When we run a meeting masterfully, we can secure what we need much more effectively, which is a far better use of our time. We will earn greater respect and cooperation from meeting participants for valuing their time, as well.
Here are my 10 tips to running effective and efficient virtual meetings that will leave participants feeling energized and accomplished.
1. Have a Clear Meeting Objective. Having a desired outcome for the meeting provides a reason to attend and keeps everyone focused and on task. We need to know whether our objective is decision-making, decision-taking, brainstorming or the discovery of problems and possible solutions. If the purpose of the meeting is purely informational to keep attendees updated, I adamantly believe the kindest and gentlest format for this is email.
2. Keep the Guest List Small. The attendees make or break a meeting’s effectiveness. It is important to have both the right people and the right number of people. Jeff Bezos and Larry Page are adamant about keeping their meetings very small. Keeping invitees to a small and necessary group makes those attendees more motivated, focused, and productive. There is no reason to issue mercy invitations. Either people are critical to the meeting or they are not.
3. Schedule the Right Time. Timing is everything, in terms of the day of the week, the time of day, and the length of time set for the meeting. Many of us tend to be our most productive in the morning and earlier in our work weeks. If this meeting does not necessitate strategic thinking, I like scheduling meetings to not disrupt this productivity. As to the best time length, I try to aim for a maximum of 45 minutes in length and often schedule 15-minute meetings. People tend to fill the allotted meeting time, so establishing shorter meeting lengths, with tighter agendas, fosters greater productivity.
4. Share Agenda & Materials in Advance. To masterfully run a meeting, we need to create a detailed agenda and send it out to participants at least 24 hours in advance. The agenda should:
Let people know why it is important for them to attend.
Share what the call needs to accomplish.
Repeat the call-in information.
State our promise to start and end on time.
5. Set The Tone From The Start. How we open a meeting can greatly affect the meeting’s culture and effectiveness. It is best to start by identifying ourselves as the call leader and then reiterating the objective and agenda for the call. Stress that we want and will solicit everyone’s participation and then follow with a roll call. It is also best to specifically establish conference call etiquette from the start. Etiquette rules may include:
Keeping phones on mute when not speaking
Stating your name before each time you speak in calls without video
Taking care not to interrupt or talk over others
I like to use the opening to share my passion and commitment to the task at hand.
6. Manage The Time. As the meeting leader, we are responsible for managing the time. We need to start and end on time, and if we have stated this in our agenda, we should not wait to begin until all or most participants join. If there are several agenda items, it may be prudent to set a time for each item. Keeping a countdown clock visible in the meeting is a great way for participants to keep on track. When we have a reputation for starting and ending on time, people will appreciate attending one of our meetings.
7. Create A Parking Lot. A “Parking Lot” is great for keeping meetings on track. Some people love to talk. If necessary, we should politely stop them, and let them and the rest of participants know that we have a tight agenda. If there are items mentioned that are worthy of discussion later, offer to table that discussion for later in this meeting, if time permits, or for another meeting. Then, we need to put together a plan for following up on these issues.
8. Keep Participants Engaged. A good leader makes sure everyone participates and no one person dominates the call. If we have properly limited our meeting to only essential attendees, then it is perfectly appropriate to specifically ask for feedback from everyone by name. One way to ensure everyone is engaged is to ask participants to be responsible for different agenda items.
9. Close with Action. Before closing the meeting, we should remind everyone what we accomplished, next steps, and who is responsible for each. I believe responsibilities are best assigned to individuals, rather than teams, so that there is one person directly responsible. This doling out of responsibilities should be assigned at the meeting, rather than wait for the meeting minutes.
10. Follow-up with Meeting Takeaways. One person should be responsible for preparing the distributed meeting minutes. Meeting minutes serve two purposes:
Making sure everyone is on the same page
Documenting responsibilities for next steps
It may be appropriate to assign a note taker during the meeting, but I prefer to prepare the minutes myself so they emphasize what I want as the takeaways. It is important to distribute the minutes promptly while the issues and hopefully enthusiasm are fresh in participants’ minds.
Time is precious. Let’s not waste it with inefficient meetings.