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Meeting management: How to make your meetings more productive

Use these three groups to better manage your meetings

By Mel Brown

Someone said that “a meeting is an event at which the minutes are kept and hours are lost.”

Do you ever feel that you spend most of your time at work going from one meeting to another and that the reason that you are not more productive at work is because you are in too many meetings? Do your meetings start late and fail to end on time?  Do those in attendance feel that meetings are a waste of time?

If you answered “yes” to any of the above questions, this column is for you. 

Turning time spent in meetings into productive time — time that produces sustainable results — has to be a priority for any effective leader. Like any other leadership skill, meeting management can be learned. 

Effective meeting management consists of three groups: actions taken prior to the meeting, during the meeting, and after the meeting.

Failing to perform any of the three groups will result in the meetings being unproductive and not worth the time you invested.  On the other hand, performing the steps in each of the three areas will result in meetings that guide participants to achieve expected, positive and constructive results.

Before the meeting

Actions taken before the meeting establish the groundwork for effective meetings. 

Make sure the meeting is necessary: Scheduling and holding a meeting is expensive when you account for the time of those attending. Before you even think about scheduling anything, consider alternatives. If the topic is straight-forward and doesn’t need a lot of give and take, the goal may be accomplished through an email discussion or by distributing and requesting information through the organizational newsletter.

Even if you have a regularly scheduled meeting but do not have anything important to discuss, cancel it. It is a waste of time to meet just because it is a regularly scheduled meeting.

Ensure appropriate participation: If a meeting is necessary to accomplish your goals, make sure that the individuals who must attend are available. If key participants are not available, postpone the meeting. If someone attends in place of key member, make sure the designated representative has the authority to make decisions or to provide the information needed. Otherwise, postpone the meeting. 

Plan the meeting: Productive meetings do not occur without effective preparation. Identify what you hope to accomplish; establish realistic goals for the meeting. As Steven Covey says in his book, Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, “Begin with the end in mind. The purpose of your meeting will determine the meeting’s focus, the meeting agenda and the meeting participants.”  

Create and distribute an agenda: Creating an effective agenda is one of the most important elements for a productive meeting. A good agenda:

• Communicates to the participants information such as:
   o Start and end times
   o Discussion topics
   o Presenter for each topic
   o Time allotted for each topic
• Provides an outline for the meeting,
• Can be used as a checklist to ensure all information is covered,
• Gives them an opportunity to come to the meeting prepared for the upcoming discussions or decisions.

Distribute and review documents prior to the meeting: Passing out materials for the participants to review during the meeting is counterproductive.  Meetings become much more productive when the agenda and information about matters to be discussed have been distributed beforehand with a clear understanding that reading and preparing for discussion of the information provided are pre-meeting assignments.

Taking the proper actions prior to the meeting plays a major role in making your meetings more effective.

Part II of “How to Make Your Meetings More Productive” will appear in the next month’s issue.

Questions regarding this column or suggestions of topics for future columns should be sent to ceo@melbrown.org.      

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