5 tips to optimize meetings: what First Agenda learned from facilitating 150,000+ meetings
By Sisse Haldrup from First Agenda
Meetings are an integral part of business life. Done well, meetings are vehicles for big breakthroughs and collaborative decisions. Done badly, meetings leave you wondering why you were even present – especially when you’re shuttling from one agenda-free, tech-challenged, leaderless discussion to the next.
With the average office worker spending more than a day every week on meetings, we have learned that optimizing meetings could be the single biggest boost to productivity for any organization. In First Agenda, we help organizations run more effective meetings using our digital meeting tools, and we have already helped more than 400 organizations. In this blog post, we share our experiences by compressing our top 5 tips to make your meetings more effective:
1. Reduce the number of meetings and attendees
“Let’s schedule a meeting” has become the universal default response to most business issues. Meeting face-to-face can be the right solution in many instances, but it’s not necessarily the best answer. Always ask yourself: Do you really need a meeting? Or will another method of communication work just as well?
If you can accomplish your goal without adding another meeting to the calendar, don’t do it – trust us, your colleagues will thank you for it. Especially if the purpose is simply to share information. Send an email instead.
However, if a meeting is the right solution, make sure you only invite the right people (those necessary to achieve the goal of the meeting). A meeting is an easy way to keep everyone updated, but inviting the wrong people can have a negative effect. Those people with no real purpose in the room are more likely to check their email, be disengaged, or derail the meeting with issues that aren’t on the agenda.
As an alternative, if only part of the meeting is relevant for some people, invite them to join only for that specific part. The fewer the people, the faster your meeting goal can be accomplished.
2. Define the purpose and set a clear agenda
Defining the purpose is the most important part of your meeting preparation. The purpose determines who should join the meeting, how they participate and what format the agenda takes. Start by defining the goal and outcomes you want to achieve. Is it to share information? Make decisions? Gather ideas? Allocate tasks? Connect with others? Or something else?
When you know the purpose, you should make a clear agenda to outline the content of the meeting. The agenda should be sent out at least two days in advance to make sure attendees are informed and have time to prepare. Highlight in the agenda what preparation the participants need to do, such as read a document, prepare an update or simply consider a topic.
If you are asking someone to present new information, give them adequate time to prepare. If appropriate, invite suggestions for agenda items – participants will be more engaged if they have contributed to the agenda.
3. Remember to document your meeting
You don’t want your colleagues to ask you next week: ”What did we decide in the last meeting?” and ”Who was responsible for that task?”. Therefore, assign someone to take meeting minutes. The note-taker should be someone other than the meeting leader, so the leader can facilitate the discussion and keep the meeting focused.
The quality of the meeting minutes is important in order to clearly explain decisions, tasks and knowledge. If your meeting has a clear goal, it makes it easier to summarize the discussion and recommended next steps. When the quality of the notes is high, a copy can also be sent out to people who were excluded from the meeting – the people who just need to know the outcome. Keep them in the loop with a summary email.
If you want to avoid taking any notes at all, you can take a look at First Agenda´s new meeting app. With First Agenda Assistant, you get your own virtual meeting secretary. All you have to do is activate the speech recognition technology on the app, and the meeting minutes will be created automatically.
4. Challenge old habits
Often, much of what we do regarding meetings is so routinely driven that we do not even question the configuration. We are creatures of habit, and changing a long since established organizational culture can prove a difficult task.
However, you ought to consider the kind of meeting culture you want to foster in your organization and make agreements with your colleagues about this. Being on time, not sending emails, and saving small-talk for later are guidelines that will enhance focus and make your meetings more effective.
Don’t be afraid to try new things and challenge your old habits. Why not stand up during your next meeting? Or take 2 minute breaks for reflection? Or move the meeting outside? Or consider the kind of innovation that might grow from a forest cabin, a theatre, or a photo studio?
5. Summarize and follow up
End the meeting with a summary of key points, agreements, next steps, and who is responsible for upcoming tasks. If you have a long agenda, it may be useful to do this summary after each item and close all discussion on the topic to move onto the next subject. This structure prevents the discussion from running in circles, and keeps the meeting moving forward.
After the meeting, send a written summary to each participant – ideally within 24 hours of the meeting. This ensures that the momentum continues and people are accountable for what they have agreed to do.