Who doesn’t love meetings!?…As it turns out, a lot of people. 

Meetings get a bad rap. They are considered unnecessary time wasters (which is frequently the case) but, when done right, meetings can be an effective tool for planning, organizing, strategizing and more. 

So what does it mean to “do meetings right?” There is a lot to be said on this topic, so we’re breaking the conversation into two parts. The first will focus on pre-meeting activities and planning and the second will focus on facilitating effective meetings and follow-ups.  

Set Expectations

Repeat after me: “All of my meetings will have an objective and an agenda.”

Meetings are typically ineffective for one of two reasons:

1. No one knows what they are doing there (i.e., the objective of the meeting was not made clear)

Every time you schedule a meeting, you should make the objective of the meeting known ahead of time. A helpful way to phrase a meeting objective is, “By the end of this meeting we will have accomplished X.” (For this reason, a very wise former colleague of mine called meeting objectives “X Destinations”). 

This provides a very clear success metric for your meeting: Did you or did you not accomplish X?

2. People know the objective but don’t know how to accomplish it (i.e., there was no agenda)

Having a clearly defined objective is just half the battle. How are you going to reach that objective? That’s where the agenda comes in. Having a structured itinerary for the meeting which outlines (in a logical order) the items of business that need to be attended to provides a roadmap for reaching  your meeting objective. 

A note for when you are invited to meetings: You should know the objective of every meeting you go to and what you are expected to contribute in that meeting. If the meeting organizer has not made that information available, ask for it. If the meeting comes around and you still don’t have an answer as to why you are needed there, don’t go. It sounds brutal, but it is an amazing time saver and (spoiler alert) it turns out you don’t miss much. 

Invite the Right People 

Ever been in a “meeting” that has enough people in it to create a small army? At my company we call this, “inviting the softball team.” Wanna know the chances of everyone in that meeting making a meaningful contribution? Zero. 

On the flip side, it can be equally damaging to have a meeting, especially one where a decision(s) is being made, without having representation from the stakeholders who will be impacted by that decision.

How do you know the right people to invite? In her book The Making of a Manager, expert manager and OG Facebook employee Julie Zhuo recommends referring back to your objective/ideal meeting outcome and asking yourself, “Which people are necessary to make that outcome happen?”

Don’t Schedule Meetings Back-to-Back

Do your best to give yourself and your attendees a 10-15 minute buffer between meetings. This gives everyone an opportunity to gather their thoughts after their previous meeting and prepare for their next one. 

Oh, and it also lets them do things like grab some water, go to the bathroom, etc. You know, all those things needed for basic human survival. 

Pro Tip: The further in advance you can get a meeting on the calendar, the more likely you will be able to build in this flex time for everyone.

Pre-Work is Good Work

Preparation is key. If you have invited the right people to your meeting, given them advanced notice, and made the meeting objective clear, it is reasonable to request that they come to the meeting having done some level of pre-work so that everyone can hit the ground running. 

You don’t need to do this for every meeting, only the ones where it makes sense. Perhaps you are meeting to discuss how to improve a client proposal. It would probably benefit everyone to come to the meeting having read the proposal beforehand, wouldn’t it? Or perhaps you are meeting to prepare for a client presentation. In that case, it may make sense to send your attendees information on the client (news articles, financial statements, previous proposals, etc.) so they are up to speed when the meeting starts. 

Just Getting Started

There is a lot you can do to ensure the success of a meeting before it even starts, but what happens during and after the meeting are equally important. We’ll dive into that next time. Until then, take some time to reflect on how you can change your approach to planning your meetings. I think you will be pleasantly surprised by the results.