Throughout our careers, we’ve all had to sit through bad meetings – the long, the boring, the seemingly pointless. So when you’re running the show, you want to make sure you’re providing a better experience for the people in your meeting. All that takes is a slight change in thinking of how you’re preparing, and how you’re following up. It’s not all about what’s happening within the meeting, it’s what’s happening before and after.
Here are three “mantras” to consider when you prepare for a meeting, or you just wrapped one up.
1) Meet With Clarity
A meaningful meeting needs a purpose and clearly defined goals. Lay these out at least 24 hours in advance in a unique agenda, not a rehash from previous meetings. Whether your meeting is informational, decision-making, or both, reading the agenda should inform everyone exactly what’s going to happen, and what you expect from them. Each item on the agenda must be actionable (more on that in point #3!). If the people in the meeting can’t achieve that task, remove it from that meeting and tackle it later.
Circulating an agenda 24 hours in advance also helps give the whole team involved a reminder on what’s expected of them with enough time to do some last-minute prep. Nothing slows progress down like mistaken expectations. If you’ve planned a meeting that doesn’t have a clear purpose or an agenda, open up your calendar again, because you’re not ready to meet.
2) Prepare Purposefully
This is all on you. You define your meeting’s purpose and goals, so take time to remind yourself of them. Don’t go in with only a general idea of what you want to accomplish, make sure you know the specifics. But on the other hand, don’t get too detailed. You want to make sure the meeting relates back to the greater purpose of the team or project, and that every small tactical item is driving that greater goal.
Don’t assume the meeting attendees are going to come in with a lot to talk about either. You may need to get it out of them. So prepare thoughtful questions for each agenda point to elicit contributions from your attendees. This will help hold them accountable for what they’ve been assigned to contribute in that meeting and will keep things moving. And finally, be ready to pivot based on your team’s actionable contributions. Consider the scenarios in advance if certain items are not covered, or are hitting roadblocks.
3) Make Meetings Actionable
Every agenda item that comes from one meeting to the next needs to be given an owner. Assign a specific person to be responsible for the task itself, or for overseeing the task. This was one of the late Steve Jobs’s rules for meetings, and it works. Empower the responsible person for each agenda item to take an active role of ownership of that item.
When you set deadlines for these tasks, don’t only consider when you think the next meeting is, but rather how long they should take. That way you’re not holding up progress between meetings. Set the expectation that you’re going to tackle this outstanding task list from the last meeting right at the onset of your next one, to close the loop on any open items. Then move on to the real meat of the meeting.