Written by Jill Schiefelbein | Professional Speaker and Business Communication Expert
A lot of people cringe when they see “Let’s set up a meeting” in an email or instant message. I understand. Many organizations have meetings just for the sake of having meetings, where people feel forced to come up with something to talk about. These meetings, without a clear purpose or goal, are why they get a bad rep.
But meetings are an essential part of business. And learning to run them effectively and efficiently can help you be a better manager and leader. Here are some strategies for making your meetings work for you.
Your meetings should always have a dual purpose -- the purpose for the meeting itself and the purpose in the broader organizational context. Let’s examine both a bit further.
Make sure your meetings have a clear purpose. This seems obvious, but it needs to go beyond “We need to catch up” or “It’s been awhile since we’ve met.” You need to be specific. Even if it’s just that you want to get to know an employee better and learn how he’s faring in his new role, a simple “Let’s chat” isn’t enough. Instead, communicate your intent and purpose.
Hi, Jim. We haven’t had much time to chat since you started working here, and I’d like to talk about how the position is working out for you and how you see your role within the company.
That’s going to set a clear intention and will help communicate the meeting’s purpose for both parties involved.
But when it comes to meetings having a dual purpose, it’s not just the purpose of the meeting itself but also the purpose the meeting has in the overall picture of the organization that’s important. Studies show that one key factor in employee retention is that employees need to feel connected to a greater “why,” in their work. If you tie your mission/vision/values/purpose (MVVP) into your meetings, it will remind people of the purpose of their work.
It may seem superfluous, but you have a key chance to reinforce the MVVP of your business in an easy, natural way. Here’s a simple format:
We’re having a meeting to discuss X, which helps us Y.
Here, X is the meeting purpose and Y is the organizational purpose.
Know the rules of engagement
People need to know what the expectations are in any meeting. And you need to establish them prior to the meeting and repeat them at the beginning of the meeting to get everyone on the same page. Before the meeting, make sure your invitation contains these pieces of information:
Goal and/or the desired outcome
What to prepare. This is huge, and a lot of managers assume people will know this. Don’t assume!
What to bring. If you want something physically brought to the meeting, be sure you state it explicitly.
Providing an invitation and establishing expectations are also strategies you should use for sales meetings or any communication situation where you need to produce a result or drive action. This ensures that all parties involved get what they need out of the interaction.
Let’s say you set up a meeting with a potential client, and you really don’t understand what they’re hoping to gain from it. How are you going to make sure you meet their needs? Well, you have to ask: “What do you expect me to bring to the table today?” “What do you hope to learn from our meeting today?” “What information would you like me to provide?”
Don’t assume. We all know what that can do.
Establishing clear expectations by using agendas helps avoid ambiguity and distraction in meetings. Note that the agenda is different from the invitation, though some of the elements will be present in both.
Here’s a simple format for meeting agendas that follows a common organizational pattern in introductions of public speeches and presentations -- the three tells:
1. Tell them what you’re going to tell them.
2. Tell them.
3. Tell them what you told them.
In the case of agendas, though, this takes a slightly different form.
1. What the meeting is going to do (Tell them what you’re going to tell them). Give an overview of the purpose and the expectations for the meeting and how to contribute and participate, as well as the goal and desired outcome.
2. The bulk of the meeting and discussion (Tell them). Create your main agenda points. These are the things you need to accomplish, learn, or contribute to the meeting to meet the goal and desired outcome. State the facts and information needed to process the idea or make a decision right at the beginning so there are no lingering unanswered questions.
3. Summarize the necessary actions and timelines (Tell them what you told them). At the end of a meeting, it’s imperative to check for mutual understanding, so all parties know the takeaway objectives, directives and courses of action. This also creates more accountability and responsibility.
This is where you summarize the outcomes of the meeting and clearly state follow-up actions, responsibilities and timelines that accompany those actions. Have people take responsibility for their individual tasks and state clear deadlines. If you skip this step, your meeting will have been in vain, and you’ll have wasted a lot of time and energy.