How to run more efficient, effective, and engaging meetings

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Every other Wednesday, our Head of Community Anna Dearmon Kornick will host a LIVE deep dive into a different time management topic. Then, we'll open up the floor for your questions and coaching.

This week we learned how to make our meetings more efficient, effective, and engaging. 

And it couldn’t come at a better time. 

  • Time spent in meetings has more than doubled in the last year and continues to climb.
  • Meetings are getting longer.  The standard 30-minute touchbase is being left behind, replaced with a 45-minute jam session instead. 
  • The average employee spends 85% of their work week in meetings

Anything that takes up that much work time should be as productive as possible. That’s why Anna walked us through how to make our meetings more efficient, effective, and engaging.

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Keys to an efficient meeting 

A meeting is efficient if no time is wasted. There are three steps to making sure you’re not wasting time in meetings. 

1. Establish a clear purpose

Time is a precious resource, which is why it’s critical that every meeting on our calendar has a clear purpose. Everyone should know why the meeting is happening and why they’re there. Sometimes our recurring meetings and 1:1s become nothing more than a default in our schedule, which can make meeting participants wonder why they’re there in the first place.

First step? Audit your meetings to be sure every meeting on your calendar really is necessary. Another tool that can help you is our 1:1 dashboard, where you can see, evaluate, and move all your 1:1 meetings at a glance. Challenge yourself to identify your purpose in each of the meetings you attend and the purpose of the meetings themselves. Are your meetings still serving you?

2. Create a meeting agenda

The next tip for an efficient meeting is to create an agenda for each meeting ahead of time. It sounds simple, but oftentimes creating an agenda is a step we skip for various reasons. Having an agenda is the difference between attending a good meeting and a bad meeting.

Templates are your friend here, especially if you have recurring meetings on the calendar week after week. Agendas help everyone get on the same page, keeps meetings on task, and facilitates the decision-making process.

3. Start on time

Lastly, efficient meetings start and end on time. Be mindful of icebreakers chit chat and losing time while waiting for other meeting participants to join.

Try the two-minute rule to help change norms. Always start the meeting within two minutes of the official start time. That way, people learn to show up or miss out. Starting and ending on time lets your team members know you respect them and their schedules.

Keys to an effective meeting

A meeting that's effective is one in which everyone is prepared, aligned on purpose, and ready to go. Effective meetings accomplish their purpose. 

For example, if you’re meeting to conduct a brainstorming session, you’re walking away with new ideas. If you’re meeting to obtain a decision, you leave the meeting with a decision made. An effective meeting ends on time or early. 

To get there: 

1. State the meeting’s purpose

This looks like walking into a meeting and beginning your time together by stating the clear purpose and what success looks like. It might seem like this step wastes time, but we can’t assume everyone knows, understands, and agrees on the purpose of the meeting.

With the number of meetings on our calendars on the rise, It’s not unusual to walk into a meeting and think, “What’s this meeting for?”

As the facilitator, state the purpose of the meeting before getting down to business. Try these phrases:

“The purpose of this meeting is…”

“‘Done’ looks like…”

2. Wrap with a recap

Never assume everyone in the meeting has a clear understanding of next steps and follow-ups. Avoid having to schedule another meeting because next steps were unclear or not discussed as a group. 

At the end of the meeting, restate next steps, who owns which action items, and what the action plan is moving forward. Be clear on deadlines and expectations to cut back on future back and forth.

Keys to an engaging meeting

Engaging meetings encourage participation. A meeting that’s engaging is one in which each attendee understands participation expectations and asks the right questions.

1. Set expectations around how, when & what

You want to set clear expectations around:

  • How each person should participate
  • When each person should participate
  • What each person should contribute to the discussion

Conducting a Zoom meeting? Do you want participants to unmute themselves and hop right in or wait until a certain point in the meeting to pause and give feedback?

Setting expectations makes everyone feel more comfortable. Sometimes we lose feedback from our teammates who lean toward introversion that gets lost in the shuffle because we don’t set expectations around how attendees should participate.

2. Ask the right questions

Asking the right questions will be on a meeting-by-meeting basis, but in general, the right questions are open-ended but direct.

Have you ever opened an email or read a Slack post that just says, “Thoughts?” This is a completely open-ended question that might leave others wondering what type of feedback to share.

Asking the right questions takes trial and error, but remember the more open-ended and direct, the better.

Good: “Thoughts?” 

Better: “How could we improve this piece of the project?”

Best: “What are some ideas you have for making this project more valuable for the user?”

Q&A

Q: Do you have tips to engage customers in virtual meetings?

Anna recommended asking a lot of questions to engage customers in conversation to make virtual meetings more effective. Look for opportunities show how you meeting participants are different and represent a wide swatch of background and experience. Simple, one-word answer questions can help you boost engagement. 

Q: What can meeting participants (who are not organizers) do to make meetings more efficient, effective, and engaging? It’s hard to see opportunities for improvement and know how to improve things when you don’t have the power to implement changes top-down. 

Anna recommended stepping into a volunteer leadership role whenever possible. Take any opportunity you have to improve things. For example, try asking, “Would you like me to create an agenda for this meeting?” “Can we just recap to ensure we’re on the same page?” 

Q: How do you retain operational authority in a meeting when you’re not an expert on the subject matter at hand? 

Fortunately, the framework of a well-run meeting is the same regardless of the topic. Make sure you’re clear and confident on the purpose of the meeting before the meeting starts. You’ll feel and appear more confident. 

Q: What are your favorite ways to politely shut down stakeholders trying to make the meeting go over time? 

We all want to be heard. When you start your meeting with a clear purpose it makes it easier to take the conversation back to the stated purpose. Try this: “Let’s bring our discussion back to the intended purpose of our meeting. I’d love to talk more about this offline.” 

Q: How do I get rid of inessential meetings? 

Start with a lightweight calendar audit. Challenge yourself to articulate why the meeting isn’t as relevant. For example, maybe a team member has successfully onboarded and no longer needs 2x/weekly meetings. Again, state the purpose of the meeting. Has that purpose been fulfilled? Send a survey asking people to rate a meeting as effective or ineffective. 

Q: Meeting icebreakers, yea or nay? 

Depends on your company culture. If you use them, keep the discussion to 5 minutes or less.

Q: Where can we find templates for meeting agendas? 

Meeting agendas are best created by the group. When you draft your agenda, start by stating the purpose and end with a wrap and recap. Take a template for a weekly team meeting, for example. Bring it to the team and ask what key points the group should cover every week. Anna likes to store meeting templates in a simple Google Doc. You can link a Google Doc in the recurring meeting invite. Everyone can go in and add their agenda items each week. You can also do this in Asana. 

Q: How do you handle back-to-back meetings? 

Start by planning the day before. Make sure you have everything you need before the marathon begins. Another tip: Use Clockwise smart meeting breaks. Tip from a participant: Make some of them walking meetings for a quick energy boost while getting things done.

For more tips on running a more effective meeting, check out these ideas from Harvard Business Review.


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