Starting having better meetings today
1. Make Sure You Actually Need a Meeting
How many times have you been sitting in a meeting thinking ‘this could have been an email?’ Before you start planning your meeting, think critically about its purpose. Will this be a valuable use of the participants’ time? Unnecessary meetings waste both time and money. Status updates and other information relays are better delivered through asynchronous communication. Your meeting should require the active participation of its attendees towards a clearly defined, specified goal.
2. Thoroughly Prepare
Prepare your meetings with all the care and forethought of a surgeon preparing to operate. You will lose the trust and attention of your participants if your meeting is disorganized or chaotic. Prepare a thorough agenda with activities that will work towards your goal, gather all supplies you may need, and distribute invitations (as well as your agenda!) to your participants ahead of time. If your meeting will be in person, be sure to book a space with room and equipment that will work for the activities in your agenda. If your meeting will be remote, prepare all technology ahead of time and make sure participants will be ready to use it; if you are asking them to use an online tool that they may be unfamiliar with, be sure to provide instructions or a brief tutorial.
3. Invite the Right People
It may be a habit to invite everyone, but this will not set your participants up for success. It would not be a good use of the time or skillset of a marine biologist to invite them to participate in a workshop regarding electrical engineering. Invite only participants who will be directly affected by the meeting’s content or who can reasonably contribute to the problem that is being solved. It may benefit your meeting to make it optional; this will ensure that every participant in the room feels that the meeting is relevant to them and that they have something to contribute.
4. Brush Up on Your Facilitation Skills
No matter how experienced you are, it never hurts to go back to basics. Get focused by giving yourself a refresher on foundational facilitation skills. If you’re out of practice, new to leading meetings, trying out new techniques/approaches, or otherwise feeling unready, it may be beneficial to rehearse a little. Workshop that new activity with another group or read up on techniques for asking good questions. The world of facilitation is always developing new strategies and techniques. Circling back to refine and develop your basics every now and then is one of the best ways to honor a growth mindset.
5. Set Expectations
At the beginning of your meeting, clearly outline what you expect from your participants as well as what they can expect from you. Expectations may range from putting away electronic devices to being open to new ideas. Consider posting expectations somewhere participants can see them during the meeting, such as a whiteboard. This will allow you to use them as a tool to get your meeting back on track should participants need a nudge; for example, if a participant is talking over another participant, you can reference your meeting expectations to remind them that each participant’s time to speak should be honored as their own.
6. Foster Psychological Safety
One of Voltage Control’s meeting mantras is Foster Emotional Safety. Participants who feel safe to share ideas, express opinions, and be themselves are more engaged, more productive, cooperate more effectively, and create better work. Beware of assuming that you understand how your participants are feeling. Take moments to check in and ask each person how they are feeling. Psychologically safe meetings are better able to benefit from room intelligence.
7. Follow Your Agenda
An expertly-crafted agenda means absolutely nothing if it is thrown out the window the second your meeting commences. Remaining loyal to your agenda will help you stay on task and ensure that your meeting ends on time, which is crucial for maintaining participants’ trust. Be sure to post your agenda where all of your participants can see it. This will help eliminate time-wasters such as irrelevant discussion and jumping the gun, as all participants will know what they are to be focused on in the moment as well as what they will have the opportunity to discuss later on in the meeting.
8. Always Debrief
Your meeting should always, always, always end with time for the group to debrief. Use this time to emphasize major takeaways to your participants, clarify next steps, set deadlines, and assign tasks and responsibilities. This is also a wonderful time to get feedback from your participants about how they feel similar meetings can be more effective in the future.
9. Send a Follow-Up Email
A follow-up email should be sent to participants within 24 hours of your meeting’s conclusion. If it’s possible, it is best practice to write this email directly after the meeting is over, before moving on to your next commitment. This will guarantee that the work and discussions handled during your meeting are still fresh in your mind. Your follow-up email should include the following:
- A thank you for attending
- Meeting highlights
- Tasks that need to be completed going forward
- Responsibilities given to specific people
- Deadlines for tasks and responsibilities
10. When in Doubt, Hire a Facilitator
Some meetings are best-handled by professional facilitators; this is why the profession exists. Professional facilitators can help your team tackle a difficult or sensitive matter, solve a problem they’ve been stuck on, or even hit the reset button after a history of unpleasant or unproductive meetings. If you’re unsure whether your meeting needs a professional facilitator, check out Voltage Control’s article Should Your Organization Hire a Workshop Facilitator?
Need an expert facilitator for your next meeting, gathering or workshop? Let’s talk.
Voltage Control facilitates events of all kinds, including design thinking workshops, innovation sessions, and Design Sprints. Please reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to talk or for a consultation.