Drive Productivity During Meetings Using These 8 Tips

By Mark Beairsto

As a follow up to our recent post on effective meeting behaviors, I’ve put together 8 best practices that can help you and your teams make your meetings more effective and drive productivity.

1. Chair of the Meeting.

Every meeting should have one individual who is responsible for the management of the meeting itself.  A “chair” or “facilitator” of the meeting can be particularly useful if one or more of the participants in the meeting is participating via a conference call.  The chair or facilitator can manage the flow of the discussion and reduce participants speaking over one another or cross talking. Another useful technique for conference calls with large numbers of participants is for the chair to introduce the speaker(s) (or the speakers should identify themselves before speaking for the first time) in order to provide identity to the voice, particularly if some of the participants have not previously met or spoken with one another.

2.  Action Logs.

As noted in Part 1, assigning action items to individual accountable owners with specific due dates can dramatically increase the effectiveness of a meeting to ensure that the time invested in the meeting attains the maximum benefit.  Action logs, or meeting minutes, can be useful for recording these follow up items and responsibilities. In addition, circulating the action logs to other members of the team who were not at the meeting but that may be designated as “Informed“ in the RACI chart, is an effective way of communicating and keeping these individuals informed on the agenda items.

3. Close the Laptops.

If participants are going to attend a meeting, they need to be paying attention in order to meaningfully contribute and receive the benefits of attending the meeting. Participants cannot do this if they are focused on responding to emails or reviewing other materials.  If necessary, the chair or meeting facilitator should request that all laptops be closed and other electronic communications devices be put away at the start of the meeting.  If a participant’s attendance at a meeting is only relevant for certain agenda items, perhaps the agenda could be organized in such a way as to address that participant’s agenda items first (and then that participant can exit the meeting) or last (having that participant join the meeting at a particular time towards the end).

4. Time of the Meeting.

Morning meetings earlier in the week (Tuesday or Wednesday) can sometimes be more productive because the participants may be better prepared and engaged (i.e. not trying to catch up on Monday morning emergencies, or focused on getting tasks or reports completed before the weekend).  In addition, certain client resources may be working shortened workweeks (3-4 day weeks). With more use of flex hours and long commutes to the office, be careful not to schedule meetings too early in the morning as this may create challenges for the participants.

5. Detailed Agendas.

As noted in Part 1, the agenda for the meeting can be a very useful document to executing a successful meeting. In addition to setting out the agenda items to be discussed in the meeting, the format of the agenda can identify who is responsible for each item on the agenda, as well as an estimated period of time for each item on the agenda. The estimated period of time for each agenda item sets expectations for both the person tasked with that agenda item, as well as for the rest of the meeting participants, in trying to manage the time contract for the meeting schedule.

6. Food Can Drive Attendance.

If you want / need strong attendance at a meeting, such as an opening meeting on a new client engagement where you need to secure as much buy in for the project as possible, consider scheduling the meeting at lunch time and having lunch catered. Offering lunch requires a little extra planning, particularly if it is at the client site (i.e. special dietary restrictions and preferences; hot vs cold food; sweets vs fruit for dessert) but may result in higher attendance, and may put the participants in a better frame of mind if they are well fed.  On the flip side, a poor quality food can be counterproductive, and may leave a bad taste, so give food the planning it deserves.

7.  Cautionary Note on Screen Sharing Applications.

Many online meeting technologies now include a screen sharing feature. While these can be very effective in ensuring that all participants are able to identify and understand the specific topic or document that is being discussed, the presenter needs to be very careful that the screen sharing does not inadvertently disclose other confidential information that happens to be visible on the presenter’s desktop. Care should be taken to close any open emails, communication forums and applications before the start of the meeting so that there is no inadvertent disclosure when using these screen sharing applications.

8. Face to Face.

While not always possible, there are certain situations where a face-to-face meeting at a client site can be much more effective than a conference call meeting. For example, when attempting to sell a new idea or process change proposal or sell the client on a new piece of business, a face-to-face presentation is often more effective and successful.  The presenters can read the client’s reactions in real time, and sometimes more effectively handle in-presentation questions.  In addition, the clients generally appreciate their service providers taking the time and effort to travel to the client site, and it gives the consulting team a chance to understand better the client’s work environment and challenges that the client may be facing, as well as identifying opportunities to sell additional services that may be identified by being on site.