Wondering what to do about
conducting or attending too many meetings? Here are some suggestions to help
lighten your meeting load, and help you better plan future meetings.
For Potential Attendees:
When you are requested to
attend a meeting, before you say "yes," think about whether you belong at that
Ask what the goals of the
meeting are, and see if your work goals are in line with them. If there are
no definite goals, you do not belong at the meeting. No one does. If someone
calls to see if you will come and "discuss interdepartmental issues," find out
what specifics they will be bringing out. Only if you know the specifics involved
can you provide initial meaningful input. The person calling may not know the
answers to these questions. Have them connect you to the person responsible
for the meeting content, or agenda.
Ask for the start time of
the gathering, and also find out when it will end. If you are needed for only
a portion of the meeting, set a specific entry and exit point with the person
in charge of the agenda. That way you will not have to sit through 2 hours of
preliminaries when you only have a 5-minute report! Find out about conference
Make sure you have the agenda
in advance, so that you can bring the right information the first time. Do your
Be early. Ten to fifteen
minutes lead-time is plenty.
Leave your ego at the door.
The meeting will be shorter.
Listen closely, take notes,
and ask questions. You will not miraculously understand the following day what
you are being asked to do in the meeting. Besides, someone else probably wants
to know the same thing, but they are too scared to ask!
When the meeting starts
pay close attention to the purpose of the meeting. You may discover that the
focus of the meeting has changed and that you are no longer an appropriate group
member. If this is the case, clarify your observation when the introductions
come around. If your assessment is correct, simply apologize to the other attendees
and take your leave.
For Meeting Planners:
Question specifically WHY
this meeting is being held. If your boss says, "Pull together the marketing
people for a sit-down," find out exactly what he or she wants to know, and jointly
agree on who should be invited. If your questions appear odd, just remind your
boss that you are trying to work as efficiently as possible.
Start meetings on time,
even if only one other person is in the room. At least you can respect that
person's time. If people are consistently late for your meetings, you might
search for reasons for this behavior. I suggest that attendee tardiness occurs
primarily for these reasons:
- The topic is not really
pertinent to them.
- Your meetings are known
to start late.
- The meeting is scheduled
at a time they cannot easily meet. (An 8 a.m. meeting on Tuesday after a holiday
weekend is bad news. So is a 4p.m. meeting on Friday!)
Make sure the right people
are invited. There is a temptation to include too many people to avoid "leaving
anyone out." After you have decided on the MUST-HAVE list, you can send e-mail
to any ancillary folk and let them decide; or just invite them to meetings covering
their specific interests.
Distribute the agenda in
advance. It shows that you mean business, and you are ready to entertain ideas
and solutions. Include times for each item on the agenda.
Have a positive and tight
format. Remember to K.I.S.S. -- Keep It Simple, Smartie! Ask an uninterested
party if your agenda makes sense to them. Then ask the participants at the meeting
what they need from future meetings, either in content or format. If you have
built positive working relationships, they will tell you!
Don't be a talking head.
Ask other attendees to present their information, in advance. Remind them, if
necessary, to adhere to their specific topics for this meeting (including the
time they are allotted!). Bring in experts if your meeting requires their skills
to help formulate a plan or resolve a direction.
Stay with the topic. If
people start bringing up subjects that do not belong in this meeting, let them
know, politely but firmly that you need to keep this meeting on track.
Don't make people travel
when a conference call will do the job. (Unnecessary traveling can be very upsetting!)
If you need to see people to work with them, use a speakerphone for your attendees
in the meeting room and set up a conference bridge for the rest of the group
in remote locations. If there are several off-site people, consider having only
one of them attend each meeting, and let the others participate by conference
call. This way the burden of monthly travel on any one individual is reduced,
and you still can reap the benefits of working with the entire team.
You could go one better
and YOU travel to a remote site and have the call from there. That's right,
YOU go to the Denver office from Chicago for a meeting. See what it is like
to walk for one day in the shoes of other meeting attendees.