsible for each topic
- Time allotted for each topic
- Questions you need answered
- How attendees need to prepare
- The ultimate goal and takeaway
3. You’ve invited a blowhard.
Some people just like to talk. They like attention. They like to let everybody know how much they’ve accomplished and to share all of their great ideas. We all know that person.
As you might expect, these people tend to love meetings. Avoid inviting them to yours. But if you must, do what you can to reign them in. They should be able to contribute without derailing the meeting or keeping others from freely participating.
Start with having a clear agenda — that outlines timeframes — and don’t let the motormouth hijack the conversation.
4. And so what?
There is no reason to pull your team into a meeting unless those attendees will be able to take some action on the items you discuss.
One of the fastest ways to guarantee everyone will check out is to start riffing about big-picture thoughts they know they won’t be able to do anything about. Or talking in circles about a problem without ever getting to actionable solutions.
If you want to brainstorm with your team, go for it. (We have brainstorming tips here.) But even brainstorming sessions should have a clear purpose. What kind of ideas are your brainstorming and what will be done with these ideas?
For every meeting, you and your attendees should know what you will accomplish. Is this a knowledge transfer, and if so, what is everyone supposed to with the information? Do you need to come to a consensus and make a decision? Do you need to devise a plan and assign action items?
You’ve invited your coworkers for a specific reason. Make sure everyone knows why they are there and what you’re going to accomplish.
5. There’s nothing to look at.
Humans are visual. More than 90% of all information our brains process is visual, according to research reported by Inc.com.
So when you invite your team to an audio-only conference call, you’re leaving all that collective brainpower left to wander. This might explain why so many conference call attendees get distracted by their computer monitors or their phones: screens are visual, and voices on the phone are not.
The solution? Host a video conference. Give your team something to look at: your screen, their screens, everyone’s smiling faces. Make your meeting visual, and you’ll instantly up the energy and focus.
These are easy mistakes to make, but the good is they are easy to fix. Let’s start putting in the effort to optimize our meetings instead of letting them become glorified doodling sessions.
Do you have your own ways of livening up a meeting? Please share in the comments below!