9 Smart Steps to Get More Out of Your Next Business Meeting
Some people love a good business meeting, while others avoid them. However you feel, meetings are a crucial piece to most thriving organizations.
The problem is so many business meetings are unproductive! They're often unnecessary or mismanaged, which doesn't help anyone.
In fact, Atlassian reports that Americans spend 31 hours a month in unproductive meetings, costing employers about $37 billion a year!
So what can you do to ensure your meetings are worth it? Plenty. Just follow these 9 smart steps to get more out of your next business meeting!
PC: Atlassian, Time Wasting at Work
1. Determine whether you actually need a meeting.
Each of us can tell a story of some meeting that wasted our time. No one needs to suffer through that, so use these criteria to determine whether a meeting is actually worth having.
Why do you want to have a meeting?
Business meetings typically share 1 of 2 purposes:
- You either need to share information, or
- You need to solve a problem
When you need to do both, then yes, a meeting is warranted. Otherwise, you might want to reconsider. A good example is the quarterly review, where you need to share what happened last quarter, and collaborate on solutions for the coming quarter.
Another popular example is the weekly debriefing. This is something that's been valuable for us at Text Request, as well as other companies.
Every Monday, we take 20-30 minutes to discuss what happened last week, what's on the agenda for the coming week, and what we need help with.
These meetings help our team run smoother and faster, because we're sharing and solving with a clear objective.
What's the objective?
Before setting up a meeting, you need to know its purpose. What information needs to be shared, and which problems need to be solved?
Instead of meeting to "get everyone on the same page," only create the meeting if you know what needs to be discussed - like, "how we can increase revenue through content."
You're going to get more out of your next business meeting if there's a valid objective that others can prepare for. Though once you have an objective, you still need to ask whether it warrants a meeting.
Could your meeting be condensed to an email, or even a text?
It’s good to communicate with each other, but that time needs to bring value to everyone. Ask yourself: Would we be better off with an email explaining this situation, or even a text?
Sometimes the answer will be "yes," and sometimes it will be "no."
Whenever you can save time and accomplish your goals, everyone wins. But if there’s more to be said that won't easily fit in an email, or you think it will take a bigger discussion, then feel free to schedule that meeting.
2. Decide who needs to be there.
Often, someone who isn’t directly tied to the meeting would still gain value from it. E.g., someone in marketing wants to better understand what you're doing in sales.
Before sewing up your list of attendees, think of whom might gain value from the discussion. You probably wouldn't force them to go, but you can at least make an offer.
On the other hand, sometimes a person who is directly tied to the subject doesn’t need to be there. You might need to meet with the managers and not the assistants, or just a few people instead of the whole team.
And sometimes the only “business meeting” you need is a simple conversation with 1 or 2 people.
Before scheduling a meeting, think through whom would give or gain the most value, and let the rest keep working.
3. Provide meeting materials early.
Occasionally you need to setup a business meeting on short notice. Normally, though, you have plenty of time to organize and prepare for it. Use this time wisely!
Start by giving attendees plenty of heads up about the meeting. Give them a chance to shift their schedules, re-prioritize to-do lists, or talk to you ahead of time.
You should also provide any meeting materials before the meeting itself. Create and share handouts, presentations, spreadsheets, etc. early so that others have a chance to prepare, too.
PC: Washington Post
When you wait until the meeting to dump all that information on people, you leave them struggling to process what’s going on. This keeps everyone from offering their best, and ultimately holds your company back.
Who wants that?
But when you share details early, everyone gets a chance to prepare, and to come up with questions or comments for discussion. This helps you create more productive and valuable meetings where people are more engaged.
That's what you want! If there's a surprise you want to keep secret, fine. Otherwise, you’ll get more out of your next business meeting by providing people with the tools they need to prepare.
4. Take handwritten notes.
Key to getting more out of your next business meeting is a fully engaged audience. Unfortunately, our awesome digital devices won’t help us here, but a good old fashioned legal pad and pen will!
Instead of typing notes or comments, write them. There are at least 3 benefits:
If you’re on your phone or computer during a meeting, the person speaking can’t tell if you’re engaged or distracted. And no amount of trust will fix this!
Everyone will get more out of the meeting by staying off phones and computers. It’s a best practice for showing respect to your colleagues, and by removing these distractions, you'll also be more engaged.
Taking notes on your phone opens the door to “just check something else real quick.” Before you know it, your attention has been stolen, and it can take 25 minutes or more to get it back!
PC: National Pen, Benefits of Handwriting vs. Typing
25 minutes is also longer than the recommended length of time to spend on business meetings. So 1 distraction from your phone or computer could make you entirely useless for the whole meeting. Who does that help?
Better Memory Retention
It’s well documented that handwritten notes lead to better retention and performance than typed notes. Sure, it might be a little slower, but that’s what gives your brain a chance to process the information.
If you want to get the most out of your next business meeting, make sure you remember what was said! Taking handwritten notes allows you and others to be more engaged, show respect, and better process the material.
5. Be concise and keep it brief.
Some of the best meetings we’ve had were several hours long, where everyone was engaged and came up with solutions to complex problems. But that’s the edge case for any company.
9 times out of 10, less is more.
The world’s greatest writers are recognized for being able to say more with less. The most binge-worthy TV shows are 22-minute sitcoms.
People listen to podcasts for 18-22 minutes on average. And the most famous speeches are often the shortest.
All of this shows that keeping your business meeting to about 20 minutes is a good plan. Sometimes you’ll need to have longer discussions, but staying concise will keep everyone engaged.
6. Confirm next steps before the meeting adjourns.
It’s easy for a business meeting to end without clear next steps, but most meetings need follow-up, even if everything was "resolved" in the meeting.
Maybe so-and-so needs to finalize a proposal, or you need to talk to someone else, or a manager needs to implement the strategy that was just discussed.
Something needs to happen next, and people tend to forget. What should you do?
Recap and confirm next steps at the end of your meeting. This ensures no one drops any balls, and is an effective step to maximize your meeting value.
7. Follow up with a “thank you” and a debrief.
Anyone worth having in that meeting is worth thanking for their input. Everyone can bring value, and it’s good to let everyone know you value what they bring!
Thanking participants shows you listened, that you care about their input, and motivates people to be more involved in future meetings.
You can thank everyone at the end of the meeting as you confirm next steps, or you can pull people aside and thank them privately later.
You’ll also get more out of you next business meeting if you send a brief email of what was discussed and who’s responsible for next steps. No one will remember everything, and this creates a good reference for the future.
8. Do those next steps ASAP.
There are plenty of reasons to get things done quickly - to propel the company forward, get things off your to-do list, even because you’re excited about the meeting you just had!
The 2 biggest reasons to follow up on these next steps, though, are:
- To take and display initiative, and
- To motivate others to keep the ball moving
Office dynamics are like dominoes. If you do the best job you can at a great pace, others will, too, and so on. The same dynamic works in reverse if you lag behind.
To get more out of your next business meeting, make sure the meeting isn't held in vain by getting your follow-up tasks done quickly. In most cases, the sooner you finish, the better off everyone will be!
9. Privately ask for feedback.
The only way to improve is by a process of learning and implementing. We learn where we can improve, and we implement a tactic to get better.
Often, the best sources for learning how to improve our communications are the people we communicate with. So ask! But don’t back them into a corner.
PC: officevibe, Employee Feedback Infographic
Go to your colleagues individually and privately to ask how you can get better. Perhaps you phrase the question like:
“I’m trying to get better at how I communicate in meetings. We’re in meetings together a lot. What would be helpful for you, or where do you think I can improve?”
Some might be hesitant to critique you, but an approach like this will at least keep their defenses down.
Trying to improve after every business meeting (or every few) is a smart step that will inevitably help you and your team get more out of your next business meeting. If you keep getting better, you’ll keep adding value!
The Finishing Touches
Business meetings have become a controversial topic over the years, with many feeling they’re too constrained and old fashioned.
It's a shame, because meetings can offer a lot of value with the right technique! And besides, meetings are necessary to any thriving organization, so it’s in our best interest to make the most of them.
That’s what you’ll be able to do through these smart steps. Follow this list, and you’ll definitely get more out of your next business meeting!