For working professionals, meetings are a standard part of the business day. Unfortunately, many meetings are ineffective or not even necessary.
Using effective meetings strategies will optimize your time, improve your work performance, drive the business forward and demonstrate respect to your coworkers.
According to an MIT study, “the average employee spends approximately six hours per week in scheduled meetings, with supervisors spending more time than non-supervisors. According to some estimates, senior managers attend nearly 23 hours of meetings every week, and people working for large organizations tend to have more meetings than those in smaller ones.”
With so much time devoted to meetings, why are so many ineffective?
Frankly, effective meeting strategies are not taught enough.
Last time I checked, high school and college classes don’t cover how to run a meeting.
Instead, professionals are left to figure it out what are effective meeting strategies by emulating others.
But you can take a different approach by proactively learning effective meeting strategies.
Keep in mind, these tips are not in order of importance.
Rather, they are the order in which you should approach them: from before the meeting to after the meeting.
1. Have a Clear Objective
Before you even schedule the meeting, you must have a clear objective. It is the reason you even need a meeting.
Honestly, most meetings that are scheduled aren’t even needed.
Many of them are just recurring meetings that are poorly utilized, mismanaged, and never canceled when they are unnecessary.
Then there are one-off meetings that are scheduled by an individual when they hit some kind of roadblock or need guidance. But the meetings do not have a clear objective besides “I’m stuck”.
Before you open your calendar to schedule that meeting, have a very clear objective in mind.
If you don’t have these answers, you either do not need a meeting or are not ready to schedule one.
Once you have a clear objective, make sure to document it in the meeting invite.
This way participants will be well aware of why the meeting is necessary as well as the criticality of it.
2. Be Prepared
Preparation is the most critical component of an effective meeting.
I am not talking about just having your slide deck prepared. Preparation comes in a lot of different forms.
If you are hosting an important meeting in a new room, arrive early to ensure that there are no technical issues.
If you are unfamiliar with the technology, have IT meet you before the meeting to help you set everything up.
When you are having food catered, make sure it is delivered and set up in the room well ahead of time. Often, if food is being served participants will arrive early to the meeting.
Make sure you get an RSVP from any participants whose attendance is critical. This way you will avoid an awkward situation where you are unable to hold a meeting because a required participant is a no-show.
Send out any technical material or lengthy information ahead of the meeting (2-3 days).
Request participants to review the material ahead of the meeting and come with questions.
Asking participants to arrive with questions will increase the likelihood they review the material.
Even better, pose specific questions to participants about the material and request they bring their perspective on these questions to the meeting.
Preparation also involves pulling together an agenda for the meeting.
Make sure you have everything ready to go ahead of the meeting. And if it is a very important meeting, practice your dialogue ahead of time.
For very important external meetings, I spend the entire day before with my team preparing for the meeting. That's in addition to multiple preparation meetings in the weeks leading up.
Preparation is KEY. It's always better to be over prepared.
3. Start with an Agenda
Your first slide, besides the title slide, should be an agenda. Always.
If you are not using slides, your first talking point should be to cover the agenda.
A well thought out agenda is the road map to an effective meeting.
An agenda slide should have the objective of the meeting at the top followed by the topics that will be discussed during the meeting.
It should be very clear by looking at the agenda the discussions that will take place during the meeting.
Best practice is to assign time blocks on your agenda. This will allow you to better manage time during the meeting.
If meeting participants are not familiar with one another, such as in an external meeting, you should begin the agenda with introductions.
Your agenda should always end with several minutes reserved to go over action items that are captured during the discussion.
Agendas should not be overly complex. Quite the opposite.
They should be simple and concise.
Their purpose is to provide a 50,000 ft view of what to expect in the meeting. To align everyone behind a common cause and direction.
Getting people behind one agenda will put your meeting on the path to success.
4. Avoid Death by Powerpoint
Slides are best used to guide discussion and provide information that would be difficult to describe verbally (e.g. data, charts, etc.).
Do not use slides as a transcript for information that you will discuss with the team.
You want participants to be focused on what you are explaining, rather than reading slides.
Try to use graphics and images, where appropriate, in your Powerpoints. Rather than over stuffing with words.
Showing people information is always more effective than having them read it.
Overall, you need to use your Powerpoint slides wisely.
They should be a guide. Not your main vehicle for providing information.
If you have lengthy information to provide to the team, send it before the meeting.
I like to include any word and data heavy information as appendix slides in the back.
I email all the slides to the team and let them know that I will not be actively reviewing the appendix slides in the meeting.
I then ask them to review the appendix slides and come with specific opinions on XYZ.
This way, you are more likely to have meeting participants that have reviewed the appendix slides.
If they haven’t, they will have them during the meeting. But you won’t have to sit there and read the slides to them.
Too many Powerpoint slides will only stifle discussion and cause you stress in trying to cover too much information in a short amount of time.
Plus, your participants are more likely to fall asleep when they see 100 slides for an hour meeting.
5. Encourage Discussion and Questions
Unless you are presenting at a conference, you should try to make your meeting as interactive as possible.
Prompt people with questions. Initiate discussion. Pause during presentation sections to allow people to speak up.
If you are holding a meeting and 45 minutes of the hour is spent presenting, you are doing it wrong.
People will quickly lose the ability to pay attention when they are not part of the conversation.
If you are holding a meeting, it is likely because you need some kind of input from your colleagues.
This input should be gathered throughout the meeting, not at the end.
Keep participants involved and engaged.
6. Have a Note Taker
Too many meetings occur where none of the discussion is documented. No action items are captured.
The discussion occurs, people walk out, and people work from memory to move forward.
Frankly, our memories are not very reliable. And even worse, many times people perceive and hear things differently.
That is why it is so important to have a note taker at a meeting.
Someone that will have minimal participation in the discussion, so that they can focus on capturing key points.
They don’t need to take a transcript of the meeting. Those aren’t very helpful.
Instead, major action items to follow up on, decision points, and discussion points should be documented.
This will provide a clear record to you, and the team, about what was agreed upon and what has to happen to meet forward.
It will also allow you to determine whether you have met the objective, or if additional discussions/work has to take place in order to do so.
So, always make sure to ask someone to take notes ahead of the meeting.
7. Manage the Time
A lot of meetings go off the rails before they even start.
Because they don’t start on time.
Others go off the rails right at the beginning.
The meeting host allows off-topic discussions and questions, that are not aligned with the objective of the meeting, to dominate the conversation.
And then what happens?
The meeting goes 30 minutes over.
It’s critical to start and end your meetings on time. It shows respect to your colleagues.
As discussed above, starting on time means being prepared and ready to go.
Don’t feel you must wait for every participant to arrive in order to start the meeting. Unless they are critical to the conversation, start the meeting without them.
In order to keep the meeting focus on the objective and moving on-time, you must keep an eye on the clock.
If a discussion that is unrelated to the objective begins to take up too much time, move the meeting along by saying something along the lines of:
I think this is an important conversation to have but is off-topic for the purposes of this meeting.
Let’s take an action item to continue this conversation off line.
If a discussion that is pertinent to the objective is taking up too much time, and you need to move the meeting to the next question, do so.
There have been some really great points made on this topic. Since we have only 20 minutes left, I’d like to move to the next topic for now.
We can certainly continue this conversation off line or in a follow up meeting if necessary.
Ultimately, this is your meeting and you are responsible for driving the discussion and conversations in such a way so that the objective will be met.
Take the lead and make a judgment call when it is time to shift gears. And speak with confidence and authority when moving the meeting along.
8. End on Time No Matter What
Just like starting your meetings on time, ending a meeting on time demonstrates respect for your coworkers. Respect for their time.
If you’ve successfully managed the time, you will almost always be able to conclude the meeting on time.
So why “almost always”?
Because on business critical meetings, your attempts to end the meeting on time may be overruled by a superior.
I have had occasions when, as I try to end certain conversations to move through the agenda, a management member requested that participants clear the next X amount of time in order to be able to thoroughly discuss this topic and make a decision.
Frankly, I probably should have scheduled more time to begin with. But hindsight is 20/20.
These situations are rare, though.
They are exceptions.
You should always end your meetings on time.
Even if you recognize halfway throughout the meeting that you didn’t schedule enough time to achieve the objective.
Develop a quick follow up plan and get the team aligned. Capture it in the action items.
But still end your meeting on time.
9. Review Action Items and Decisions
Your note taker should specifically document action items and decisions throughout the meeting.
As the individual leading the meeting, you should prompt capturing an action item
That’s a really good idea, John.
Let’s capture that as an action item to follow up on after the meeting
You should do similar with decision that are made.
So it sounds like we are all aligned that we are choosing to pursue option A.
We will capture this as a decision.
During the final minutes of the meeting, ask your note taker to review the action items and decisions documented during the discussion.
Each action item should be assigned to an individual. Ideally, a time frame for completion will be assigned as well.
This allows for accountability.
Reviewing these items with the team at the end of the meeting allows everyone to align on the outcome of the meeting.
Whether the objective was accomplished.
Or what has to occur next to accomplish the objective.
It will reduce the chances that people come out of the meeting with completely different perspectives of what was agreed upon.
10. Follow Up
What you do after the meeting is arguably more important than the meeting itself.
The other effective meeting strategies don't mean much without follow up.
The first thing you should do is generate meeting minutes from the notes.
Your meeting minutes should capture
If you would like to get this meeting minute template sent to your email (it’s free!) you can get it here:
Send these meeting minutes out to the team within 24 hours of the meeting occurring.
I use a simple email such as
Thanks so much for your participation in the meeting yesterday.
Attached are meeting minutes from our discussion. If I have missed anything or captured it incorrectly, please let me know.
Thanks so much,
Unless someone provides edits, this will serve as documentation of the team’s alignment.
It creates accountability.
From there, it is your responsibility to drive the action items you own and to follow up on action items assigned to others.
So those are my effective meeting strategies
Meetings are not painful if executed correctly. They are a vehicle to gain quick alignment and decisions.
They will go great if you use effective meeting strategies.
Do you have any additional effective meeting strategies to share?