How to Make Meetings More Productive

Business Meeting SOS: Holding Effective Meetings

Meetings can be a huge drain on company resources, but they don't need to be. Wave goodbye to the bored room with these business meeting tips

By Dave Howell

Think about the last business meeting you attended. Was its purpose clearly communicated? Did it conclude with well-defined actions to complete? In an ideal world, you would answer yes to both of these questions. Unfortunately, for many businesses, meetings continue to be a drain on time and resources.

Research carried out by eShare concluded that around 25% of the working week is used preparing for meetings. What’s more, 40% of those meetings are unnecessary.

“Meetings are an integral part of business life, but many are inefficient, with incorrect agendas and attendees unable to locate the required background information when they need it,” says Alister Esam, CEO of eShare. “With the average office worker spending more than a day every week on meetings, addressing the waste of hours resulting from ineffective and inefficient meetings could be the single biggest boost to productivity for any organisation.”

To be effective, meetings need to be approached methodically and with an agenda that is clearly defined. If they begin on time, don’t stray from their stated agendas, and keep all attendants fully engaged, they can still be a crucial tool for any company.

It's no surprise, therefore, that the success of a business meeting is often determined by the level of preparation that goes into it. For example, a survey from Perivan found that over half of managers often enter a meeting without all the documents they need, with 31% saying erroneous decisions were made in the meeting as a result. Clearly it is vital to ensure that your meetings are based on all the facts, and every attendant is in full possession of the materials they need to make accurate contributions to the meeting.

“Anyone attending a meeting must have the relevant emails, documents and agenda available on their device, and be able to annotate and share those with ease,” Esam adds. “Furthermore, actions should be agreed and recorded so you don’t have to rely on an attendee’s faulty memory to refer to what was discussed. Other areas of business have been brought up-to-date in terms of attitudes and technology, and it is high time that meetings did the same.”

Material gains
Material gains:

A meeting won't run smoothly if nobody has all of the relevant documents to hand

Changing culture

Meetings are often branded as a waste of time, but the real issue is poorly organised meetings that are unengaging, last too long and don’t conclude with any agreed practical actions.

The growing popularity of flexible workplaces, such an innovation hubs and co-working spaces, is also impacting how, and where, meetings are conducted. The days of large conference rooms with imposing tables and a whiteboard at one end are disappearing. These are being replaced with dynamic meeting spaces that can adapt to shorter meetings with fewer attendants – some of whom attend via video conferencing services.

Virtual meetings have become massively popular across the small business community, thanks to low-cost hosted systems that deliver HD-quality images. However, it’s a mistake to believe that all physical face-to-face meetings can be replaced with this technology.

In its report, Associations, Generation Y & the Millennials, the American Society of Association Executives concluded: “The idea that Generation Y and younger cannot or will not engage in face-to-face interaction is part of the popular mythology that has grown up around this demographic. Yes, they are heavily immersed in technology, but they are still humans with just as many needs for sharing and connection as any other generation.”

Becoming more efficient when holding meetings, and using technology appropriately to achieve the stated goals of a meeting, can ensure your business doesn’t waste time and other resources.

Can you dispense with all meetings? This is perhaps going too far, as a meeting with a clear objective that is run efficiently can be a productive component of your business. However, if the format of your meetings feels a little outdated, you could consider shorter stand-up meetings, as favoured by leading supermarkets. Alternatively, you could hold some of your meetings in a more relaxed setting away from the office, such as a pub or café.

To be effective, meetings need to be approached methodically and with an agenda that is clearly defined. If they begin on time, don’t stray from their stated agendas, and keep all attendants fully engaged, they can still be a crucial tool for any company.

Your meetings checklist

If meetings seem out of control in your business, use this checklist to ensure every meeting is as productive as it can be.

1) Do you need a meeting?

Too many meetings are called without a clear objective. Ask yourself whether your decision to call a meeting is the right one.

2) Invite the right people

Think about the objectives of the meeting. Who should be present? Also, try and keep the number of attendants to around six, which is the optimal number.

3) Create the right environment

The culture of your business will influence how people meet and work together. More informal surroundings may be appropriate, and could make for a more engaging meeting.

4) Supporting materials and assets

Decisions in a meeting will often be made based on materials prepared by the attendants. If these materials are not ready, or missing, it might be better to postpone your meeting.

5) Shorter is better

Meetings that are too long are often the least productive. Try and have meetings of no more than 30 minutes, or even shorter. Try stand-up meetings when quick decisions need to be made often, and always ensure your meeting starts on time.

6) Eliminate distractions

If everyone in your meeting is looking at their notebook, tablet or phone, it means they’re not engaging with it. Yes, they may need to access documents, but email monitoring and social media interactions should be banned for the duration of the meeting.

Think about how you currently hold meetings and how productive they really are. With some simple changes, you can ensure that every meeting results in a set of tasks that actually moves your business forward.


About the author

Dave Howell has been working as a freelance writer, journalist and publisher for the last 20 years, operating as Nexus Publishing. He specializes in technology and business subjects, with his work appearing in the national press, as well as a number of leading technology and business magazines.

 

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