How to Have More Productive Meetings

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In many workplaces, meetings might be dreaded as much as Mondays. Maybe it’s because of that one coworker who just won’t stop talking. Or the leader who seems incapable of staying on topic.

No one likes to feel like his or her time is being wasted. “When you’re a busy person and you’ve got a lot of things to do, time is money,” says Sheryl Soukup, founder and president of Naples-based Soukup Strategic Solutions, which offers nonprofit management consulting. “You want to make sure that every minute you’re spending is effective, meaningful and has high impact. Meetings are a necessity, and they can be an effective way to get really high-impact work done. But there is an art and a science to it.”

Soukup shares some of her favorite strategies for making meetings more productive.

Have an agenda.

That means writing down exactly what you want to talk about and the amount of time you plan to spend on each topic.

“Stick to your schedule and agenda as much as you can,” says Soukup. “If you can’t get through your topics, you may have planned poorly or not anticipated how much time something is going to take.”

Know your audience.

“Nobody wants to be in a meeting that they can’t have any impact on,” she says. Invite only those people who need to be there, and limit discussion to topics that are pertinent to everyone at the table. “Otherwise, you’re just wasting people’s time,” she says.

Keep things moving.

The agenda gives attendees a sense of how the meeting is supposed to flow. A meeting facilitator keeps everyone on schedule. “Having someone who’s good at running a meeting is important,” says Soukup. “And it might not be the person who’s in charge of the group.” Identify the best person to watch the clock and keep everyone in line.

Don’t talk about things that aren’t necessary.

Don’t go through research reports or PowerPoint presentations at the meeting; employees can look those over ahead of time.

“Give a high-level review to make sure everyone understands it, then move to discussion and dialogue to help the group move to decision-making,” says Soukup. “The function of a meeting is to share information that couldn’t be shared another way, and the highest-impact thing a group can do is make decisions together.”

Stay focused.

When the discussion starts getting off track or one employee hijacks the conversation, the facilitator needs to bring everyone back to the topic at hand.

“Think about the goals you want to accomplish before the meeting starts,” says Soukup. “If people start getting off topic, you won’t accomplish those goals. You have to move people along politely [so] everyone feels like they’ve been heard.”

How do you do that? Use a combination of intuition, tact and diplomacy. “When you have some- one who is taking up more than their fair share of time, you can draw other people out in order to pepper the conversation with other opinions,” she says.

Wait until a natural pause in the talker’s monologue, interject and thank them for their thoughts, then ask someone else for their insight. “If someone is naturally quiet, asking them direct questions can help draw them out,” says Soukup.

Match the tasks at hand with the time of day.

Think about the meeting’s objectives and the work preferences of its attendees. Gathering them together in the morning to handle a difficult task is “a great thing,” Soukup says. But many people prefer the afternoon because they can be more creative and have more dialogue.

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