A meeting is a meeting is a meeting. Whether large sales meetings held at an off-site venue or impromptu department meetings your supervisor holds to “bring everyone up to speed”, all face-to-face contact is designed to intensify communication among team members. It is estimated that there are 11 million meetings in the U.S. each day, and according to research, at least a third of them are unproductive. Why? What can we do to improve our face-to-face group communication? We took a look at what professional meeting planners do to make the larger meetings we are asked to organize more productive for attendees. Then, we applied the same techniques to the individual planning that all team members must do in their daily lives.
Obviously, the first step in the meeting planning process is to find out when the client wants to hold the meeting. It wasn’t a huge mental leap to realize that individuals would find meetings more productive if they could properly plan them into their daily schedule. We all have pockets of time when we do our best work. For some, maximum productivity hits first thing in the morning. For others, mornings may be the time to catch up on emails. Whatever your rhythm is, don’t let meetings get in the way. Block your calendar to maximize your most productive time of day and save meetings for the lulls.
The second question meeting planners ask clients is, “What is the purpose of the meeting you are planning?” Only then can we begin to design the meeting. Whether you call them check-ins, or brainstorming sessions, or project status updates, your meetings take on new definitions depending on their purpose. Be sure to design your department meetings around your intended purpose. If you have a few incidental questions that have cropped up during production, for example, instead of blocking a 30-minute meeting by default, try a 10-minute huddle at your coworker’s desk.
Control the Flow of Information
The meeting planner’s third task is to design the functional flow of the meeting; who talks where and when and for how long. Every meeting you conduct in your company must have an agenda. At a minimum, your agenda should list the meeting objective, meeting topics, and time allotted for each topic.
Obviously, the client must supply the meeting planner with his guest list. We have to know who is going to attend and why. Your in-house department meetings must also have a carefully thought out guest list. Invite too many people to your meeting and the conversation goes sideways. Invite too few people and you won’t have all the necessary stakeholders to make a decision. Here’s a rule of thumb that seems to work:
- To solve a problem, invite 4 to 6 people
- To make a decision, invite 4 to 7 people
- To set an agenda, invite 5 to 15 people
- To brainstorm, invite 10 to 20 people.
Or you could follow Jeff Bezos’s famous “two pizza rule” – if the group is larger than you could feed with two pizzas, your meeting is too large.
You’re in Charge
The advantage meeting planners have over team members is that they can design and control the meeting in advance. Too often, team members feel they are meeting “victims”. They have to hold or attend meetings too often and for vague purposes. That “victimology” must change. Take control of both your meeting attendance and hosting duties by always applying the four disciplines above and your meeting productivity will soar.