“I’ve just been to a fantastic meeting”

Not a phrase you hear every day in the office – if ever!  In fact you often hear the opposite.  “What a complete waste of time that was”, or “I can’t believe that took 2 hours!”

If you think about it, a meeting is a golden opportunity to get something done.  You get the right people together, for the right amount of time, get their undivided attention, listen carefully to all the opinions, move carefully towards a conclusion and agree actions which will actually achieve something.  It’s the equivalent of an open goal!  So why do they so often end up being a waste of time?

Our Top 5 Tips for a successful meeting every time

So to help you make a difference in your workplace, try our top 5 tips for successful meetings.  Run meetings that people actually look forward to attending rather than dreading.

  1. Get the right people in the room.

Get this one right and the rest will be much easier.  Invite people who actually have some skin in the game, who have something to contribute or who will be affected by the actions or decisions.  Don’t invite people just for politeness or fear of offending someone.  People will thank you for sparing them the pain of sitting through a meeting that is really nothing to do with them.

  1. Make sure they are 100% present.

This means getting rid of distractions.  Getting the participants to give your meeting 100% of their attention for the time they are in the room.  And the number 1 distraction today is, you’ve guessed it, mobile phones.  Next time you’re in a meeting, put your phone down for a second and take a look round the room.  How many people have their phone on the table, or even worse in their hand?  How many people can go the whole meeting without looking at, or touching their phone.  So set some groundrules early on.  Best option is to turn phones off, however I don’t think I’ve ever succeeded in doing that in any meeting I’ve attended.  Second best is put them on silent and in your jacket or bag.  Third best is on silent and on the table, screen down.  And then fine people for looking at them.  If you can handle this distraction you’ve got a great chance of getting people to focus.

  1. Prepare

This means having an agenda.  Not just a list of topics but a proper agenda with the following;

  • Topic : What are we going to talk about and why
  • Topic owner: the person who will talk about this
  • Time : allocation for this topic
  • Action required : are we looking for a decision/action or is this just for context/information?

Ideally you should send this out in advance so people have time to prepare if required.

  1. Conduct the Orchestra

Running a successful meeting is like conducting an orchestra.  If you have the right people in the room they will generally know how to play, your job is to make sure they all play in tune.  That takes some control on your part to ensure you hear everyone’s contribution, that one voice doesn’t dominate the whole orchestra or that you start playing a different tune half way through.  Your agenda is your musical score – so stick to it.  Manage the time for each topic, keep the participants on track and keep the whole team engaged.

  1. One voice at a time

One of the biggest problems in meetings is that everyone is talking and no-one is really listening.  Even when people are pretending to listen, they’re often just thinking about what they are going to say next.  So here’s a great tool you can use to fix that.  Have a baton, or pen, or ball, or donut (anything really) that you must be holding before you can talk.  If you want to say something, you must be holding the baton.  This simple, physical rule, forces you to wait your turn.  It’s the equivalent of putting your hand up in class when you want to say something.  So how do you get the baton if you want to talk?  Simple, you use non-verbal clues to ask for it – just like you should do in a normal meeting.

So there you go.  Our top 5 list for successful meetings.  Give one or two of them a go and let us know what happens.

Next week our top 5 tips for reaching agreement and closing meetings.

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