How often do you leave a meeting thinking, that was super-productive and a great use of my time? If you’re like most people, it’s an illusory feeling in the best of times. Just the word meeting can conjure images of droning voices and endless slides with 8 point font. But it doesn’t have to.
Well-run meetings can be inspiring, engaging, and impactful.
5 tips for making your own meetings meaningful
1. Identify your purpose. Have a clear goal or outcome that you are trying to achieve. Are you looking to share a vision and get everyone on board? Unpack why something went wrong? Come up with new ideas? Improve a process? Anticipate and mitigate risks? The best way to achieve any of these goals is to be clear on what you are hoping to achieve in the first place. Knowing your goal should guide you towards how best to spend your time together.
2. Provide structure. Once you know what you are hoping to achieve, how will you get there? Different goals call for different techniques. Sharing a vision may involve a credible presenter painting the picture followed by a structured Q&A where participants can submit and vote on questions they’d like answered. Identifying risks might start with brainstorming potential risks, move into a discussion or rating exercise, and then focus on how to mitigate the risks that have the highest likelihood and impact. Think through all the sections you’d like to cover during your meeting and track the time to keep the momentum.
3. Enable broad participation. We’ve all sat in meetings with one or two people talking at everyone else the entire time. Ironically, it’s as much a waste of the facilitators time as it is the participants. If you call people together just to hear yourself speak, how do you know you’ve achieved your goal? Instead, build in opportunities to hear every voice. Where possible, head-off potential obstacles to participation. Quieter people may not have an opportunity to speak over louder voices in the meeting. Round robin contributions or use tools to let people contribute without speaking - whether those are simplistic tools like chat or polls, or more sophisticated tools like a digital facilitation platform. For those that prefer to fully form their thoughts before speaking up, let people know the agenda and discussion points in advance or build in time for quiet reflection or a think/pair/share activity. If there is a power dynamic that could make people reluctant to voice their opinions, find ways for anonymous contributions.
4. Facilitate deep discourse. Getting people engaged and participating is half the battle. The other half is making their participation meaningful. A quick poll will capture someone’s attention for a minute, but it doesn’t do much for complex topics that require clarification, ideation, and iteration. Sticky notes are great for generating a bunch of ideas, but then what? To delve deep, expect to double down on some of the ideas generated, and encourage people to ask questions, and to challenge or extend those ideas. This often requires multiple activities that build on each other to analyze or synthesize the topics raised. Think back to your goal for the meeting. Are there session constraints that make it challenging? For example, is the group too big for a meaningful discussion? Consider smaller group breakouts. Is the time insufficient to make the desired progress? Consider a follow up activity or even another session. If you are making meaningful progress together, people will be willing to meet again.
5. Ensure action. Finally, make sure progress doesn’t end when the meeting does. Your session is meaningless if the impact doesn’t extend beyond the meeting. Be sure to identify what comes next and then follow through. To be truly meaningful, meeting discussions should lead to actions and results.
Meaningful meetings rarely just happen. They thrive off of forethought and thoughtful facilitation. While this can take some upfront planning, 30 minutes prep pays dividends over an hour long meeting that wastes everyone’s time.