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Elevating Meetings: Keys to Making Every Meeting Important

Elevating Meetings: Keys to Making Every Meeting Important

Alyssa Towns
Writer
June 4, 2024
Updated on:

Elevating Meetings: Keys to Making Every Meeting Important
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Part of the reason meetings have a bad rap is that some company cultures opt for meetings as the tool for every interaction, discussion, and task. 

Don’t get me wrong—meetings can help your team members build stronger relationships, achieve cohesion, and brainstorm solutions to challenging problems that might not arise otherwise, but you must design a meeting well to achieve these benefits. 

This guide will help you:

  • Understand why meetings are important
  • Offer tips for knowing when to schedule a meeting
  • Provide tools and techniques you can use to plan an effective meeting

Why are meetings important?

Despite the bad rap and endless workplace jokes about meetings, they can provide irreplaceable benefits. Face-to-face meetings reveal body language (which sometimes speaks louder than words), facial expressions, and other nonverbal cues you may be unable to pick up otherwise. 

They allow teams to sit in proximity, sometimes facilitating more effective communication as you can remove the lag time and poor connections in spotty virtual meetings. In-person meetings can also help limit distractions (I’m talking to you, Slack, and email notifications), leading to focused engagement and participation. Face-to-face meetings work well for bringing the whole team together, team building, and fostering strong workplace relationships.  

Effective virtual meetings have plenty of benefits, too. They’re cost-effective, inclusive (when planned well across time zones), and more flexible depending on the type of meeting. Virtual meetings work well for daily operations, one-on-ones, and project syncs.

Despite the discourse around virtual meetings, many challenges—lack of decision-making, unclear next steps, ineffective problem-solving—are often the result of a lack of a clear agenda and proper planning. (This challenge extends to poorly planned in-person meetings, too.) 

The purpose of meetings (and when your meeting could be an email) 

Knowing when (or better yet when not to) hold a meeting can elevate your meeting culture. In a recent Forbes article, author Betsy Dougert cited a tweet from organizational psychologist Adam Grant in which he suggested four reasons for meetings: “to decide, learn, bond, and do.” 

That means sharing status updates (or, worse, team meetings in which team members share their to-dos aloud) and sharing information (presenting to the room with little discussion or conversation) are not necessarily reasons to conduct a meeting. 

There are tons of excellent meeting decision trees out there. This one from Grammarly and this one from Mural are helpful places to start. 

You might also consider developing internal meeting standards that encourage team members to ask themselves questions like:

  • What is the nature of the meeting you want to schedule? some text
    • Is it informational? Can you provide the information through written communication, a video recording, or a voice memo? 
    • Do you need to make a decision?
      • If so, does the decision require input from other people? If no input is necessary, can you make the decision and provide your decision through written communication, a video recording, or a voice memo? 
      • Do all stakeholders need to discuss the decision together at the same time? If not, is a meeting necessary?
    • Are you trying to get a group of stakeholders aligned? Does this level of alignment require a meeting? 
    • Are you looking to gather thoughts and opinions on a topic and engage in meaningful discussions with relevant stakeholders?
    • Do you need to solve a problem and need input from other stakeholders to do so?
  • Is this matter time-sensitive? Should you make a quick phone call instead of scheduling a meeting?

Preparing for a meeting in 4 easy steps

If your topic and meeting purpose pass the decision tree test and you choose to host a meeting, the next step is to prepare for your meeting. Follow these three steps.  

1. Invite the right attendees

Whether you use Amazon’s two-pizza rule, the Rule of 7, or some other framework for selecting your meeting participants, the point is to ensure you’re inviting the right people to the meeting and not so many of them that it will be an epic waste of time.

There are no hard and fast rules for selecting meeting attendees, especially since team and company sizes vary widely. One marketing team meeting at a startup may consist of four people, while a marketing team meeting at a larger organization may include 30 people.

Instead of focusing on a hard and fast meeting cap, consider these questions:

  • What is the minimum number of people I need to invite to achieve the objective of this meeting? Who are those people? 
  • Are there individuals who don’t need to attend the meeting but should be informed afterward? Who are those people? (Can you record the meeting or a short Loom afterward to catch them up?)
  • Are there individuals you should add as optional attendees? (This sometimes works well for people managers and leaders who would like to attend if they are available but aren’t mandatory to drive progress.) 

2. Schedule the meeting at the best time for everyone

Clockwise’s flexible meetings feature can help you and your teams manage and schedule meetings automatically while preserving Focus Time. That means if you have an internal meeting that’s not time-sensitive, Clockwise can move the meeting to a better time for everyone. (Great for one-on-one meetings!) 

Flexible meetings create more space for Focus Time

3. Create an agenda and distribute it in advance 

No excuses—all productive meetings start with a well-thought-out and intentional meeting agenda. We’re not talking about a blank Google Doc that reads “Meeting Agenda” with the date at the top and no additional information. 

Your meeting agenda should:

  • Convey a clear purpose and your desired outcomes from the meeting 
  • Include topics for discussion and relevant supporting links and materials as required (don’t make your colleagues dig for context!) 
  • Specify who owns which parts of the conversation (i.e., if Kacy adds an item to our agenda but wants me to cover it with the group, I’ll need to know that ahead of time so I can plan accordingly)
  • Outline the amount of time available per topic or discussion item 
  • Include room for follow-up notes and action items 

You can use a tool like Fellow or build agenda templates in Asana. Read more meeting agenda tips from Asana.

4. Prepare your talking points 

You coordinated the meeting, sent the agenda, and invited the right attendees so you can sit back and relax. Not so fast. 

If you scheduled the meeting, chances are you’ll play an active role in it, either as a facilitator, an owner of a specific topic or section, or as the one responsible for ensuring your meeting participants have all of the information they need before, during, and after the meeting.

Regardless, you should review the agenda (especially if you asked others to contribute), familiarize yourself with relevant documentation or reading materials to ensure you have enough background context for the meeting and prepare your talking points and associated materials to share.

Ask yourself: 

  • What information do I need to show up and participate in this meeting effectively? 
  • Who on my team or across the organization might I chat with before the meeting to get their perspective on this subject? 
  • What’s the best way for me to share background context with this group? (Would a slide deck help here? Should I prepare a one-pager for them to read at the beginning of the meeting?)

You can (and should) invite all of your meeting attendees to walk through this process to increase the likelihood that everyone feels prepared and ready to participate. 

3 tips for running effective meetings

Bad meetings are a buzzkill. Facilitate a good meeting with these three tips. 

1. Start and end the meeting on time

Value everyone’s time. It’s simple! One of the best ways (although not always easy in practice) to run an effective meeting is to start and end it on time. You might give one or two minutes for attendees to hop on the Zoom call or sit down in a physical meeting room but don’t wait much longer. 

That means you should start the meeting even if some attendees join late, regardless of their role. (This isn’t a dig at leaders, but rather permission for them to give to their teams to start meetings without them.) You can always catch latecomers up to speed later. 

If you allot a specific amount of time per topic on the agenda (and you should), designate someone to monitor the clock or use a visible timer to hold presenters accountable for their allotted timeframe. Tools like Google Timer and Online Timer with Alarm make it easy. 

Finally, you can use a tool called the “minutes remaining” reminder. As an executive assistant, I captured meeting minutes. I held C-Suite leaders accountable for wrapping up meetings on time by providing them with a “minutes remaining” update when there were ten and then five minutes left at the end of the meeting. When we hit the five-minute mark, we’d cease further conversation and instead review and capture action items to wrap up on time. 

2. Get back on track if you stray from the agenda

Distractions happen. Instead of working to eliminate distractions and unplanned topics (especially since these topics might also be worthwhile, just not worth discussion at this time), put the off-agenda topics in a “parking lot” and redirect the conversation back to the agenda. 

Some phrases you can use to do this include: 

  • “I appreciate this discussion, but I want to ensure we have enough time to discuss the topics on our agenda. I’ve captured this topic so we can revisit it later.” 
  • “That’s a great idea! If we have a few minutes remaining, we can discuss it after we cover our agenda items. If we don’t get to it today, I will follow up with you to determine how best to revisit it.” 
  • “We’re drifting from our outcomes a bit; let’s steer the conversation back to our agenda.” 

3. Lead an inclusive meeting

A meeting is not a room filled with people in which one or two of them dominate the conversation. Instead, ensure your meeting is inclusive and considers each individual’s style, needs, and personality while fostering open communication.

Katie Zink for People Managing People offered great advice for ensuring meeting inclusivity, including: 

  • Prioritizing humanity and connecting on a deeper level beyond small talk and appearance-related comments
  • Accounting for learning style differences (which may consist of distributing some information ahead of time)
  • “Share the Air” or, in other words, ensuring every participant has a balanced opportunity to contribute their thoughts and ideas

Engaging participants with tools & exercises

Several tools and techniques are available to help meeting facilitators engage their audience. For example, you could kick off your meeting with an icebreaker, ensuring every attendee has the opportunity to answer and share. Parabol’s Free Random Icebreaker Generator is a fun way to connect with your team and strengthen relationships. 

Mentimeter is another tool for enlivening meetings. It allows you to collect data and opinions through dynamic word clouds, live polling, entertaining quizzes, no-fuss Q&As, and insightful surveys. Collecting and sharing input in real-time (setting proper participation expectations and requirements) can help attendees stay focused. 

Miro and Mural (or sticky notes and markers if your meeting is in person) are collaboration and teamwork tools that can boost the effectiveness of brainstorming sessions. They contain templates and features for productive meetings and live working sessions. 

Following up after a meeting

An unfailing way to disrupt the progress in an effective meeting is to never speak of the action items, outcomes, or next steps again. You can prevent this by sending a meeting recap to ensure all attendees are on the same page and know what they are responsible for going forward. You might do this by sending a brief email or Slack message or adding action items directly in your project management tool like Asana. 

Consider including the following in your meeting recap:

  • A brief thank you note thanking the attendees for joining the meeting and completing any preparation work in advance of the meeting 
  • A quick summary (bullet points work great)
  • Highlight action items and next steps some text
    • Be clear as to who is responsible for which action items and when they are due
  • Supporting documents, if necessary some text
    • If any other documents were created, shared, or discussed and were not attached to the meeting invite, include them in your recap for easy reference 
  • The next meeting date, if necessary 

Going forward

Our time is limited, so ensuring you make the most of your meetings is essential! With a clear meeting purpose and the necessary preparation to support it, you can boost the effectiveness of your meetings in no time. Clockwise can help schedule meetings and adjust your calendar so that you can strike the right balance between effective meetings and deep work delivery.

About the author

Alyssa Towns

Alyssa Towns has written productivity and time management content for Clockwise for several years. Early in her career, she dove into time management strategies to effectively manage her workday calendar and 10+ C-Suite officers' calendars across various organizations. She uses her training in change management to write time management, the future of work, and career content that helps people change their behaviors and habits. In addition, she writes about artificial intelligence (AI) and other technology for G2's Learn Hub. When she isn't writing, Alyssa enjoys trying new restaurants with her husband, playing with her Bengal cats, adventuring outdoors, or reading a book from her TBR list.

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