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Karen Dwyer: Highly Successful Meetings Share Several Key Traits

Getting right to the point to make your business meetings more productive.

Nearly 70 percent of business people say the meetings they attend are unproductive. Meetings can save time, increase productivity and communicate important information if they are used effectively. But they can also be a waste of time if the meeting moderators stray from the agenda, disrespect other people’s time or fail to plan ahead. The way meetings are handled is important to create effective brainstorming sessions, distribute assignments and make decisions.

Here are seven habits of highly successful meetings that will help save time and achieve better results.

Set an objective. Effective meetings must have a purpose with a specific goal. Determine why the meeting is being held and what attendees should know when they leave. Then, write down one sentence or phrase to describe the objective of the meeting. The more specific the objective, the more focused an agenda can be. Structured agenda items focus on the goal of the meeting. The right agenda items will create the desired results, and therefore achieve the meeting’s objective.

• Check necessity. Many meetings are unnecessary. Meetings should be used for brainstorming, assigning action items and making decisions. If people need to take action or solve a problem, then scheduling a meeting is important. If the objective of the meeting is to update or share information with others, don’t call a meeting. This type of one-way communication can be provided through an e-mail or phone call, and can save people’s valuable time.

• Invite the right people. Make sure to invite the right people so others don’t waste their time attending an irrelevant meeting. The right attendees will benefit from the meeting and provide solutions to a problem. People who should be invited to the meeting include any members of a team working on a project that will be discussed, decision makers and those who can offer expertise to the situation. Give attendees enough notice so they can plan accordingly to effectively participate in the meeting. This may vary depending on the meeting’s purpose. If it’s a meeting with a long lead time, send a reminder before the meeting and verify the time and place.

• Prepare an agenda. Develop an agenda for the meeting that lists important details chronologically. An agenda will help attendees know what to expect and keep the meeting on track. Include a time for "other business" so people can address additional issues here if needed. Simple problems might be solved during this time, but more complex issues might require a second meeting. Send the agenda before the meeting so attendees can properly prepare specific questions or solutions. Have copies of the agenda available for those who do not bring their own. Attendees may use it to jot down notes as the meeting progresses.

• Focus on the topic at hand. As a meeting facilitator, it’s important to stay focused and respect other people’s time. Begin the meeting on time, and make sure to end as scheduled or earlier. It’s the job of the facilitator to ensure the conversation remains focused. The agenda can be used as a tool to pull the conversation back on topic. If someone wants to discuss something off subject, simply point out the current agenda item and point out that there will be a time to bring up other items before the close of the meeting. Let them know they can always schedule another meeting to discuss and solve another problem if necessary.

• Assign action items. During the meeting, take note of any discussions or comments that require action and address them. If your meeting is small, at the end of the meeting, delegate action items to attendees. Action items will move attendees forward in the process. For larger meetings, use this best practice by directing attendees to additional resources or provide a handout with general action items they can select from to implement their own way.

• Summarize main points. Briefly review key take-home messages and action items before you adjourn. Follow up with attendees and pertinent people who were not able to attend. After the meeting, take a moment or two to analyze how things went. E-mail participants to receive feedback or suggestions for areas of improvement.

Effective meetings do more than simply hold the attention of participants. They help equip people for action and inspire continued improvement. Anyone can smoothly host a meeting if they have the tools and put that knowledge to practice. Realize that every meeting is an opportunity to improve upon the last, keep participants engaged and inspire people to better results.

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Karen Dwyer
Karen Dwyer is the owner of Express Employment Professionals, 9 W. Figueroa St., Santa Barbara 93101. Click here to contact her or call 805.965.6900.

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