6 ways to make meetings mega-productive » SMEInsider

6 ways to make meetings mega-productive

Time is an expensive commodity, especially in an SME where there are typically fewer team members per task. Spending the precious time that you do have unwisely will seriously inhibit your ability to grow – and, when it comes to time wasting, the biggest offenders tend to be meetings.

Done well, a progress meeting is a great way to reiterate goals and motivate a team, while keeping them engaged and excited about the project in hand. People respond extremely positively to things that give them a sense of achievement or completion, which has been shown to have a more powerful impact on motivation than pay rises.

The trouble is, most meetings aren’t high-energy encounters that create a sense of gathering momentum. Rather, they tend to be overlong, draining sessions in which one or two people dominate the conversation, while the rest stare blankly at their notebooks, pondering what to have for lunch. Meetings, for many people, aren’t where the work happens. Instead, they’re distractions that eat into work time.

So, how do you turn your meetings into productive powerhouses that are a good use of your time? Here are our our six top tips.

1. Prepare properly

Popping a meeting in the diary and having everyone remember in a panic five minutes before the event, when they’re in the middle of something else, is not the best way to start. Instead, decide ahead what you want to get out of the meeting and then distribute a concise bullet point list of three or five closely defined key aims. People tend to their best thinking when they are alone and undistracted, so telling everyone what you need from them in advance and then asking them to bring a couple of ideas or points along will help get the discussion off to a more energetic start.

2. Keep it short. Really short.

Meetings shouldn’t really run for more than 30-45 minutes. If you’ve got a lot to cover, consider breaking it up into separate, more focussed sessions. If you can keep your catch up to 15 minutes, you’ll have a very happy team on your hands.

Don’t ramble on and don’t let anyone else ramble on either. If you need to start with introductory remarks or progress reports from each person involved, set a time limit of 2-3 minutes per person and stick to it. Divide the meeting up into segments for each point you’ve come to discuss so that there is an end in sight to the discussion. If the conversation starts to go off track, make a note of these new ideas to cover in the next meeting and then return to the central aims of the meeting.

3. Fewer people, more engagement

Bear in mind that everyone in the room should have plenty of input, or there’s no point in them being there. If you include too many people, they won’t all be able to contribute properly without it descending into hours of chaos, so keep the attendees to a minimum rather than the conversation. If your attitude is that you’ll be doing the talking and they’ll be doing the listening, why are you bothering with a meeting at all? Send an email, or say you’re giving a presentation/training session. It’s not a meeting if it’s really a dictation.

4. Make it visual

If you and your team are introducing complex ideas or findings, putting it in presentation form can be very handy – but avoid death by PowerPoint! The information on each slide should be clear and sparse, using images rather than text wherever possible, and focussing on key figures or takeaways. Text on slides should always use a clear font in the biggest size possible and, like a tweet, should express the point in 140 characters or less.

5. Ditch the conference room

There’s something about meeting rooms that makes people feel like they’re at school, so if you have the opportunity, shake it up a little. If going outside is an option, take it! A bit of fresh air can quickly jolt everyone out of their lethargy. Failing that, try to pick a bright room with plenty of natural light, sit close together and make sure that everyone feels included.

6. End on a high

Try to avoid finishing a meeting with a flat: “Okay, is that everything? Anyone got anything else to say?” and lots of awkward head shakes and shuffles back to desks. Keep the purposeful feeling going until the final moments by quickly summarising how the meeting has answered the questions you came in, what the next steps for the project will be, and agreeing with each attendee what they will personally be doing next. Make sure you thank and congratulate everyone for their hard work so far, and send out a quick email afterwards to reiterate the key points. Progress and purpose should be your buzzwords – don’t let anything else lead you astray!