Alexa Garthwaite

Get More Done With Effective Meeting Planning

By: Alexa Garthwaite | December 4, 2013 | 

effective meetings

By Alexa Garthwaite

Meetings are an unavoidable part of business.

Every company, from the smallest start-up to the largest corporate giant, has to hold them.

Sometimes, these are productive – participants come up with new ideas, make bold decisions, and leave with a sense of accomplishment and achievement.

However, all too often, meetings drag on unnecessarily with uninspired discussion and few conclusions reached.

The key to accomplishing more in your meetings starts with smart planning and setting a few guidelines. They can mean the difference between an effective meeting — and one that falls flat.

The Face-to-Face

  1. Write a list of things to be accomplished. Have it visible to everyone in the room. Keep the agenda short and make sure each item is completed (with action items!) by the end of the session. If you can’t come up with any solid decisions that need to be made, cancel the meeting.
  2. Keep to time. Make sure there’s a clock in the room and assign time limits to each point on your to-do list. Having time constraints instills a sense of urgency in the participants and often means the meeting is more productive.
  3. Draw up actionable steps for everyone to take away. All too often, people leave meetings feeling like they’ve wasted an hour of their time. Ensure everyone has something to do as a result of the meeting and ask them to recount it at the end.
  4. Ban electronic devices for taking notes, apart from the person taking minutes. Having a screen to hide behind can diminish a person’s engagement with the group and prove distracting. Make sure everyone abides by this rule by warning the participants in advance and provide paper and pens for them to use.

Now, these are all really useful tips for hosting an effective traditional boardroom-style meeting. However, if you’re feeling brave, consider holding a different type of meeting altogether – the walking meeting.

Get Outside – and Walk

Walking meetings have seen a recent growth in popularity. Held outside, typically in parks or other quiet open spaces, they can be a good way to bring energy to an important discussion.

  1. Keep the group small. Have no more than six participants so everyone can be heard clearly.
  2. Choose a quiet location. Ensure that there will be few distractions along your route, and it will be quiet enough for people to talk without raising their voices.
  3. Remind them of the need for sensible shoes and clothing – people should be concentrating on the conversation, not on their aching feet.

The Virtual Meeting

(Editor’s note: They are a favorite for us here at Arment Dietrich!)

Hailed as the future of meetings, they have their own unique challenges.

  1. Mute your microphone if you’re not speaking. Failing to do this can lead to a distracting level of background noise for the other participants – even breathing can sound thunderously loud in a virtual meeting.
  2. Check your technology beforehand. Someone almost always discovers a problem with their microphone or camera. Ask people to check that their equipment is working before the meeting.
  3. Use IM. Most video-chat programs have an instant messaging feature. If someone’s microphone isn’t working, ask them to type their contributions. It’s far better to do this than reschedule the meeting for another time – as everyone knows, finding a mutually convenient time is often difficult.

Make Some Waves

Shake things up at your next meeting. Send an email round in advance to inform participants of the changes – especially if you’re banning electronic gadgets. Do something radically different – if you usually have sit-down discussions, hold a walking meeting. Follow the above steps to get more out of your employees, and hold more productive, effective meetings.

What are your tips for getting things done in meetings? Any effective meeting advice you can offer?

About Alexa Garthwaite

Alexa Garthwaite is the head of marketing at Executive Offices Group, which provides serviced offices, virtual offices, and meeting room hires in prestigious locations across London. She has a deep interest in marketing, SMEs, business, property, and travel. You can follow her on Twitter @alexagarthwaite.

  • I know banning technology is all the rage with face-to-face meetings, but it ignores one key thing: differences in learning styles and how we process information. For some people, using Evernote on an iPad is critical to organizing notes, ideas, and action items.  
    For what it’s worth, I think it’s dangerous to assume that technology only distracts in a face-to-face meeting and banning it outright in favor of analog pencil and paper might pull the rug out from some people. It’s a balancing act.

  • Walking meetings sound interesting, but I learned that sometimes those get spoiled by bad weather. The participants also have more to distract themselves with — a squirrel running across the field, a dog barking, car horns blaring, etc. It’s more difficult than you think to have a productive outdoor meeting.
    I know the key is to find a quiet outdoor environment, but that’s hard in a city setting. 
    However, we like to do “Lunch Meetings.” We provide lunch for our sales team. It not only assures attendance but also encourages people to go to the meetings. 
    Also, if I may add something to your list, it would be wise to have someone who’s not easily distracted from the tasks at hand to run the meetings. I often see a meeting moderator get caught up in small talk and jokes during meetings. This is not only unproductive but sometimes time consuming. 
    Anyway, I hope that helps!

  • susancellura

    Does anyone follow @meetingboy? I love all his posts about wasted time in meetings and so on.

  • I love the idea of walking meetings! Very cool. Hard to do virtually, though. 😉

  • I hate bad meetings—they are the absolute WORST.
    I think it’s implicit in #1, but in addition to having an agenda and working through each item, it’s important to STICK to the agenda. That’s how so many meetings get derailed—side issues, tangents, off-topic discussions. “Interesting point, but let’s take that up outside the meeting …”

  • Alexa, this is great! After reading the Steve Jobs biography, I’ve always wanted to do walking meetings, but because we’re virtual, have never had the chance. What would be even more awesome is cycling meetings!
    One of the things belllindsay wrote about in her blog post yesterday was how much she hates when people are late to meetings. I had a boss who would lock the door at meeting time and if you were on the wrong side of that door, you didn’t get to come in. People learned to show up early!
    And I am so with you on leaving technology at your desk during meetings. That drives me crazy because you KNOW no one is paying attention.

  • We have an actual meeting procedure in place and all our meetings, internal and external, are to use proper meeting tools: agendas, minutes, action items, etc.  It’s amazing how poorly some meetings can be run.  Without minutes and action items, how does anything get accomplished? 

    Being able to refer back to minutes from a client meeting has helped projects along, too. When clients want to change their minds or question why we did something the way we did, we can refer back to the notes and remind them of the decision made or the reasons behind the decision. Sometimes, a quick reminder of something in writing smooths a hickup which could have turned into a major problem had we not had minutes and action items.

    I love the idea of walking meetings, too!  Or lunch meetings b/c everything is better with food.

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