Meetings can be brutally boring. They can be too frequent, too long and too unproductive: Thinking back on recent meetings, you can’t even remember what “action items” they produced.
You may think you can’t do anything to make a meeting more efficient and results-oriented—you aren’t the person leading it, right? But Amy Henderson, Henderson Training Inc., believes you can do a lot to influence a meeting.
As the person who often helps plan and distribute a meeting’s agenda, assistants are uniquely poised to make meetings more engaging.
What you do before a meeting is just as important as what you do in the room itself, Henderson says. “The golden rule is, prepare more so you spend less time in the meeting,” she says.
Henderson’s meeting preparedness tips and techniques:
Figure out why your manager wants the meeting. “This is maybe the most important and the biggest missing piece at many meetings,” she says.
Example: “I want to make sure people are prepared. Could you share the outcomes you’re hoping for? By the end of the meeting, what do you want from this group?”
Write a specific objective at the top of the agenda. If it’s too vague, says Henderson, “employees can’t feel motivated to go to the meeting. Or they’ll come in with a different expectation. An effectively written objective makes a meeting more likely to get attendance and attention.”
Vague: To solicit opinions on project- options. Effective: Decide which three project management vendors best meet our business needs.
Vague: Explain new process. Effective: To have supervisors learn and commit to using the new performance appraisal starting next quarter.
Make your agenda mirror the meeting. Include details such as roles (scribe, timekeeper, leader), ground rules, what attendees should bring, discussion points attendees can prepare, refreshments, background reports, names and titles of other attendees.
“An agenda has the power to speed up and clarify a meeting in ways few people understand,” Henderson says.
Share it with attendees beforehand, so they can prepare. “You might also ask them for feedback: ‘What else would you like to see covered?’ You don’t have to use all their suggestions, but it encourages participation.”
Let the objective determine the “where” and “when.” Want a short meeting? Consider having it before lunch or at the end of the day. Want it to be really short? Have everyone stand up. Want to encourage interaction? Seek a room where you can set up a U-shaped table.
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