Improve Your Business Meetings by Going Old School


Businesses spend $37 billion a year holding unproductive meetings. But I don’t need to tell you —we experience meeting drudgery every day. So how do we change it? How do we hold effective business meetings? Well, a good place to start is going back to school.

The business world can dramatically improve their business meetings by learning a few tips from their teachers.

What do teachers have to do with business meetings?

Excellent teachers lead, teach, and inspire. Isn’t that what we want in our business meetings? Imagine your best teachers and university professors leading your business meeting. Brilliant, right?

That’s because teachers are trained. Mark from accounting is excellent at his job, but he didn’t take a pedagogy course nor did he complete a semester of student teaching. And without the proper tools or knowledge, it’s hard for Mark to command the attention of a group of people.

As a teacher myself, the hardest transition for me—from a university classroom to a tech company—was enduring ineffective business meetings. Every time I sat through a meeting, I wished the presenter knew specific teaching strategies that would be useful.

Now I’m not suggesting that people in business need a teaching degree to hold effective business meetings. I’m suggesting that business meetings would drastically improve if we started using tips from our teachers.

Business Meeting Tips From Your Teachers

#1. Have an objective

What’s the purpose of this meeting?

Excellent teachers always include lesson objectives: what students should be able to accomplish or demonstrate by the lesson’s conclusion. Likewise, a successful business meeting should include an objective. And I’m not talking about an abstract objective. Too often people think they fulfill the meeting “objective” requirement because they “have a general idea what [they] want to talk about. “ A general idea is not an objective.

An objective should be simple, specific, and measurable. To make sure that you’ve done an adequate job, I’d recommend writing it down. It’ll help you refine your objective, and then you can cut and paste it into the meeting invite. Because all meeting invites should clearly state the objective. If you want to avoid useless business meetings, refuse to accept any meeting invitation without an objective.

In addition to including it in the invite, state a meeting’s objective at the beginning.  Announcing your objective gives your meeting a purpose and helps you avoid wandering down tangents. (Because what business meeting would be complete without that ONE person who can’t help put hijack the meeting.) Heck, you can write it in bold letters on the whiteboard. Send a “meeting objective” text to all the participants at the beginning. The more ways you state the objective, the better.

#2. Have an agenda

What’s the plan for this meeting?

“Give me an agenda or else I’m not going to sit there.”

Annette Catino, chief executive of the QualCare Alliance Network

If an objective is what you want to accomplish by the end of the meeting, the meeting’s agenda is the steps you take to meet that objective. Similar to the objective, you’ll want to clearly outline the agenda at the beginning of your meeting.

Now you’ll be tempted to “wing” your meeting agendas. Don’t. If you “wing” it, you’ll look unprepared and will quickly lose control of the discussion.

Instead, take a cue from your past teachers. Teacher prepare lesson plans that clearly list out an agenda—with time allocations and notes. Bless elementary school teachers—children lose interest after seven or so minutes, so their entire day is broken down into minute increments. If teachers can keep small humans engaged, busy, and learning for an entire day, you can plan a business meeting for professional adults.

Setting an agenda will take some time, preparation, and work on your behalf. That’s why Victor Lipman, in a Forbes article about achieving a more efficient, effective meeting, recommends spending twice as much time on the agenda as you normally would.

#3. Close the meeting

What’s the meeting’s call to action?

When a teacher ends a lesson, they give you a related task to complete. I hate to use the word homework because some of us still shudder when we hear that word—but that’s what it is. They give you homework.

Of course you shouldn’t use the word “homework” in a business meeting, but you need to close a meeting with a plan of action. A meeting without a plan of action creates no shifts or changes within your employees or company. It’s ensured stagnation. So in some shape or form, clearly outline the call to action. You can either say it, write it, email it , or do a round robin exercise so everyone participates and states their next step.

Effective business meetings—it’s easy as one, two, three

Brilliant teachers are masters at inspiring, teaching, and motivating groups of people, and it will benefit the business world to go back to school to learn a few things from our teachers.

Yes, hosting a business meeting like a teacher requires effort and time. But knowing that an effective business meeting requires time and effort helps you wisely and effectively utilize this form of business communication. And these three tips are basic enough that you can apply them to a myriad of meeting styles, like a formal meeting, a stand-up meeting, or a meeting you conduct while taking a stroll.

The effective business meeting tips are easy as A, B, C—one, two, three: a clear objective, an outlined, planned agenda, and a clear plan of action at the conclusion.

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