Make your meetings valuable again

Meetings are the worst, aren’t they? They can be a lot better if we stick to a small set of rules about structuring and hosting meetings.

Communicate your agenda. Prepare the agenda with a defined set of topics and send it out ahead of time. This seems like the easy thing to do but I’ve been in many meetings that didn’t even have an agenda.

Pick the right meeting form. If you want to discuss something in deep with one person or a small group, don’t invite anyone else just so that they can hear the results. Invite others only if you want them to actively take part in the discussion. Discussion and information should not be done in the same part of the meeting.

Select the participants. The meeting host must decide about presenters. Host and each presenter then decide together about the needed participants. Don’t ask the participants whether they want to stay or invest their precious time differently. They don’t know what the meeting will be about.

Size matters. If you want to discuss an open issue, select the bare minimum of participants, usually that’s not more than four, two being better. Don’t discuss an open issue if some participants are not required. You are wasting their time.

Communicate the goal of each topic. Every topic on the agenda should have its own goal: sometimes it is for the presenter to just receive feedback and sometimes it is about finding a solution to an open issue together with all participants.

Stick to the agenda. So many meetings get carried away because the host let a discussion start even though that discussion was not planned. Time-box the agenda.

Allow presenters and participants to leave. Longer meetings are usually many meetings compressed into one and participants have to sit through all topics on the agenda even though they have no interest in them. If someone cannot contribute, then that person should be allowed to leave the room and come back later, if needed.

Participants should come prepared. Depending on the topics on the agenda, participants should prepare whatever is needed to make a meeting valuable to everyone. If you can’t prepare, then don’t believe that you can do it on the fly during the meeting. Instead, don’t join the meeting.

Presenters must come prepared with a golden thread. If you are supposed to present something, then you must come prepared with a golden thread. Invest some time ahead of the meeting to think about how to best communicate your thoughts and questions to all participants. Don’t think that you can just show some information. Don’t think that you can present on the fly.

Stick to your goal. If receiving feedback is the goal of the presenter, then stop when the feedback is given. Check whether the presenter has enough feedback to carry on. Only begin to solve the tasks of the presenter, if that was the goal. Otherwise, go to the next topic on the agenda.

Listen with respect to others. If someone asks a question, then the addressee asks whether the question has been sufficiently answered. If there is no follow-up question, another participant can ask the next question. Don’t use a silent moment of thought to post your question or comment.

Invite others to ask their questions. If you had your round of questions, invite others to ask theirs. Don’t dominate the room.

Be passionate about solving the underlying problem not about your solution. Be open to the ideas of the other participants. If they hadn’t good ideas as well, then they wouldn’t be needed in this meeting and wouldn’t have been invited in the first place.

Write and publish notes. See how to make your meetings memorable.

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