“Our Meetings Are Held To Discuss Many Problems Which Would Never Arise If We Held Fewer Meetings” – Ashleigh BrilliantI rarely see notes from conference-call meetings. IF an agenda is sent out, it is within 30 minutes of the call and comes with any reading material as preparation. What’s wrong with that? I’d like to share why I think these are not smart practices and provide some ideas I use to improve these meetings make them much more productive. So let’s look at ways to have more productive calls.
1. Issue an agenda
We always need something to keep everyone on track and ensure we cover the reason for the meeting. But an agenda isn’t enough to help a productive call. The agenda should also include the objective of the meeting and timing for each subject.
What is the required outcome? If there’s no objective there’s no reason for the meeting! The agenda should go out at least two days before the call so people can think about the subject in advance and prepare if necessary.
Given how many e-mails we all get, it is advisable to send the e-mail again about an hour before the meeting, serving as a reminder for the call, as well as the subjects to be covered.
2. Required reading
Send the required reading with the agenda. So many times I see this sent just before the call; so some people don’t get it, some don’t have time to read it, or some are reading it on the call instead of listening to the discussion and engaging in the conversation.
With so much information coming at us from so many different sources, few people read the materials before the call. How can we change that? Got any ideas? I’m open to them because it is a challenge.
3. Keep Communication short and simple
Send out a brief e-mail stating the purpose of the meeting and ensure the objective and/or desired outcome of the meeting is in the first line. If there is a link to the meeting, i.e. Cisco Web or Go to Meeting, make sure it’s embedded in the invite, rather than sending out yet another e-mail to clutter everyone’s inbox.
4. Keep distractions to the minimum
Ensure some ground rules. If people are on a mobile, suggest they mute when not talking, to minimize any extraneous noise; such as cars, dogs or trains, or people talking in the background. It’s especially distracting when you hear glasses clinking and “cheers” and “It’s your round Bob,” unless of course you are there too.
5. Be on time
I have noticed that participants are rarely on time. I think this is partly because they don’t feel such an urgency to be punctual as if it were a face-to-face meeting. If they are late, they don’t have to look anyone in the eye, or feel uncomfortable about walking around a conference table and trying to find a seat.
I also think it’s because some of, or all of the participants, do not have to move physically to a meeting room. They feel that the appointed time is just a call away and so they dial in at the appointed time instead of at least 5 minutes in advance.
It takes a minimum of 5 minutes for dialing in, entering the conference code, entering a bridge number and then the meeting code before you can enter the call, and sometimes longer if you are hooking up via a web link with your laptop or desktop. Set an alarm 10 minutes before the call and dial in after it goes off.
It is so frustrating when people have to be brought up to speed because they are late on the call. This kind of thing is what drives people to start looking at e-mails or doing other things on their devices while the newcomers are brought up to speed. Their attention is never quite the same again.
6. Ensure Participation
Go to each person at beginning and end of each agenda item for comment. Encourage discussion by asking open ended questions. Occasionally make a comment that seems to be against the general consensus and ask if everyone agrees or not.
Ask questions of specific people on the call. There’s nothing like keeping people’s attention if it’s likely they will be asked for their view in front of others.
7. Pay attention
In this day and age of multitasking, everyone is trying to do several things at once. Likely, at least one person in your meeting is dealing with the ever burdening amount of incoming e-mails.
With audio calls, it is difficult to see if people are paying attention, but if you start a trend of allocating action items to participants, you will see a sudden rise in the level of attention on the calls.
8. Allow Sufficient Time
One of Winston Churchill’s great quotes about speeches applies here. They should be “…like a woman’s dress, long enough to cover the subject and short enough to create interest.”
There is an increasing trend towards thinking that the shorter the meeting, the more efficient it will be. This is just not true; at least not true for all meetings. Usually a meeting has an exchange of views and discussion, unless of course it is merely for download of information. If that’s the case, a meeting is not necessary and the subject can be covered in yet another e-mail.
The purpose of a meeting is for discussion. Therefore, plenty of time should be allowed for this, otherwise people will feel underrepresented and the meeting will appear pointless. Set time for the meeting based on what is considered sufficient and allow more time than is required.
However, don’t also just allow meetings to drag on for the sake of it. Ensure all the points are raised, debated and closure is reached.
9. Stay on point
There is nothing worse than meetings traveling down pointless rabbit trails and allowing the creating of red herrings.
Make sure the agenda, as well as the stated objective of the meeting, keeps everyone focused and confined to the discussion that needs to take place.
10. Summarize the Action Needed
Lastly, but most importantly, someone has to capture the main points and particularly the Action Required. Identify the person with that responsibility ahead of time. This needs to be read out at the end so everyone can comment and have their input. Once agreed to, then it can published.
I hope this helps you run or participate in much more productive conference calls. I’d be really interested to hear any more ideas anyone may have to add to our learning on this subject, or indeed what you think of these.
I hope you have found this useful. Let me know if you have other tips we should share to make meetings more enjoyable and productive. Just leave your comments below and if you got this far…thank you!
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