Whether meeting are in person, virtual, or hybrid, they often have something in common: a late, disorganized start. People drift in at varying times, and those who arrive on time fill the void with bland small talk.
Best-selling author Vanessa Van Edwards suggests an approach that will launch meetings in a timely and positive way.
Van Edwards thinks a bad start is THE crippling aspect of meetings. People want to get things done, be productive, and waiting for latecomers is painful. The mindless chatting about yesterday’s game or weekend mishaps doesn’t help. By the time the meeting begins, the tone can be more negative than positive.
On Time and Positive
It’s inevitable that some attendees may not arrive exactly on time. That’s even more likely with hybrid and virtual meetings where last-minute technical difficulties like “no camera found” or an unexpected reboot can delay remote attendees.
Van Edwards suggests a simple solution: start the meeting on time and have whoever is present share something positive for the first three minutes of the meeting. She uses this approach herself. “My team knows this. They come to the meeting prepared to celebrate and have something good. Latecomers, if they miss it, it’s okay.”
These positive notes aren’t long-winded descriptions of a great experience. Rather, they are short and to the point.
Van Edwards explains, “Whoever is on the call first starts with something good. So, something good goes around. ‘Oh, I’m learning Mandarin.’ Someone says, ‘“Oh, I’m planting my garden.’ Someone says, ‘Oh, my daughter just graduated fifth grade.’”
The objective is to spend just the first three minutes or so on this positive exchange. “Everyone gets a quick share and it makes those first three minutes structured with something positive,” Van Edwards notes.
Set Expectations for Promptness
To prevent more severe tardiness and to keep individuals from missing important discussions, one has to set clear expectations. Van Edwards suggests saying some thing like, “We’re going to start at 3:05. If you have to go to the bathroom or grab coffee, do it in the first 5 minutes. We are going to start right at 3:05 and Tim is going to dive in with his agenda item right when we begin.”
This approach to starting a meeting accommodates those attendees running a little late but avoids what Van Edwards calls “the horrible beginning piece.” It sets a positive tone and ensures that meaningful discussion will start promptly.
A Few More Tips for Productive Meetings
Van Edward’s positive sharing approach works best for regular meetings with mostly the same attendees. Some meetings don’t repeat or have a changing cast of characters. Here are a few more tips that can help any meeting produce better results.
- Set clear objectives for the meeting. Before any meeting, it’s crucial that you know exactly what you want to accomplish. This will help everyone stay focused. Communicate the objectives to all attendees in advance.
- Create an agenda and send it in advance. An agenda helps keep meetings organized and on track. It should include a list of topics that will be discussed, and if appropriate, say how much time will be spent on each topic. Send the agenda to all attendees at least a day in advance so they can arrive prepared.
- Start and end the meeting on time. We’ve talked about the best way to start, but it’s also annoying to attendees when a meeting runs longer than scheduled. Be punctual and stick to the schedule for start time, topic times, and finish time. Watch the clock to be sure items near the end are wrapped up cleanly.
- Engage all attendees. A meeting is a conversation. Everyone should be able to contribute. Be sure to ask for input and feedback from all attendees. This is particularly important for virtual participants who can be overlooked or who may find it difficult to interrupt.
- Keep the meeting focused. It’s easy for meetings to get sidetracked by tangents or unrelated topics. Follow the agenda and meeting timeline. If someone starts to veer off-topic, politely remind them that their concern can be discussed at a different time.
- Follow up. After the meeting, it’s important to follow up on any action items or decisions that were made during the meeting. Send out a summary of the meeting, and clarify any tasks, assignments and deadlines.
Avoid Unnecessary Meetings
People almost universally complain that there are too many meetings and that they spend too much time in meetings. But, they keep showing up for those meetings. While it’s great to focus on making meetings better, I think it’s also important to ask two questions:
- Is this meeting truly necessary?
- Does every invited attendee truly need to be there?
When a meeting can be eliminated or its attendee list reduced, the entire organization will be more productive.