Making the most out of meetings

By Rhymer Rigby

Meetings are an inescapable part of work. Most likely, all of us have been to well-conceived, efficient meetings as well as meetings that seem to drag on for hours yet accomplish nothing.

Meetings must happen for companies to innovate. The flow of ideas is far smoother when workers collaborate – multiple brains, working in concert, produce more good ideas than cubicle-bound thinkers.

Meetings should be about action, but action in a short time frame. Time spent in unproductive meetings is time the company will never get back. Here are five ways to make the most out of meetings:

1. Meetings are all about preparation, too. If you call a meeting, you need to ensure, where applicable, that there’s an agenda and that all the relevant people know about the meeting and what’s expected of them. It’s important to have a clearly defined idea of what the meeting is intended to achieve and that this is communicated to everyone beforehand. Any in-meeting presentations, both by you or colleagues, should be readied and rehearsed. Don’t fall into the trap of improvising as you go along. Once you lose control of a meeting, it can be hard to get back on track, and the agenda may be compromised.

2. Encourage all voices. If you’re chairing the meeting, you should create an atmosphere that feels like a forum where everyone gets a hearing. You don’t need to rule the meeting with a rod of iron. Rather, encourage the quiet to speak up and the verbose to keep their points short. If someone has been talking at length, there’s nothing wrong with interjecting and saying, “That's a good point and one I’d really like Jenny’s take on.” Other ploys include telling the speaker that it’s time to move on to the next agenda item or simply thanking the person for his or her views and saying that time is limited and everyone needs a chance to speak. Interrupting someone can seem daunting, but done well, it should feel like part of the natural flow of things. Besides, if you don’t stop the speaker, no one will – and others will leave the meeting feeling frustrated that their views have gone unheard. You should also follow up after an appropriate time interval to ensure that the actions agreed upon in the meeting are taking place.

3. Consider your input. If you’re attending a meeting and want to make a point, practise it beforehand. Think strategically about when you’re going to make it. For example, if you speak up at the beginning, you help set the agenda. When you make it, address everyone in the meeting, not just the chair, and talk in careful, measured tones. Be succinct and pose it as something that is in everyone’s interests, not just yours. Take no longer than you need – your point will lose its impact if the delivery is confusing and too long. Everyone’s attention span has a limit.

4. Be a good listener. If others are talking, be attentive, show interest and, if appropriate, ask questions. This is a bit like meeting karma – if you support others when they speak, they’ll support you and view what you say favourably. If you do need to disagree with someone, base the disagreement on facts and logic, not emotion. Don’t make it personal, and if you carry the day, be generous and try to bring them along with you.

5. Don’t overstay your welcome. In both meetings and presentations, there’s a lot to be said for brevity. People have busy lives and won’t thank you for speaking 15 minutes longer than your slot. Similarly, if you call a meeting and let it run over into lunch, that will sour people’s goodwill towards you. But if you cover everything you need to quickly and end a meeting 20 minutes early (or a presentation five minutes early), you’ll give people valuable time back, and they’ll leave happy.

Rhymer Rigby is author of The Careerist: Over 100 Ways to Get Ahead at Work.