Whether you work for a tiny startup, a huge corporation, or anything in between, good communication and regular information sharing are vital for success. Just as old as business itself, meetings are meant to be a valuable way to make sure everyone is working hard toward the same north star.
And yet, most of us hate them. As you likely know all too well, meetings are often counter-productive and take up way more time than they’re worth. There isn’t much worse than leaving the room wondering what you just spend an hour doing, especially on a jam-packed day.
But do they have to be that way? Nope. To make the most of any meeting you schedule or attend, you just have to consciously avoid the most troublesome time sucks. Need some help? We put together a list of tricks you can use for shorter and more productive meetings that are more likely to be an outstanding use of everyone’s time.
1. Banish Technical Problems
Seconds spent on technical glitches can quickly morph into minutes or, worse, take up half of a meeting. This is especially common when it comes to communicating with people who aren’t physically present. Since the last thing anyone wants is to sit around while you try and get your laptop hooked up to a projector or listen to 10 minutes of “can you hear me now?” from someone joining remotely, get yourself equipped with the right tools to make everything run smoothly.
In addition to screen sharing and projection technology for everyone on-site, reliable software that connects you with remote teammates is essential. The free version of Skype Meetings is a great solution, as anyone can quickly join with a customized (and easy to remember) URL from any device—without having to spend time signing up for an account or digging up dial in numbers.
2. Plan Shorter Meetings
The traditional hour-long meeting can drag on for what seems like forever, with little pressure to wrap things up and move on. So planning a shorter meeting can do wonders for efficiency—there simply isn’t any time to waste!
When setting up a meeting, challenge yourself to be really honest about how long it will take—and to maybe schedule a little less time than you think you need. Remember that meeting lengths don’t always have to be in 30-minute increments and that shaving just five or 10 minutes you don’t need off of each one can add up fast.
Pro tip: Consider setting a timer on your computer that everyone can see during the meeting—watching the time tick away will help keep you on track.
3. Set a Specific Agenda and Stick to it
Creating an agenda may seem like a dated practice, but it’s actually one of the most useful ways to keep a meeting moving forward quickly. Think about it: If you just send around an invite to discuss “product offerings” with no other context, everyone may come to the meeting with different ideas of what’s going to be covered, and you’ll waste time getting on the same page.
Instead, send an agenda out a day or two ahead of time, and be as specific as possible. Try the following simple format for each topic you need to discuss:
- Specific topic [Amount of time to spend on it]
- What needs to be prepared ahead of the meeting
- What updates will be given during the meeting
- What questions need to be answered during the meeting
It’s especially important to set an amount of time for each topic—this will keep you honest about what can realistically fit in the meeting and give you free rein to move people forward when it’s time for the next agenda item.
4. Show, Don’t Tell
A picture says 1,000 words—and that applies to meetings, too! Images, graphs, and charts can often help you clearly communicate instead of speaking to each point—not to mention save everybody time.
So when you’re preparing, think about visuals that could make communicating your thoughts easier. Why spend time explaining a product update when you could demonstrate it live? Why try to come up with words to share a complex idea when a diagram could do it in seconds?
If you’re in a room with all of your colleagues, don’t be afraid to hop up and use the whiteboard or flip your computer around to show off what you’re working on. If you’re meeting with remote folks this can be trickier, but products like free Skype Meetings often offer plenty of collaboration tools that make it a breeze to share visual thoughts and findings on screen. For example, free Skype Meetings’ easy PowerPoint uploader (with interactive tools like a virtual laser pointer) or screen sharing feature lets you people through visuals you thoughtfully prepared in advance, and the virtual whiteboarding tool lets your colleagues sketch out ideas in real time.
5. Know How to Let Everyone Weigh In
Yes, a meeting should be all about collaboration, but when everyone’s trying to speak their piece, the conversation can quickly become longer than everyone intended. So, try looking for creative ways for everyone to weigh in without necessarily taking up meeting time.
For example, polls or a quick show of hands are useful ways to avoid getting too many opinions or a discussion that quickly turns into everyone talking over each other when trying to get a quick consensus—a frustrating waste of time. If you’re holding a virtual meeting, you could use an integrated IM feature like the one Skype Meetings’ free product offers to have people submit questions to be answered at the end, or allow people to voice non-urgent thoughts to be followed up on after the meeting.
6. Cut Out Meetings You Don’t Actually Need to Go To
Though it might seem like you need to attend every meeting you’re invited to, it’s okay to opt out of one that you know won’t be a good use of your time. If you’re not presenting or it doesn’t closely correlate with something you’re working on, it might be best to catch up on the key points afterward.
Remember that a good employee and strong teammate knows how to prioritize and be productive. Your decisions and output affect everyone, so remind yourself that how you use your time has an impact on your team, too.
Not sure how to graciously opt out? Talk to the organizer directly to let him or her know that while you appreciate being looped in, you’re in a great groove with whatever you’re working on and would prefer to catch up on later. If the organizer is your boss, be sure to include a note about your progress and your specific plan for moving forward with something like, “I’m excited about today’s discussion, but am still pulling numbers for Project Blue. Would you mind if I kept my head down and caught up on notes later?”
Meetings can truly be some of the best time spent in your day, as long as they’re thoughtfully planned and masterfully run. These tricks should help get you there!
Photo of people meeting courtesy of Hinterhaus Productions/Getty.