“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”
Benjamin Franklin’s quote may be many years old, but it is still as relevant today.
It’s only the third week of the new year but already your diary is probably beginning to get full with meetings for this, calls for that and updates on something else despite your promises to yourself that wouldn’t happen this year. With time at a premium, it has never been more important to make each of those meetings, calls and updates worthwhile. To make sure you aren’t just ticking boxes and having meetings just for the sake of them it pays to be prepared. It pays to plan to plan and make those meetings worthwhile.
Fact: Most meetings are a waste of time
Does anybody really like meetings? They often fall at inconvenient times. Too many fail to spur people into action. Too many people attend meetings with the wrong attitude which makes the meeting even more inefficient. Meetings are overused and undervalued because of it, which creates a kind of vicious circle for the next meeting.
Solution: Make meetings make progress
For a meeting to be successful you need to create an environment that makes the meeting participants excited. To achieve that you need to be organised and ready for that meeting. You need to plan to plan, here are some tips how….
Schedule Pre-meeting time
However good you are, you can’t realistically achieve your best on the hoof. Every meeting needs to be thought about in advance. You not only need to be prepared for any direct involvement, such as updates from you or your department but also be ready to react with knowledgeable responses to things that are more indirect but that you want or need to have an influence over. This in particular requires some additional think time and preparation because you may well be offering an opinion on an area beyond your immediate knowledge, against somebody who sees themselves as an expert in that field. Sometimes planning time will be limited – a late notice meeting, emergencies elsewhere etc but don’t underestimate the value of planning – even those time constrained meetings deserve at least a five minute brainstorm before you head into them.
Plan your planning session too
Yep, the more preparation you make the more productive you are likely to find everything. When a meeting is called add it to your calendar and then count backwards and put time in the calendar for you to have a preparation session. For that session set a further reminder a few days or even weeks in advance and create a list of things you think you may need in terms of information from others, documents, research etc. When that reminder alarm hits you can then monitor and assess what you still need to chase. That should give you enough time to pursue things so you can still have them to hand for your planning session. At that planning session you can then assess that information and you still have time and opportunity to clarify and add to that before the actual meeting. You can also give others attending that meeting, a heads up so they can also plan in advance.
What day or time is best?
You are never going to find a meeting time that is perfect for everybody but you can at least try to include them all in the process. Having a meeting forced on you at an inconvenient time is one way to put your back up and impact on the efficiency of a meeting, so don’t just choose a day or time that works best with your schedule. Choose something for all. Use a tool like Doodle to help find a time that is more mutually beneficial and you will find your meeting becomes much more worthwhile.
Set an agenda and share it
Another plan to plan. If you have a course of action you want to get through, let others who are attending the meeting know too and well in advance – ideally at least a week. This gives all those attending a prompt to do their own planning so that they themselves will be prepared and it also may spur on fuller attendance because if people know something relevant to them is likely to be discussed, they are far more likely to make every effort to attend. If your attendees have read the agenda they will have thought about the contents, even if only subconsciously.
Choose a different environment
If possible, think about a walking meeting. With only a handful of people, take a short walk around a park or similar – the different surroundings really help relax those attending and help boost creativity. Of course presentations and bundles of paperwork can restrict you to staying inside but if you do try to avoid the standard ring of chairs around a desk in the middle. Even simple things like refreshments on hand can help break the monotony.
Begin with a recap
Don’t just jump straight into meeting. Let the vibe develop before you do real business. You have an agenda, so make that opening item a recap on what has happened since the last meeting. This doesn’t need contributions from everyone, just the meeting leader, but it will focus minds and reignite ideas and thoughts with everybody in your meeting, ready for discussion as it develops.
Everybody has different optimum focus times after which attention spans wane and focus slips. You can’t expect everybody to sit for hours on the trot in meetings, so make sure if your meeting is going to last a long time, that you give people regular breaks, just to clear their minds, freshen up and realign their thoughts.
Finish with a recap and throw it forward
Remember when you were taught how to write an essay at school? “Tell them what you are going to tell them – tell them – tell them what you just told them about”. Your conclusion needs to be just the same in a meeting. Remind them of what you just told them about. Don’t just leave it there however. This is not the end. Your final point needs to keep them thinking so mention next steps and the way forward to the future. Make sure all are aware of your goals – long and short term – it helps keep the drive alive in everybody. Close it off with a suggestion for the next date for the follow-up meeting, so even if that is weeks ahead others in your meeting appreciate the same sense of time and urgency.
Keep thinking about where you are heading and keep laying stepping stones to help you achieve that. Plan small steps to make giant leaps. Plan, plan, plan.