With summer comes new travel patterns. Consider a new travel pattern to figuratively drive at work: running an effective meeting. Follow these tips to productively run meetings when you are in the driver’s seat. Your passengers (meeting attendees) will thank you.
As an Associate Professor and a Director who juggles over a dozen concurrent projects, my workdays are packed with meetings. I’ve run, facilitated, and attended thousands of in-person meetings.
As the meeting driver, steer the meeting in the direction it needs to go during the minutes allotted, adjust to the traffic you encounter along the way, and help your passengers to feel welcome. Skimping one of those three areas will limit potential productivity and attendee satisfaction.
Help your passengers to comfortably launch
Consider the environment: pay attention to light, space, air, sound. Create a space where your passengers can feel relaxed as you maintain a clear view of the path ahead. If possible, choose a room with a window, ample seating, and neutral smells, and that is away from ambient machine sounds.
Arrive early and open blinds, arrange chairs for optimal visibility, set up the audiovisual system as relevant. Station yourself in the prime location that puts you in line of sight with both the wall clock and the door to simultaneously manage the time and see who has entered/exited.
Know your destination
Consider agenda item order: be flexible. Move items ahead if you know that someone who needs to be part of a later agenda item will be leaving early or vice versa. If your meetings include people who are coming and going, during the precious sweet spot of the meeting when the presence of latecomers and early leavers overlap, address the most crucial aspect of the meeting goal. Summarize decisions and reiterate plans for next steps as you go. Reflect back what people are saying to summarize the meeting’s progress and to keep the conversation focused.
Consider the time alignment with the meeting’s purpose. Follow this order of priorities regarding time management: end time, sweet spot, start time. Whereas some believe that the start time is the most crucial, I believe that adjusting on the fly during the meeting to ensure that the end time is honored is crucial. Passengers prefer to not arrive late. As the minutes pass, adjust and re-adjust and re-adjust again what you might be able to accomplish as you hit certain time intervals with your end time in sight.
When you have about 10 minutes left, if you haven’t already, start summarizing needs for next steps, including interim tasks and plans for the next meeting. Ideally, end three to five minutes before the anticipated meeting end. This target early end time goal takes a lot of practice and is best kept to yourself in case you don’t achieve it; think of it is a personal challenge. Manage expectations: under-promise, rather than over-promise, what the meeting will accomplish.
Long meetings cost a lot of money. Just because a meeting is scheduled for an hour doesn’t mean it has to take a full hour. Keep your meetings as short as possible while also making sure that everyone feels heard and respected.
Everyone needs access to a working seat belt
When possible, select a meeting room that will accommodate everyone that you expect to attend. Some groups minimize the importance of having a seat at the table. They meet in too-small spaces whereby latecomers and/or people who occupy lower rungs of the organizational chart literally sit on the outer circle. Make the circle bigger and invite them in. Give them time to talk. Listen.
Your mileage may vary
The nature of some meetings is beyond our control. In some organizations, the location, content, duration, attendance, room layout, and/or dynamic may not have flexibility. Due to power imbalances, you might not have the ability to navigate an ideal path. Meetings conducted through telephone and/or videoconference, either completely, or in a mixed in-person/online format, require additional considerations.
Control what you can with what you have available at the moment. When you run a meeting, proceed efficiently yet mindfully, keep the goals clear, iterate people’s marching orders, end the meeting before the hour, and move on. People who enjoy the ride with you will then look forward to the next one.
Anna M. Adachi-Mejia is an Associate Professor at the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth and a Public Voices Fellow of The OpEd Project.