Communications Basics: Meeting Etiquette

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Meeting Etiquette

Think about the last time you were invited to a business meeting. How did you feel? If you’re like a lot of people, your immediate thought might be that the meeting is going to be a waste of time, begin complain to your colleagues, roll your eyes, and expect to be bored.

Meetings are an essential part of communication in any business setting. And by learning some basic meeting skills, we can have the biggest impact and stop the cycle of boring, pointless meetings. The good news is that whether you’re leading the meeting or you’re just a participant, you can have an impact on whether or not that meeting is a success.

According to authors, Kathleen Allen and Peter Economy, there are 8 ways to make a meeting more effective:

  1. Be Prepared

Meetings are work, so just as in any other work activity, the better prepared you are for them, the better the results you can expect. This is even more important if you are leading the meeting. Start with the meeting’s purpose and build the agenda around that purpose. It may help you to even envision the meeting staying laser-focused on that purpose.

  1. Have an Agenda

An agenda is a list of the topics to be covered during the course of a meeting. Having a fully prepared agenda is crucial to the success of any meeting. It shows participants not only the purpose of the meeting, but where the meeting will end up and what will be covered along the way. 

The most successful leaders distribute the agenda and any pre-work before the meeting so that participants can prepare for ahead of time. As a result, they will be immediately engaged in the business of the meeting and far less time will be wasted during the meeting if everyone is clear of what’s to be accomplished in advance.

  1. Start on Time and End on Time, EVERY Time

Everyone has suffered through meetings that went beyond the scheduled ending time. This shows a lack of boundaries and poor time management by the meeting leader. If you announce the length of the meeting, you MUST stick to it. It will keep your participants engaged and invested in the meeting, and shows you respect their time.

  1. Have Fewer Meetings

A simple rule: Don’t call a meeting unless it’s absolutely necessary. Before you call a meeting, ask yourself whether you can achieve your goal in some other way, perhaps through a one-on-one discussion with someone in your organization, a telephone conference call, or a simple exchange of a brief email. Even though you may reduce the number of meetings you have, be sure to improve the quality of the meetings you DO have.

  1. Include, Rather Than Exclude

Meetings are only as good as the ideas the participants bring forward. Great ideas can come from anyone in an organization, not just managers, high-level executives or people directly involved with the meeting’s focus. Great leaders know that some of the most important and impactful ideas come from team members who may have limited involvement in a project. 

  1. Maintain Focus with a Parking Lot

Meetings can easily get off track and even more easily stay off track. And when that happens everyone knows it. Leaders must keep meetings focused on agenda items. Sometimes important topics come up during the meeting but are not related to the agenda at hand. You definitely want to capture these ideas and topics – remember, include, don’t exclude – so put them on the parking lot to discuss off line and make sure to find time to follow up. Once you’ve done this, get the meeting back on track.

  1. Capture and Assign Action Items

Most meetings result in action items for everyone involved. Don’t assume that everyone is going to remember all the details. Instead, save a few minutes for the end of the meeting to summarize the outcome, as well as go over assignments and deadline. Then, once the meeting is over email a copy of this summary to all attendees.

  1. Get Feedback

Every meeting has room for improvement. Be sure to solicit feedback from meeting attendees on how the meeting went right for them — AND how it went wrong. Whatever the problems, you can’t fix them if you don’t know about them. You can use a simple form to solicit feedback, or you can simply informally speak with attendees after the meeting to get their input. The more questions you ask, the more ammunition you have to make your next meeting even better.

Those are the basics for running or participating in great meetings. We’re on our way to breaking the cycle of boring, pointless meetings!

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