Don’t Just Survive Boring Meetings, Conquer Them!

conquer boring meetings

Corporate America is obsessed with meetings.

They drag on endlessly, accomplish very little, and people seem to show up just to grab a free lunch, avoid getting in trouble, or for personal, political reasons.

At my previous position, there were days where I had to attend over seven and a half hours of meetings in a single day, and if I missed one, I’d be asked by management where I was. I wasn’t even allowed to take my laptop. When was I supposed to get any work done?

When I had the opportunity to run meetings, my attendees really enjoyed them. They were so refreshing & efficient compared to all the others and were well attended. People were actually engaged and proactive.

So what did I do differently? These tips below will help you run better meetings that your team will actually enjoys attending.

1. Is the meeting even necessary?

Talk to some key people before you think you need a meeting. Many times you can get all your questions answered by talking to one or two people. Do some knowledge mining with your coworkers. You’d be surprised how much you can get done by spending just a few minutes with the right people.

If you cannot get your questions answered, ask them if they’d be interested in joining a meeting to solve these issues. Those who are engaged beforehand are much more likely to attend your meeting and be active participants.

2. Create a solid agenda

Make a descriptive agenda well ahead of the meeting and send it to all parties so that people can prepare for discussion. Sometimes, it takes time to gather the correct information and many times email replies will answer all your questions. You can then cancel the meeting and give everyone their time back if your questions get answers. Other times, your attendees may tell you that you’re missing some key stakeholders and will help you get vital resources and attendees to your meeting.

Be sure to ask specific questions in the notice. Let everyone know what the issues are and maybe even a proposed solution to it. A well-prepared meeting will likely get you better attendance by all the important invitees.

3. Manage your invite list

Don’t invite someone because they MIGHT be needed at the meeting. Make sure they have a key role in the discussion. Small group discussions with the right people are more effective than a massive catchall wasting the time of dozens of people that usually end in off-topic conversations with little results.

If you feel someone is vital to a meeting, make sure you talk to him or her beforehand. Let them know that they are needed to have an effective conversation. This ensures your email invite doesn’t get lost in the wasteland of their inbox.

4. Send out reminders.

Send a reminder the morning of the meeting. If it’s a morning meeting, send one out the day before. This is paramount if the topic is important. Not everyone lives and dies by their calendars. They forget or just assume it’s not a vital meeting. Other times, they are double booked and need to know which meeting is more important.

5. Learn how to create useful slides

I cannot tell you how bad most people are at making PowerPoint slides. They either write a novel that rivals War & Peace or put up a graphic with so much information you need a telescope to see it. There are a lot of great tutorials of how to make effective and engaging slides. Use them to your advantage.

6. Manage the your time well

Set a precedent of starting on time. Some people will be late of course, but you’ll gain respect from others if you are punctual for all your meetings. And, it will encourage most attendees will make an effort to be on time for future meetings.

End your meeting early. Give a buffer to allow others to get to other meetings. Lots of people have back-to-back meetings, and will likely leave yours early to make it on time to another meeting anyway.

This also gives you a moment for those who have some extra time to talk about the “offline” issues (see next tip for definition). Those who are effectively engaged in the meeting will be eager to have an extension conversation, so utilize this time to help create a better solution to the issues.

7. Stay on topic

If two people are dominating a topic that is not necessary to resolve right at that moment, it is probably best to have them speak about the issue “offline” (talk in a small group outside the meeting).

Some issues cannot be resolved right away or there isn’t enough time to talk about it during that meeting. If it’s a major topic that needs more discussion, don’t be afraid to “table” it (delaying a topic until a future meeting) and create a new meeting to explore the conversation point further.

8. Take notes

If you are leading the meeting, have someone else take notes.  It’s too distracting to lead and brief the conversation and will usually break the flow and limit engagement.

Put action items right up top. Let’s be honest; we rarely read through all the notes when someone sends them out. By putting the action items at the beginning, it gives everyone a quick reminder what they are expected to do.

9. Follow Up

Don’t just expect everyone will get their tasks done by sending out the notes. Follow up with people to see if their action items were accomplished. It’s easy to get engagement at the meetings, but many times these tasks will fall off a participant’s radar. Ask them if they need help with their assignments or if they are facing any barriers to completing them.

10. Become a better public speaker – Toastmasters

The truth is, many of us are not very efficient at getting our point across. We either bore the audience by giving a very dry presentation, repeat the same points over and over, or worst of all, give a ton of unnecessary information. There are resources out there to help us give better presentations like Toastmasters. Many companies will even pay for it. Even if the company doesn’t front the cost, it’s a smart personal career move to improve your skills.