How many times have you attended a meeting only to get out of it and think, “what a tremendous waste of time?” It’s a common complaint. You stop whatever it is you’re working on, sometimes begrudgingly because you are in the zone, and you wait patiently for the meeting host to arrive and start the 11:00am meeting. By the time everyone trickles in and wraps up the formalities of sharing weekend stories, or how much $GME they bought, it’s already 11:15. The meeting begins but quickly the group is off topic and deep into an unrelated tangent. Each time the group gets distracted, it takes more and more effort to corral the attendees back to the topic at hand. Pros and cons are exchanged open-endedly, leaving uncertainty rather than closure. The meeting finally ends, and as you continue to work on your project you wonder, “wait, what did we even talk about?” Sounds like an inefficient use of time.
Then, everything went virtual, and if we’ve learned anything from 2020, it’s how to master these virtual meetings. From Zoom to GoToMeeting, Google Meet to Microsoft Teams–I know I am not alone when I say this past year taught me everything there is to know about virtual meetings, turning each of us into a little bit of a technology expert (I say, humbly). We’ve conquered using the mute button and have grown into much more caring and attentive plant parents–because let’s be honest: happy and healthy plants provide a more appealing video backdrop than dying ones. However, as offices and businesses across the country slowly reopen, we find ourselves making our way back into the old stomping grounds. We’re transitioning from fully virtual meetings to a more hybrid approach. So, what exactly does this mean? Below, we’ve outlined a few simple tips to get you back up and running with in-person meetings as efficiently, effectively, and as safely as possible.
Post-Pandemic Meeting Agenda: Running Efficient Hybrid Meetings
1. Send a personalized invitation
When scheduling a meeting with your team and clients, the first, and most important thing you can do is to send a meeting invite. This provides attendees with time to prepare and organize their schedule. But what if you have a client coming to your office for a meeting? An informal automated invitation might not feel like enough, especially if it’s the first time they’re going to an in-person meeting since the shutdown and they’re probably a bit nervous. Consider reaching out to them directly and send them a personalized email along with the meeting invitation. Let them know that their comfort level is your top priority and that all safety precautions are in place throughout your office. Notify them to wear a mask and confirm that all meeting attendees will be socially distanced. This will help to ease comfort levels, while still providing an opportunity to meet in person. Addressing these concerns first hand will show professionalism and consideration.
On top of just sending the invitation, you should expect responses. Whether it’s a client meeting or internal meeting, invites often don’t get a response either because people don’t take the action of responding, or the meeting host has disabled responses to avoid an overload of replies. There are countless scenarios where knowing exactly who is attending will matter, like setting up the right amount of chairs or providing snacks and beverages to attendees. Make that a mandate and it will become a good habit for everyone.
2. Create an agenda
An efficient, organized meeting starts with an agenda. They serve as a tool before the meeting, and as a guide during. Always create your agenda in advance, as it will help you determine what topics to discuss, establish goals, and assist with estimating how much time you’ll need for your meeting. It also gives attendees more time to brainstorm any questions or points in advance that they’d like to cover. The first step in putting together an agenda is deciding what format to use. For example, if visual presentation is a priority, you may want to design your agenda using InDesign, and send it as a PDF. Or, if collaboration is more important, consider creating a shared Google Doc, which will allow guests to make suggestions, leave comments, and take notes. Use action-oriented language and identify meeting goals. Always include your agenda with the meeting invitation, and have it up on the screen when the meeting begins. Just remember the wise words of Ben Franklin: “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”
3. Set the stage!
With Ben Franklin’s quote in mind… preparation is key. If you’re the organizer, then you 100% without a doubt need to show up, on time, prepared, and ready to go! Here are a few items you can check off the list before your meeting:
- Determine what platform(s) or programs you’ll be using prior to your meeting.
- Arrive early and set aside time to clean and sanitize your conference room before guests arrive.
- Check that there are enough chairs and that they are appropriately socially distanced from one another.
- Check the thermostat is set at a comfortable temperature for your guests.
- Make sure the computer (or conference phone, monitor, etc.) is working and all apps are up to date. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve clicked a meeting link just to be told the app requires a software update, thus delaying the start of my meeting. It’s frustrating and inefficient and comes across as lazy. Get all of this sorted out in advance–it’ll save you time and frustration.
- Have hand sanitizer and disposable masks available for your guests, helping them feel safe and comfortable.
- Check the fridge–are there any water bottles? Are they cold? Ensuring a comfortable environment for the meeting will ultimately ensure that there are no distractions or discomforts that would take away from the topics at hand.
4. Mind the time
As a majority of people are still working from home and have schedules packed with back to back virtual meetings, it’s not only helpful but more importantly respectful, to observe the allotted meeting time. Making a conscious effort to keep an eye on the clock will certainly help your meeting stay on schedule and wrap up on time. We all know the saying: time is money–and I can’t imagine there’s anyone who likes to waste money. Consider asking a coworker or new hire to be your time tracker, signaling to you when you have ten, or five minutes remaining. This will guarantee their attention throughout the meeting, while also alleviating a little stress off of you–so win-win. This leads us to our next tip…
5. Assign roles
The success of a meeting shouldn’t have to fall on your shoulders only. Meetings are a team effort and great team leaders don’t do it alone. Determine where you need the most help and divide that up into roles amongst your team. Assign your most dependable coworker to be your facilitator, or as I like to call it, “sergeant at arms.” They will be in charge of wrangling all participants and making sure the discussion remains productive and on topic. This person can also be responsible for fostering an inclusive discussion, and making sure all opinions are heard. Next, consider who your fastest typer is. Ask them to be your note taker! They will record all discussions, concerns, questions, and action items from the meeting. As mentioned above, ask someone to keep track of the time. They’ll make sure you start on time and end on time. There are many other roles you can assign, but starting with just these three will significantly help you run more effective and efficient meetings.
6. Wrap up with a plan
As your meeting comes to an end, dedicate a few minutes to discussing the next steps as a group. Decide who is responsible for what, assign deadlines, and answer any questions. This will give everyone a sense of accomplishment knowing that the meeting was time well spent, as well as providing clarity on expectations. Once the meeting has ended, take a moment for yourself to jot down any final thoughts or reminders for the next meeting. Regroup with your notetaker and put together a follow-up doc. This has probably been one of the most helpful tools in all my years of running meetings. It can be as simple as a summarized list of discussion points and action items. Before the day is over, send this follow-up out to all participants, thanking them for their time and attention during the meeting. This will ensure that everyone remains on the same page and will make a lasting impression with your client, coworkers, and your boss.
A few last tips on meeting effectiveness
Are you delivering bad news?
Pair it with something positive. Plan the meeting at an alternate, more pleasant location. Maybe this could be outside your building, at a nearby restaurant, or other uplifting locations. If difficult news is being delivered, try combining it with recognition or other encouraging news. Keep the mood up by ending on a positive note, and showing gratitude. Even discuss any recent wins to show teammates that their efforts are appreciated.
Is this a one-time meeting or presentation?
Start off with giving some background information about yourself and what you do. Kicking off presentations with an introduction will set the scene and lend some credibility to yourself with regards to the topic at hand.
Are speed and productivity critical?
Have a short standing-room-only meeting. These might typically be referred to as “stand-ups,” and will include a quick recap and next steps. Standing up instead of settling in will instantly convey a sense of urgency and speed. It lessens the likelihood of people getting too comfortable and engaging in social conversations, and will definitely make your quicker meetings more effective and efficient.
No matter what kind of meeting you are having–whether it’s a stand-up, presentation, kick-off meeting, completely virtual, or hybrid–proper planning is key. Half an hour of planning on the leader’s part can save a lot of time wasted on everyone else’s part, and lead to far more effective meetings. As we slowly start returning to normalcy, and meetings are across the table instead of across the web, having an efficient meeting structure while also maintaining safety protocols will keep attendees happy and comfortable. Following these 6 useful tips that I’ve learned over the years has allowed all of my attendees to feel comfortable with the topics discussed, and for the whole team to be more on task and in sync.