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Seven Ways to Make Meetings More Efficient

Here are seven ways to increase the efficiency and improve the results of meeting time.

1. Is It Necessary?

Ask, “Is this meeting necessary?” Many meetings turn out in retrospect to be unnecessary. There are other ways to achieve the same goal. Sometimes you can achieve it by circulating a memo. You can have a conference call. You can speak to people individually. You can even postpone it to another meting or another time altogether. If a meeting is not necessary, avoid holding it whenever possible.

If the meeting is necessary, ask, “Is it necessary for me to attend this meeting?” If it is not necessary for you to attend, don’t go in the first place. If it is not necessary for someone else to attend a particular meeting, make sure that he knows so that he does not have to be there.

2. Write an Agenda

If you have determined that the meeting is necessary, establish a clear purpose for the meeting and write up an agenda. An excellent time management tool is for you to write a one paragraph statement of purpose for the meeting. Complete the sentence, “We are having this meeting to achieve this specific goal:” and then write out the objective of the meeting.

This is a tremendous discipline. Make out an agenda or a list of everything that has to be covered in the meeting. Next to each item, put the name of the person who is expected to address that particular issue. Distribute the agenda, if possible, at least 24 hours in advance so that each person knows what they will be expected to contribute. They will know what the objective of the meeting is and what will be discussed. This applies to one on one meetings with your boss, with your subordinates, with your customers, with your suppliers and whoever else.

Create Agendas for One on One Meetings

One of the most helpful techniques you can use in business is to draw up an agenda for each meeting with your boss. I learned this many years ago as a junior executive. Prior to using this technique, we would spend an hour talking around in circles with no clear beginning or end. Once we had an agenda to work from, we could cover more information with greater clarity in fifteen minutes than we used to cover in sixty minutes.

Sometimes I would type up the agenda before the meeting. On other occasions, I would just write it up by hand, photocopy it, give him a copy, keep a copy for myself and then say, “These are the things I want to discuss with you.” We would then go down the list, item by item, and get resolution of each point. I would them be out of his office and back to work. My boss really appreciated this approach. As a result, he was always willing to see me because I took up so little of his time.

3. Start and Stop on Time

Start and stop the meeting on time. Set a schedule for the beginning of the meeting, and set a time for the end of the meeting. If the meeting is going to run from eight until nine, start it at eight o’clock sharp and end it at nine o’clock sharp.

The worst type of meetings are the ones that start at a specific time but have no clearly determined ending time.

Here is another rule: don’t wait for the latecomer. Assume the latecomer is not coming at all, and start at the designated time. It is unfair to punish the people who are there on time by making them wait for the person who gets there late, if at all.

Many companies establish the policy of locking the meeting room from the inside at the exact time the meeting is scheduled to start. The people who show up late are not allowed in. You can be sure that they don’t show up late the next time.

4. Cover Important Items First

Cover the most important items first. When you draw up the agenda, apply the 80/20 Rule. Organize the agenda so that the top 20% of items are the first items to be discussed. This way, if you run out of time, you will have covered the items that represent 80% of the value of the meeting before the time runs out.

5. Summarize Each Conclusion

When you discuss each item, summarize the discussion and get closure. Get agreement and completion on each item before you go onto the next one. Restate what has been decided upon and agreed to with each item before you proceed.

6. Assign Specific Responsibility

If you have made a decision, assign responsibility for the specific actions agreed upon and set deadlines. Remember, discussion and agreement without an assignment of responsibility and a deadline for completion is merely a conversation. Be clear about who is going to do what and by when.

7. Keep Notes and Circulate Minutes

A key to assuring maximum effectiveness from meetings is to keep accurate notes and to circulate the minutes of the meeting within 24 hours whenever possible. The person with accurate minutes from a meeting that can be pulled out a week or a month later can resolve a lot of potential misunderstandings.

Agendas prepared in advance, followed by meeting minutes shortly afterwards, assure that everyone is clear about their agreed upon responsibilities and deadlines.

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