You probably hate meetings. Your co-workers probably hate meetings. But as much as you all may groan and grumble as you shuffle into the conference room, these ritual gatherings are an unavoidable fact of life in most offices – even though 71% of U.S. workers said that they found most meetings unproductive, according to a survey by Microsoft.
If you’re relatively new in your career, your only experience with meetings may be as a slightly disgruntled participant. But one day, you’re going to have to stand up and lead a meeting yourself. If you’d rather not perpetuate the trend of terrible meetings, you need a game plan. Here are our tips to help you run a meeting that won’t make your co-workers hate you.
1. Be prepared
Do not be the meeting leader who strolls in five minutes late with no idea what’s on the agenda for that day’s discussion. At best, your co-workers will get mildly frustrated with you; at worst, you’ll lose their respect and will look unprofessional and disorganized.
“Organizations are moving faster and faster these days and few managers have time to think through their meetings in advance,” Roger Schwarz, an organizational psychologist and author of Smart Leaders, Smarter Teams, told the Harvard Business Review.
But having a lot of to-dos on your plate isn’t a good excuse for slacking on meeting prep. With time at a premium, it’s even more crucial that you go into a meeting prepared and that the time you spend there is valuable.
2. Have a plan
Your meeting needs a clear purpose and a focused agenda. People are far more likely to actually enjoy a meeting when it has a clear objective, according to a study by researchers at Creighton University. Meetings with a vague focus (like “brainstorming” or “checking in”) are much more likely to go off the rails. Instead, have a clear list of discussion topics and objectives so that you can stay on track and get stuff done.
Leading a meeting where you don’t know what you want to achieve and how you plan to do it is a train wreck waiting to happen for whatever project you’re working on. It can also spell career trouble.
“Without an agenda, someone else will create the plan during the meeting, and you’ll end up seeming weak and helpless,” wrote career expert Penelope Trunk on her blog.
3. Control the conversation
Keeping everyone on task is one of the hardest parts of facilitating a meeting, especially if you don’t have a lot of experience in this area. It’s doubly difficult if the people who are disrupting your meeting or wandering off topic are employees with more seniority or experience than you. The key is being able to tell what digressions are useful and which ones are time-wasters, and then knowing how to firmly but politely nip those conversations in the bud.
“If a discussion involves ideas, solutions, or suggestions, let it run. If a discussion involves complaining or finger-pointing — without very quickly shifting to how a problem can be eliminated — cut it off,” wrote business expert Jeff Haden for CBS Moneywatch. “Be professional, but don’t worry too much about hurt feelings. Good employees appreciate a controlled, on-point, productive meeting, and poor employees quickly learn that whining isn’t welcome.”
4. Keep it short
When Give More asked 1,600 people what annoyed them most about meetings, many respondents complained in one way or another about how much time they consumed. Top annoyances included meeting leaders that let participants ramble at length and repeat each other’s comments and meetings that didn’t finish on time or were too long.
The ideal length for a meeting may be just 15 minutes, say some business experts. To keep your meetings from going too long, only invite essential participants, have a clear agenda, and don’t be afraid to cut off people who go off on tangents or just want to hear themselves talk.
5. Call it off
Ask yourself: Do I really need to hold this meeting? Up to 28% of meetings may be a total waste of time, according to a survey of managers by staffing company OfficeTeam. If you’re dutifully showing up to lead a Wednesday afternoon status meeting where nothing is accomplished and no important information is shared, perhaps it’s best to strike it from the calendar entirely. Your co-workers will thank you.
“Sometimes meetings outlive their original purpose, so professionals should carefully consider whether one is warranted or if there’s a more efficient way to share the information,” said Robert Hosking, executive director of OfficeTeam, in a statement.
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