How much of your work week is taken up by meetings? How many of these meetings tick the boxes of an effective meeting: quickly providing information that enables you to get your work done, strengthening interpersonal connections, and supporting motivation?
To make your meetings more engaging, fast-paced and productive, follow these seven tips.
1. Book shorter meetings
Reduce 30-minute meetings to 20 minutes (it’s no coincidence that the length of TED Talks are 18 minutes).
By starting your 20-minute meetings at 10 or 40 minutes past the hour, they have a greater chance of finishing within 20 minutes. 20-minute meetings that start on the hour have an uncanny way of creeping out to 30 minutes.
Reduce one-hour meetings to 45 minutes and similarly, start these at 15 or 45 minutes past the hour.
If a meeting truly needs longer than 45 minutes, segment the agenda and approximately every 18 minutes encourage attendees to do the 4 Ss: stand, stretch, smile and have a sip of water. Doing so will enhance attention.
2. Limit screens
Our brains are hardwired to be distracted. Research shows that just seeing our phones reduces cognitive function. To make matters worse our attention is naturally drawn to things that are pleasurable, threatening or novel – and our smart phones deliver these in trumps.
Start feeling even the slightest boredom in a meeting and before you know it you will be searching for your phone and/or itching to scroll through emails on your laptop. It’s not your fault, it’s just how our brains are wired.
Remove temptation; encourage everyone attending the meeting to put their phone on silent, and ensure phones are out of sight and out of reach. Consider placing a box or basket in every meeting room for this purpose.
When laptops are needed, ensure that people are working offline so that they are not distracted by incoming mail. Allocate time at the end of the meeting for attendees to open laptops and document their individual deliverables.
3. Lower the temperature
Dropping the temperature in meeting rooms to about 20 degrees can make meetings fast- paced and more productive. The slightly cooler air temperature encourages people to keep shorter meetings while remaining attentive.
4. Set an agenda
A meeting is more productive with an agenda and clarity of purpose. At the top of the agenda, increase focus by documenting the overarching objective or intention of the meeting and the start and finish times.
Agenda items are typically statements. But neuroscience suggests that our brains think best in the presence of a question, so frame agenda items as questions. Consider closing your meetings with a question that supports continuous improvement. For example: “What worked well in this meeting? How can we enhance the effectiveness of future meetings?”
If you find yourself in a meeting without an agenda, take a tip from the Agile trend. Have attendees quickly record their top two items for discussion on individual Post-it Notes (ideally written as questions). Compile the notes as an agenda, beginning with the most popular items/questions.
5. Invite less people
A 45-minute meeting with 10 attendees is 450 minutes (7½ hours) of time. Unless a meeting’s primary objective is to strengthen the interpersonal connections of a large group of people, then invite only the people who are critical.
Not only are you freeing up time, you are being more efficient as brainstorming and decision-making tends to be quicker with less people. Distribute a timely summary of the key meeting outcomes to the broader group to keep everyone informed and up to date.
6. Walk and talk
Have only two or three people in the meeting – then put on your flat shoes and head out to the nearest park or walk around the block. Movement, natural light and fresh air all support greater productivity, creativity and communication.
At the end of the meeting you could use a smart phone to verbally send yourself an email that documents the meeting outcomes and your deliverables. Not only will your meeting be more productive – you will also be more energised when you return to your desk.
7. Increase calendar whitespace
Could you instigate a company-wide, meeting-free morning? Or even better, a meeting-free day? The key to being able to work deeply on critical tasks is having the whitespace in our calendars and the capacity to focus. This HBR article talks to the importance of quarantining an untouchable day every week. And this research shows how meetings make us less productive and mess with our workflow.
If you can’t influence your organisation’s meeting culture, then at least consider how you might stack your meetings together: starting late morning, or even better, in the afternoon. Click here for more information about the benefits of quarantining time early in the day to get work done.
What tips stand out for you? How can you make the meetings you attend more engaging, fast-paced and productive?
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