If you happen to be a human being with a job, you probably spend quite a lot of time in meetings, some of which are so dull and unproductive, they leave you feeling almost comatose. The real time-wasters seem to be those recurring meetings – you know, the standard “Monday morning catch-up” ones, where everyone knows the agenda by heart and no one expects to be fascinated, let alone even mildly interested.
But mangers and their teams do need to exchange ideas and track progress, so the question is: How can you make your meetings “sexier”? How can you get people to actually want to attend them?
Rujuta Gandhi, a Senior Consultant at Gallup, says “If you want people leaving the conference room fired up by an idea or excited to work toward a goal, satisfaction is not enough. You need people to be engaged. With that, you can run a meeting that’s effective and enjoyable.”
And to better engage people, Robin Camarote, Founder of the Work Life Lab blog, has a golden rule: “The single most important thing you can do to lead better meetings is invest the time in creating a variable agenda. It’s unlikely that anything magical will happen with a set of topics that are the same from week to week.”
Meeting Makeover Step 1: Time for a new agenda
Everything ever written about effective workplace meetings includes advice on preparing an agenda. And yet we’ve all been to meetings where there’s no agenda whatsoever, where everyone talks over everyone else, and chaos reigns. Preparing an agenda helps to focus and identify the priorities for the meeting. An effective meeting agenda might include meeting topics, who will lead the discussion for each topic, how much time should be allotted to each topic, and the meeting’s ultimate goals.
But don’t be afraid to eliminate mind-numbing standing agenda items such as reviews of the minutes of the previous meeting, reviews of the current meeting’s agenda (such a time-waster!), financial reports, status reports, etc.
For maximum efficiency, it’s also important that attendees do a little preparation before the meeting. According to Sarah Beth Aubrey of A.C.T. Aubrey Coaching & Training: “Far more specific and effective than an agenda alone is assigning pre-work. Using pre-work regularly, managers will encourage preparation and engage employees. Pre-work can be simple: Ask participants to provide key solutions, suggestions or examples before the meeting that can be aggregated and presented live. Then the in-meeting discussion is richer and likely more efficient.”
Meeting Makeover Step 2: Give everyone a voice
If don’t want to be the only one talking for the entire meeting, make sure you adopt an “everyone plays” mentality. Assign topics or updates to specific participants that they can share with the group. When participants can take more of an active role, they’re far more likely to pay attention – and feel empowered.
It’s also important to make even the most introverted attendees feel comfortable expressing their opinions. To do so, you need to build trust in the room. One way is by asking questions such as “Why do you think that’s true?” or “Can you expand on that?” or “How could we measure that?” This sort of question shows humility and curiosity on your part, and that sets the tone for the rest of the group.
One last caveat: some people like to talk just for the sake of talking. They want to share all of their great ideas with the group. Naturally, these people adore meetings. If possible, 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.
Meeting Makeover Step 3: Spice things up
Start your meeting with a focused “attention getter” that will put your goals in context. Ask a provocative question, cite a surprising statistic, or tell a funny story. Starting off with a bang will wake up your listeners’ minds and lead to more engagement.
Another pro tip has to do with your presentation materials. When using visual aids, make sure they’re succinct, interesting and colorful so you won’t put people to sleep. Avoid the type of PowerPoint presentations that are just slide after slide of numbers and dense text. Perhaps you can watch a Ted Talk that’s relevant to the meeting agenda to change things up and keep your people alert and interested.
And finally, never underestimate the power of providing munchies at a meeting. Food relaxes the atmosphere, makes people feel comfortable, sustains positivity, and builds camaraderie.
By employing a few of these tricks – and by always, always, always starting and ending on time – your meetings will become more inspiring and effective, and produce real, measurable results.