You wouldn’t dream of embezzling money from the company you work for, but most of us are guilty of stealing a commodity that’s just as important: time. Every day, countless hours are wasted in unproductive meetings. They not only hurt morale, but they hurt your personal brand, whether you’re the one who called the meeting or you’re an attendee who doesn’t make an effort to make the meeting productive. If you struggle to manage a meeting effectively, that affects your reputation for managing everything else.
Most companies tightly control how they spend their money, but few have policies about how to spend their time. People exchange time for money at work, and when someone calls a frivolous meeting and demands that 10 well-paid people be there, it’s like recklessly spending a good chunk of change with little return on investment.
So why have meetings if they’re so useless? Why not take care of most things via email, Slack, or another non-disruptive way? Sometimes meetings really are the best way for a team to understand each other.
Nonverbal cues make up 55% of our communication, and nothing can replace that. Body language helps people trust you; it helps you clarify points. So face-to-face meetings can be crucial to avoiding misunderstandings. When you need to strengthen your team, you need to meet in person.
After you’re sure that a face-to-face meeting is absolutely necessary, it must be well-planned and well-conducted to be effective. Responsibilities abound for both the person calling the meeting and those attending in order to make the most of the time spent around the table.
To ensure that people actually look forward to your meetings, ask yourself these questions before sending out that calendar invite:
1. What’s the specific purpose of the meeting?
Figure out the purpose of the meeting and send out the agenda beforehand. “An effective agenda helps team members prepare, allocates time wisely, quickly gets everyone on the same topic, and identifies when the discussion is complete,” says Roger Schwarz, author of “Smart Leaders, Smarter Teams.” You need an effective agenda to keep everyone on track and manage your time well. And if you can’t directly pinpoint the need or purpose in a meeting agenda, then don’t call the meeting.
2. Who absolutely, positively must be there?
Probably not as many people as you’ve been inviting in the past. Think of all the work that could be getting done outside the meeting if only those crucial to the task are invited. No one in the meeting should be checking his or her phone or looking bored; everyone should be fully engaged or he or she shouldn’t be there. Colleagues shouldn’t dread meeting notifications so much that they search their calendars hoping to find previously scheduled dentist appointments. Cut down on invites to the point that no one’s squandering anyone’s time — the company’s included.
3. How can I be 100% present?
Although multitasking is a tough habit to break, you must focus on the agenda items during meetings. According to Harvard Business Review, when we multitask during meetings, we have gaps in our understanding of the meeting’s outcomes, which can lead to different interpretations, missed opportunities, or inconsistent follow-through. “The most important component to a meeting is your mindset,” says Jonathan Keyser, founder of commercial real estate firm Keyser. “In meetings, I am 100% present, listening intently. I don’t take my phone to a meeting.” That’s how you build a strong personal brand. People in meetings notice if you’re only paying attention when you’re delivering your update and you check out right after.
4. How can I hold fewer and shorter meetings?
If you’re currently meeting on a weekly basis, consider shifting that to once a month with a weekly email update. There are plenty of ways to get organized and collaborate about a project without actually meeting in person, such as using Trello to organize a project in the cloud, with all project members contributing at their own convenience. When you do meet in person, stick to the points on the agenda rather than allowing the conversation to veer off track. To help accomplish this, appoint a facilitator ahead of time to keep discussion on point and move things along when talk gets bogged down. And if discussion wraps up before the scheduled end of the meeting? Leave the table and congratulate yourself on those eight minutes you regained.
5. How can I best prepare for a meeting?
Arrive with a list of your three top talking points. In an ideal world, you and your colleagues would collaborate on the agenda ahead of time. But if workday pressures and time constraints get the better of you, at least communicate to your colleagues the focus of the meeting and your three main issues for discussion. Those talking points could be an update on a project, a request of your team, or items on which you want your team’s feedback. Be candid and transparent (but gracious and diplomatic). Invite comments and suggestions, but don’t let them bog down the agenda. And always add your secret sauce to meetings. Meetings are one of the most powerful opportunities you have for personal branding. So brand your meetings — with all the traits that make your leadership style unique — to make them distinctive.
With a little effort and planning, your meetings can go from being dreaded drains to energizing experiences and powerful brand builders. Time is a limited commodity. Your reputation will soar if you make every minute count in a meeting.