If you had a dime for all the business meetings you’ve attended, you’d probably have… well, a lot of dimes. But how many of those meetings were truly productive and useful?
Time is precious and your colleagues are busy (you know this because you’re busy too)!
Be respectful of everyone’s time and actually get things done at your next meeting by following these 6 steps for conducting productive and well-organized business meetings:
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#1: Effective Business Meetings Have a Clear Goal
Have you ever left a meeting, exchanged a look with your coworker, and thought, “Why did we just have that?” Does that happen with most meetings you attend?
I know that I have attended too many meetings that were not exactly necessary.
I get it – when you have lots of questions to be answered or a ton of planning to do, it can be tempting to schedule a bunch of open-ended group meetings.
But that sort of ambiguity (and too many meetings) will leave your colleagues frustrated and even confused about what you are trying to accomplish.
Have a crystal-clear purpose for the meeting
And be sure to share that goal with everyone who is invited so they can prepare for meetings accordingly. This will set the expectation that you will leave the meeting with a specific question answered or plan created.
Keep the goal of your meetings specific.
For example, the goal of your meeting could be to collect nominations for a new committee.
It could be to decide which of the final two candidates for an open position at the business will receive the offer.
The goal could be to agree on which marketing strategy the group will pursue over the next quarter.
Everyone should prepare – not just the person who organized the meeting
A great way to make the most of the discussion during your meeting time is to invite the team to come with specific materials prepared for your meetings.
Rather than attempt to brainstorm and make decisions within the same discussion, request that colleagues enter the meeting having already prepared a certain number of ideas to discuss, not just the corporate emcee in charge. This will expedite the process and keep meetings on track.
#2: Keep to the Meeting Agenda
As part of your meeting preparation, send an agenda to all participants.
What is an agenda?
An agenda is a basic breakdown of how the meeting will be structured, what topics will be discussed, and when in the meeting they will be discussed.
Meetings’ agendas can usually be consolidated to one sheet of paper.
What purpose do meetings’ agendas serve?
A clear meeting agenda provides a roadmap for the meeting facilitator and meeting attendees.
In meetings with well-crafted agendas, everyone has a better chance of staying focused because they know what the destination is (the goal of the meeting) and how they are going to get there (by following each point on the agenda).
It is good conduct in your meetings to release the team on time
Event hosts know that effective agendas are broken down into time slots so everyone knows how many minutes will be dedicated to a certain topic.
Though you should always strive to adhere to the agenda, meetings inevitably run off course sometimes. That’s not necessarily a bad thing – maybe the group ended up getting very excited by a particular idea and there wasn’t enough time to discuss everything!
The point you need to remember when this happens – and I’m speaking to you, meeting facilitator – is to end the meeting at the designated finish time no matter what.
Yes, even if the agenda isn’t complete
The point I’m trying to make? For starters, all the participants were planning to leave at that time and the minutes they are kept overtime will likely not be effective. Everyone’s minds will be on the next item on their agenda and they will not appreciate being kept from those plans.
Set the precedent of efficiency in your company meetings
Not only this, but concluding meetings regardless of where you are on the agenda shows the team how important it is to stay on task.
If you have to schedule follow up meetings, so be it. I promise, that will be worth your time more than keeping everyone late.
#3: Set a Respectful Tone
Your colleagues may have been dealing with any number of situations the moment before they walked into the room (or logged onto a Zoom) for business meetings. Conduct yourself accordingly.
Life isn’t put on hold the moment a company meeting begins
They may have just had a stressful phone conversation with a loved one, or gotten a distressing email from their child’s teacher. Maybe they didn’t sleep well at all last night, or have an important dinner happening later that evening.
The point is that, in order to have an effective business meeting, the meeting facilitator must foster an atmosphere of respect, safety, and patience.
Empathize with meeting participants and remember the challenges they face outside of the organization meeting room (even if you don’t know what those challenges are).
Give everyone a chance to check in (the way they want to)
Consider opening the company meeting with a five-minute, free-form, optional check-in that allows each person the opportunity to transition from what they were just dealing with outside and settle into the meeting.
This can look many different ways, from leading a simple breathing exercise to just allowing time for small talk as folks relax into the rhythm of the meeting.
Whatever you choose, do not force it upon anyone or it could have the opposite effect of what you were hoping for. Those who believe they will benefit from a check-in will participate; those who do not feel that way will choose to opt out, and that is just fine.
Practice moderating techniques
If you are going to be running business meetings, then you can benefit from training in moderating discussions. By this, I mean the art of helping people navigate conversations with tact and respect, just like an event emcee would.
There are plenty of blogs that discuss this, as well as videos you can watch with tips and tricks. It takes practice, but sharpening your moderation skills will help you traverse the waters if disagreements arise during business meetings.
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#4: Encourage Different Kinds of Participation
In the same vein as #3, it is important to remember that not everyone is comfortable participating in business meetings in the same way. However, this shouldn’t stop an effective meeting facilitator from creating space for everyone to share valuable thoughts.
Honor verbal and non-verbal communication
According to The National Institute of Mental Health, 73% of the population is affected by the fear of public speaking. If this hasn’t ever crossed your mind while planning business meetings, it should!
How can you incorporate nonverbal communication styles into your effective business meetings? Here are a few ideas:
- Use digital tools like polls to gauge participants’ opinions without requiring them to speak
- If participants were required to prepare materials in advance of the meeting, give them the option to have you present those materials to the group
- Share a collaborative document with those in the meeting so participants can add ideas and questions without needing to draw lots of attention to themselves
Do allow participants the opportunity to speak, though
Some of the people at the meeting will naturally find it more effective to communicate their thoughts verbally.
While you should definitely leave time to invite folks to ask questions at the end (more about that later in Tip #6), be sure to sprinkle time for verbal reactions into the meeting.
This can be happening at the same time that other attendees may be reacting via poll or typing their reactions into the shared document. The point is that you are providing everyone with a way to express themselves during the meeting in a method that aligns with their comfort zones.
#5: Forcing Fun… Isn’t Fun
This may sound silly, but hear me out.
Have you ever been in a situation where your boss decides the employees should really do some bonding without gauging the employees’ interest first? So all of a sudden you’re trying to make small talk with a person from a department you never communicate with at a picnic table outside the office?
Or perhaps your supervisor likes to begin all of their business meetings by asking everyone to tell the room about the best and worst parts of their days. Suddenly, you’re in a position where you’re pressured to discuss something personal or risk not looking like a team player.
The intentions are good, but this can fall flat
The idea, of course, is to offer space for coworkers to get to know each other better and have fun! Hopefully they’ll enjoy their time at the business more and also become more productive.
Unfortunately, incorporating required “fun” elements into business meetings can frequently have the opposite effect, putting people on the spot and making them feel uncomfortable.
I highly recommend that you focus on the goal of the meeting and maintain as relaxed an atmosphere as possible. If things turn silly and fun, great! But it’s better for that to happen naturally.
#6: Allow Time for Feedback and Questions
If you have been running a successful meeting, then chances are the attendees have already been having a healthy discussion and sharing ideas with the room. However, collecting formal feedback will give you useful items to follow up on and ensure you are making progress in your work.
Add group reflection as an agenda item
Always slate time at the end of the meeting for questions and feedback. Attendees may have thought of something late that they want to bring up, wanted to wait until they heard all of the possibilities before forming their opinion, or would like to follow up on a topic discussed earlier in the meeting.
This comes back to companies and managers having respect for employees. Designating time for feedback tells the members of your group that you value their ideas and concerns.
Offer a variety of options for feedback
As we’ve discussed, effective meetings take everyone’s needs into consideration. In addition to group conversation, provide participants with additional ways they can submit thoughts and reactions privately, rather than requiring them to address the group.
For example, not only can you save time by offering attendees the option of submitting feedback via email or Google form, but you also notify participants that you respect the needs of those who are not comfortable speaking up in front of group members.
Whether you have conducted countless business meetings in your career, or your first business meeting is coming up next week, I hope these tips have been helpful to you.
Let’s take a moment to summarize my 6 key tips for conducting a productive business meeting:
#1: Effective business meetings have a clear goal.
#2: Stick to the meeting agenda.
#3: Set a respectful tone.
#4: Encourage different kinds of participation.
#5: Forcing fun… isn’t fun.
#6: Allow time for feedback and questions.
Good luck, and stay tuned for more expert advice!
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Adam Christing has been called “The Tom Brady of emcees.” He has hosted more than 1,000 company meetings, special events, gala celebrations, and more. He is the author of several books and founder of CleanComedians.com. For more event tips, follow Adam Christing on Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, LinkedIn, and YouTube.