We've all been to at least one meeting that should've never taken place. Terrible, right?
No one wants to leave disappointed and feeling like they've just wasted their time. Not to mention misunderstandings, overbooked meeting rooms, clashing schedules, endless back-and-forths...
When it comes to meetings, many things can go wrong. At Harmonizely, our mission is to make meetings hassle-free and productive. We're doing our best to change the reality of business meetings and we're more than happy to share our best tips. With this article you'll learn how to run effective meetings. We'll cover a range of aspects, including time management, creating meeting agendas, discussion moderation techniques and much more.
Let's dive right into it!
Step 1: Skip the meeting if it's not necessary
Good project management is more than just running effective meetings. It's also knowing when you simply don't need to schedule a meeting.
Ever been in a meeting and found yourself thinking:
This could be done with one email.
A short message would do.
Does it really need a full hour?
We've been there too.
You might need to share some important information, but it doesn't always call for a meeting.
The main rule is simple: if you don't have to do something in real-time, you don't have to set up a meeting. Most updates can be shared via email or internal communication tools (such as Stackfield).
It's good to ask yourself whether the meeting is focused on decision-making or creating something in a team. If it's a weekly scrum meeting dedicated to planning another sprint or a brainstorming session for a new project, then it's definitely more effective to gather together.
Step 2: Define your meeting's purpose
Ever heard about Simon Sinek's Start With Why book? The author, a famous organisational consultant, points out that most successful projects were started from defining the purpose. These are the words to live by for running truly effective meetings.
Set specific goals for your meetings and describe them in an actionable way. The SMART framework might come in handy:
Every objective should be clear and easy to understand. Make sure everyone is on the same page!
If possible, make your goals quantitative. You'll see exactly what and how much needs to be done. Agree on a definition of done, so you'll have no doubt if the goal is achieved or not.
Stretching your abilities can be motivating. It's important to know your limits, though, in terms of both human and financial resources.
Keep the bigger picture in mind. When setting goals for your meeting, think about how they're in line with the company's goals.
Strive for the golden mean: neither too much time nor too little. Set a deadline that will motivate you to get things done.
Step 3: Set a meeting agenda – wisely
We know it probably sounds obvious to you, but setting a good agenda really can't be skipped. Here's how to do it the right way:
Make it short
Why not drop the traditional 1-hour format?
Think about it this way: every TED Talk is limited to 18 minutes. Marissa Meyer, the CEO of Yahoo, sets 15-minute time slots for her meetings. Harmonizely’s default meeting time is 15 minutes, too.
Obviously, these time slots were not chosen by random. We all have a very limited cognitive backlog – it's hard for a human being to stay fully focused for a longer period. According to the latest research, the average attention span in the UK is around 14 minutes. This can be paired with another finding – 1 in 3 attendees claims they get sleepy during a meeting.
We're all busy and a little overwhelmed. Try the new approach and see how much more effective your meetings can get!
Assign time blocks to each topic
Once you create the first draft of your agenda, prioritize the crucial aspects and assign more time to discuss them. Do your best to stick to your timeline – good time management will make it easier to get to the point.
Another good tip is to start with the most important topics and gradually move to the next ones in line. This way, you won't be left with urgent matters at the end and you won't need to extend the meeting time.
Step 4: Cut the guest list down
Let's face it: time is money and meetings are expensive.
After you create the first version of your meeting's guest list, go through it again. Think of how each person can contribute to the purpose of the meeting. This is in line with the "why" approach we've mentioned above.
Remember that your attendees probably have a tight schedule – if you invite them to a meeting and they can't be really involved in it, it's a waste of time for both sides. Respect each other and plan your guest list according to your objectives and the meeting agenda.
Step 5: Automate meeting planning
Ever struggled with finding the right date for your meeting?
Maybe you missed one because your calendar hasn't synchronised it correctly?
Planning meetings can be overwhelming. At Harmonizely, we're working to make it more effective.
Meeting planning automation is the answer to many common issues, such as:
Integration with your calendar
Sometimes it might be hard to get everything aligned. We're here to help you out – Harmonizely supports Google, Outlook, iCloud, Zimbra, FastMail, Zoho, CalDAV and a wide range of other calendars.
Instead of trying to find a date that suits everyone, you can send a link to your invitees and ask them to tick the suitable time slots. Simple as that!
Harmonizely can be integrated with Zapier, which means you can connect your most-used apps, including Slack and Gmail. You'll receive notifications that can't be missed.
You don't need to calculate the time difference manually. One simple feature, timezone detection, can make things much easier.
Step 6: Set buffer times
Don't just start on time and end on time – we all know it's easier said than done.
Instead, you can set buffer times for your meetings. Of course, they're meant to include breaks, travel time etc. but there's more to it. Buffer times between meetings avoid overlapping meeting room reservations and generally make things a bit less stressful for everyone. You won't be feeling like running from one meeting to another. We all need to take a breath, after all!
Step 7: Make it human
If you've already applied the previous tips or effective meetings, it should be rather easy to keep the participants engaged. Here are some of the basic requirements to make your attendees happy and more involved:
Don't forget the air, the water and the light
Such a basic thing, right?
You probably already know how often it gets neglected. First of all, before we get to anything else, we all need to breathe and stay hydrated. Open the windows for a bit, get some water and glasses on the table and make sure there is enough light in the room. These are the little touches your attendees will be grateful for!
It's easier to snooze while you're sitting comfortably in a chair than if you're walking around. Invite your participants to stand, sit and stroll – whatever seems more natural for them.
Step 8: Try the parking lot technique
Once the meeting attendees start going with the flow, the ideas just keep popping up.
That's natural and that's inspiring, but not every potential agenda item needs to be discussed at a particular meeting. This is why there's always a moderator needed. Here's where the parking lot technique comes in handy.
The idea is easy to understand. All you need is a whiteboard or a piece of paper to draw a parking lot. This is a space for the attendees to write down the unrelated (yet interesting) insights and topics that come up during the meeting. These can be discussed later, without interrupting the flow of the meeting.
Step 9: Finish with follow-up tasks
An interesting meeting comes with a pleasant dopamine kick.
It's great – but it goes nowhere if you don't know what to do next.
All your meetings should finish with a list of follow-up items. You can use the same approach as with your agenda items – SMART and actionable. Agree on what needs to be done, who's responsible and what's the deadline for it.
We know that implementing new solutions might be hard, especially in a company with very strong meeting habits. We hope that this list of our best tips for running effective meetings has been a source of inspiration to you. It's always good to review what you've been used to and see how you can improve it. Even a small touch, such as automating your schedules, can make a big difference. Don't hesitate to try different approaches and see what works out for you!