What is it about meetings? SurveyMonkey and Clockwise asked U.S. workers what they’d rather be doing than attend a bad meeting, and the results were, in no particular order, “go to the dentist, talk politics at family dinner, watch C-SPAN in a waiting room, and call their internet service provider.”
And not just employees hate meetings. Harvard Business Review finds that 71% of senior managers said meetings are unproductive and inefficient. In fact, before sending out that calendar invitation, you might want to make sure you actually need a meeting in the first place.
So why have meetings at all? Because effective meetings are still essential collaborative gatherings that promote team building, foster growth by generating new ideas, and allow a company to follow up on feedback and suggestions from their employees.
We talked to CEOs, VPs, and educators around the web to see if they had any expert tips for running effective meetings and how you could make your own more effective by following their advice.
Make structure your first priority
Go into any office in your company and invite several people to a meeting. Don’t tell them what it’s about or why they’re being invited. When you have their undivided attention, start the meeting by talking about issues that have nothing to do with them. That’s the hallmark of an ineffective meeting, and it happens in companies everywhere.
Structure should be your first priority in any meeting. Without structure, your meeting has no purpose or necessity. And meetings without purpose can cost your company a lot of money.
Doodle, an online scheduling platform, found that unnecessary meetings could add up to a cumulative $399 billion loss to U.S. industries. To prevent meetings from costing you, Jeff Meeks, VP of Sales and Marketing at EnergyFit, suggests establishing a simple structure for your meetings.
“Identify a single main topic for your meeting and keep the meeting to a short 15 minutes and write out an agenda,” he says, “with no more than three bullet points touching on the main topic, allocating five minutes for each point.”
“The goal,” Meeks says, “is to hold the attention span of your audience, while covering your subject matter and not losing productive hours.”
Emily Johnson, Head, LiveWire Leads Team, points out, “Don’t talk continuously at a stretch. Ask for opinions and ideas at regular intervals. Ask for everyone to put forward their opinions one by one and then vote on said opinions.”
If you’re using a platform like MURAL, you can increase engagement in these conversations and polls by using Facilitator Superpowers™ features like Private Mode, and anonymous voting — two things that both prevent group-think from making your meeting less impactful, as well as garner more honest feedback by creating an environment of psychological safety.
Turn statistics into stories
Case studies are just facts with stories first and numbers second. This is why people are more engaged with case studies than just statistics — they tell the stories behind the numbers.
Thomas Fultz, Founder and CEO of Coffeeble, suggests using “storytelling elements to engage your audience while you make your point. This is a tried and tested method and works like a charm.”
Engage your meeting participants with a story before you go into the numbers — like how raising your child helps you deal with customers or an example of a social media faux pas you recently encountered. This gets participants’ attention, puts them at ease, and helps lead into the numbers discussion with their full attention.
Prepare and engage participants — especially in virtual meetings
Passive participants in meetings can hurt your meeting in two ways.
First, they create awkward silences in the meeting as the facilitator solicits the team for ideas and observations. If you're paying for a video conferencing service like Zoom, every wasted opportunity to speak represents a dollar amount wasted. Second, not getting feedback and suggestions from brainstorming may result in missing out on great ideas.
“I like to use Jeff Bezos' method, in which everyone must read a pre-meeting document describing the agenda before commencing a meeting,” Rolf Bax, CHRO at Resume.io tells us. “This allows everyone to absorb crucial meeting context, anonymously express views about the subject, and arrive at the meeting fully prepared to participate.”
Take notice of who’s a contributor and who’s not. In order to promote inclusion and diversity in your next meetings, be cognizant of an attendee's mental health issues — are they disinterested or just shy? Are they fidgeting because they're nervous, or is their anxiety a medical issue? You won't always elicit a clear shot at participation — introverts unite! But quietly, quietly... — but you can gently ask if a non-participant has any questions or concerns. Don't single them out, as that will only increase their non-participation and turn the meeting into an awkward showdown. Instead, ask all in the room for a suggestion or opinion on the matter, and kindly encourage them to speak as you go down the line.
Related: How to Empower Introverts to Contribute in Meetings
A best practice is to just talk conversationally with your participants. Lindsey Allard, CEO and Co-Founder of PlaybookUX, told us: “Try and make the meeting conversational. It has a good chance of getting more people involved and can be much more engaging than if one person is speaking. Remember: It’s a meeting, not a TED Talk. And create headlines like BUDGET or PROBLEMS WITH CIRCULATION. This also makes the tone more conversational as well.”
Again, using a visual collaboration platform can help alleviate this traditionally one-directional approach to meetings. Rather than just running through a Powerpoint presentation, a shared digital space levels the playing field and gives everyone the opportunity to engage in a meaningful way.
Related: 5 actionable tips to improve meeting engagement
Define roles to cut down on time
Are you the meeting guide or the meeting hero? Gavin Johnson, Managing Director at Evking, explains: “Embrace the role of meeting guide rather than meeting hero — rather than attempting to show how good, confident, and knowledgeable you are, guide the meeting topic to where it needs to be. This will guarantee the process moves quickly .”
In order to cut down on the amount of time wasted discussing roles, make sure they're defined before the meeting starts, and then identify those roles to the other participants. By doing this at the beginning of the meeting, there’s less chatter during the meeting about who's doing what. This helps in two ways — it lets participants know who’s taking ownership of key parts of the meeting, and it gives them confidence the issues raised will be addressed — and by whom.
Use the right tools to facilitate effectively
Establishing meeting goals and objectives can take a lot of work, and it can sometimes be confusing — but project management tools can help — and most new facilitators will need help to build more productive meetings. Lee Gimpel, Founder and Principal at BetterMeetings.expert, tells us you should “Augment meetings with collaborative tools. I frequently recommend collaborative whiteboards like MURAL because they’re a really easy, fun, and effective way to engage an audience on a topic rather than just talking at them. ”
MURAL has templates and resources dedicated to helping meeting coordinators and facilitators organize their board meetings more effectively. And now, with the Free Forever plan, you can test drive MURAL templates and see for yourself how they can supercharge your productivity and workflow process.
Final thoughts: make people want to come to your meeting
Don’t let your meetings play second fiddle to dental work or watching C-SPAN. An effective meeting saves a company time and resources and lets everyone get back to work as quickly as possible with the knowledge that action items came out of the meeting.
But future meetings don’t have to be a waste of time. With a little guidance from the right tools, planning and facilitating meetings can be more straightforward — and fun. MURAL and their new Free Forever plan will assist you as you facilitate better meetings and increase your engagement with your participants. Also remember to check out The Ultimate Meeting Facilitation Toolkit for you to browse with helpful hints on meetings, agendas, icebreakers, energizers and more.
Joining a meeting and want to take better notes? Check out our 5 tips for more effective note-taking in meetings.
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