Not every meeting should be a meeting and many are far from helpful. So how do you make sure your meeting is worthwhile? We have all been invited to meetings that definitely could have been emails or been stuck in sessions that seem to go on for hours without anyone getting anywhere. There is nothing more frustrating when you’ve got a lot of work to get through than an ineffective meeting taking up your time. Whether you’re in the office or you work remotely, a bad meeting can ruin your day, mean you get behind on your work and leave you feeling like you’ve not accomplished anything. So how do you change this? Learning how to hold an effective meeting – whether you’re all in one room or working remotely – is the best way to ensure you get everything you need to out of a session, avoid going off on tangents and don’t waste anyone’s time. You’ll probably find that you need to have fewer meetings as a result, meaning you can focus on more important tasks – like the rest of your job! Do you really need a meeting? Before you send out that meeting invite, think about whether you actually need to have the meeting in the first place. Can you just email those involved, pick up the phone or even sent an instant message? Exactly what are you going to achieve in a meeting that you can’t achieve another way? If the answer to that question is ‘nothing’, don’t have a meeting. You’ll only end up wasting yours and other people’s time and it will likely take longer to get to the right outcome, especially compared to an email. Of course, if sending an email results in more questions coming up and a need for a meeting, get it in the calendar. It’s always a good idea to explore other options first. Create a helpful agenda Notice how this time isn’t just called ‘create an agenda’? That’s because far too many people are happy to create an agenda that is about as much help as a chocolate teapot. A simple list should be the starting point of your agenda, not the whole thing. Yes, you may be reviewing performance but performance, in particular, will you look at during this part of your meeting? Giving extra information will ensure that people come with the right information and that they have time to prepare. This will save the scramble for internet connection to find an answer or someone looking bad because they can’t remember a figure they didn’t know you’d need. Add some details to your agenda so everyone knows what to expect, what to bring and even who else should attend the meeting. Ultimately, a decent agenda will keep your meeting flowing, avoid wasted time and allow you to keep things on track. Avoid the tangents You know what’s worse than not having a meeting agenda? Having an agenda but not sticking to it. If you do this, you are part of the problem and must be stopped. The agenda is there to ensure that everyone can prepare for the meeting but also to make sure your meeting has a structure that allows you to get through everything you need to within the allotted time. Failing to stick to this structure can mean your meetings goes on forever or that it fast becomes multiple meetings. If you are leading the meeting, you need to hold yourself accountable and stop yourself from going off on different subjects that aren’t going to help you get a resolution. Similarly, if someone else goes off on a tangent, you need to be able to step in and get them back to the point you are all meant to be discussing. You can either do this gently with a reminder that the meeting is about a certain topic or add some fun to the proceedings by introducing a way that anyone can let someone know they are going off-plan – such as a bell, tapping on the table or (for those who it’s really hard to stop) an airhorn. If someone brings up something that should be discussed but isn’t quite relevant to what you are talking about at the time, add it to an ‘any other business’ list to be covered at the end of the meeting – if there’s time that is. Take a break Long meetings are sometimes unavoidable, as much as we would all like to avoid them. Unfortunately, you can’t be sick or mysteriously ‘unavailable’ for every three-hour meeting, so you’ll occasionally have to attend one. To help avoid everyone getting fatigued, which usually means no one wants to pipe up as they all just want everything to come to an end, make sure you take regular breaks. Give people time to pop to the loo, make a coffee or grab a snack so they can refresh themselves and be ready to carry on participating. You can even add breaks to your agenda so everyone knows that you are factoring them in. Even better, you can let them know that snacks are provided (although this might be difficult if you’re having a video conference) to get them into a good mood straight away. Have a designated note taker We’ve all been there. You’re in a meeting trying desperately to write down a point that was just made as you really need to remember it when someone asks you a question that you totally miss. While taking notes is important, participation in a meeting is more important, after all, that’s why you’ve been asked to attend in the first place. While people will want to make their own notes, they shouldn’t feel pressured into writing down every little thing. This is why it is a good idea to have a designated note-taker in attendance. A note-taker can focus on getting all the important points down on paper so others can focus on everything on the agenda without missing anything. You can then provide the notes to all attendees after the meeting so they are able to review them. This is also a good way for you to keep track of things so you don’t end up covering the same ground in future meetings. Send a summary Your meeting shouldn’t just end once everyone is out of the door, you also need to follow it up. Send a summary to those who attended and anyone who missed the meeting to outline the important decisions and actions, as well as who is responsible for what. This will ensure that everyone fully understands the outcome of the meeting and whether they have anything they need to pick up. Too often people will forget what they’ve agreed to do, so this ensures everyone is aware of what the next steps are. While you should send the notes taken during the meeting with this email, your summary should be a brief bullet-point list. If you need to provide more information for certain people, do this separately to avoid other people skim-reading and missing something really important. It also means loads of people won’t be stuck in an email chain they don’t need to be party to. Have effective meetings Now all that’s left for you to do is have effective meetings – as well as hopefully fewer meetings! Plus, you can always send this advice to others in your company to make sure that the meetings they lead are just as effective.