Meetings are notorious for being terrible time consumers, and not always to great effect either. This can mean that they are an expensive waste of time for many of the participants and the organisation as well, if nothing useful comes of them.
With that in mind, here are three quick suggestions which can help make your meetings more productive, effective and efficient.
Time agenda items
When you decide on what to include in your agenda, you should also decide roughly how long should be spent discussing the subject.
When I used prepare agendas, I would email the meeting participants, asking if anyone had anything to add to the agenda and the length of time they wished me to allocate to it. The first time I ever did it, a colleague who would happily talk in a meeting for an hour about any given topic, emailed me back saying he would need 15 minutes! And he actually stuck to it!
So, allocate a time slot for each item. As you will then know all the agenda items ahead of the meeting, the Any other business section could just be allocated about five minutes.
Once the times have been set, you are then able to work out the length of the meeting, and book the room and the participants accordingly. People are then able to work the rest of their day around it, knowing when they will be free again.
Appoint a timekeeper
In the meeting itself, it is useful to appoint someone (not the chair or the minute-taker) as timekeeper. They can keep an eye on the timings on the agenda and ensure speakers are checked. I used to ask the timekeeper to make participants aware when there was just one minute left (often by using a ‘time out’ sign or ‘wind up’ sign). This way the dialogue can be brought to a convenient close.
If the discussion is still ongoing, it is up to the chairperson to decide if (a) they need to continue talking about it in the meeting; (b) if it can be put on hold till the next meeting or (c) if any of the participants can meet outside the meeting, continue the discussion, then report back (either to the next meeting or by email to other participants) once it is complete.
More often or not, the talking is concluded and the meeting progresses to the next agenda item.
Allocate deadlines to actions in minutes
Everyone is familiar with the process of allocating someone to carry out an action identified in the minutes of a meeting. However, frequently no timescale is allocated to that action, so it can just drift on. Sometimes actions then get lost along the way too.
When you decide on an action to be taken, then the person who will carry out that action, give them a deadline by which to carry it out. It may be “by the next meeting” or “by Friday” but it gives them a definitive time to plan with.
Sometimes, there are multiple actions requiring several people to work together. It may be that one person’s task is reliant on another person completing theirs, so giving time limits can help both parties. For example, you might ask one person to book a room at an hotel for a gala dinner, another to research and book entertainment, another to book transport. Until the first task is confirmed, and they have a date, the second and third person cannot carry out their tasks.
One PA who attended a training session with me, gave me an additional excellent tip, which I happily pass on nowadays. She suggested putting a “shopping list” summary of all the actions at the end of the minutes, plus a carried forward column for any which hadn’t been completed, for whatever reason, from previous minutes. A new date can then be allocated to these if still needed. This provides a quick reference point for readers, and keeps track of actions completed or outstanding. For example:
So there you have it, three simple suggestions to make your meetings run more smoothly and efficiently and make better use of everyone’s time.
Try them, you will be surprised how well they work!