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How to Make Meetings Better: Use an Action-Oriented Agenda

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More than 11 million business meetings take place every day in the United States. You might feel like you had to sit through most of them. And you’ve doubtless wondered how to make meetings better.

It’s easy to complain that meetings aren’t productive or that they cost too much in lost time. Yet meetings remain the most effective way to gather staff and stakeholders to discuss critical issues, to disseminate information and to gather feedback.

The key is to plan them well, with clear, action-oriented meeting agendas.
Productive meetings are as brief as possible, highly focused and time sensitive. Picture an agenda as a well-crafted syllabus that highlights and delegates assignments ahead of time:

  • It outlines the expected contributions of attendees.
  • It shows everyone what to expect regarding results and deadlines.
  • It ensures all attendees are aware of why they’re in the room and what their expected role is – so they can come prepared to contribute and avoid disrupting workflow and decreasing productivity.

1. Limit Everyone’s Time

Limit everyone’s time – and say so on the agenda – to keep sessions on track. For example, in a status update meeting, give everyone two minutes to discuss their talking points. Use a timer. Such a directive creates clarity around how employees and contributors should prepare. It also shortens the length of meetings.

EXAMPLE: Travel search company Tripping.com uses a clever strategy to minimize lost production time, according to Firespring.org. The company restricts staff meetings to 30 minutes, and the organizer must make a $5 donation to the “beer jar” for happy hour if a meeting runs over.

2. Make the Agenda Formal and Visible

Distribute a formal agenda in advance to make meetings better, and tell confirmed attendees to review it beforehand. Then, take suggestions from the group on ways to save time.

Constructive feedback will improve productivity and prevent the meeting from affecting workflow performance, as attendees can fine-tune the focus before the meeting to avoid lost time. A printed copy of the agenda or having it on a flipchart reinforces the structure.

EXAMPLE: Vistage Worldwide is an international CEO membership organization. The weekly planning and update meeting was limited to 30 minutes — and to people who either owned or could impact the key metrics reviewed. If an issue came up at the meeting, it was set up as a ‘tiger team’ item for follow-up. The ‘tiger team’ included only people who could address that issue.

3. Limit the Guest List

Create an attendee list on the agenda and limit the number of people in a meeting to those who are considered key decision-makers, important contributors and relevant managers. Ensure everyone on the list confirms their attendance to avoid tardiness or absences, which can affect the meeting’s timeline and outcome.
Inviting every member of your team is not usually necessary to make meetings better – as you can update everyone via email after the meeting.

EXAMPLES: Google has a strict 10-person limit for meetings to minimize lost production time, according to Fast Company. And Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos uses the “two pizza rule,” according to Business Insider. He never has a meeting with more people than two pizzas can feed.

4. Stick to Talking Points

Request a list of talking points before the meeting from every attendee. This creates accountability for team members. It also ensures everyone maximizes the meeting’s value in the least amount of time.

EXAMPLE: Startup company Brivo has employees raise a “No Rehash” ping-pong paddle whenever someone brings up a previously discussed topic. “It’s a visual reminder, but more importantly it empowers everyone in the company to call out counterproductive rehashing whenever and wherever they see it,” said Brivo president and CEO Steve Van Till to Fast Company. “The big-time savings is that no one has to justify invoking the rule itself, and the meeting can proceed with earlier decisions intact.”

Summary

A clear, action-oriented meeting agenda and a strict list of attendees will help establish concrete goals and make meetings better for your team.

Set time restrictions, create a formal agenda and guest list before the meeting, and stick to talking points.

These strategies will help you run productive meetings and avoid lost productivity.

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