9 steps to ensure your next meeting isn't a waste of time

In a perfect world, every meeting would result in productive brainstorming and clear takeaways—but this is not a perfect world and not every meeting ends that way.

To get closer to the perfectly productive meeting, Anisa Horton recommends working through nine considerations before you schedule your next meeting.

1: Ask yourself if you really need to meet. Organizations often fall into a trap of scheduling meetings just to check in, but high-performing teams shouldn't need to do this. In particular, keep an eye on recurring meetings, which people often schedule without having a clear goal in mind for each session.

2: Set clear goals. As noted above, many meetings have no agenda, so you can make yours more valuable by taking time to reflect on your goals beforehand. If your agenda includes mostly information updates or turns out very short, then you might be better off communicating via email.

3: Add an interactive or unique feature. The reality is that employees tend to zone out in meetings, Horton writes. To keep them engaged, Horton recommends adding one unique or surprising element to your meeting—such as starting at an odd time or incorporating a Q&A.  

4: Send as much as you can ahead of time. Email an agenda and relevant background information before the meeting, so people can review them and come prepared to discuss, brainstorm, and make decisions. Sending information early can also help more introverted attendees prepare to participate more.

5: Invite the right number of people. Inviting too many attendees can bog you down, but inviting too few can mean that critical stakeholders aren't at the table. The optimal number of people depends on what you're trying to do. Business leaders recommend inviting four to seven people to make a decision and 10-20 people to brainstorm. 

6: Turn vague agenda items into actionable steps. Horton suggests avoiding meetings where you merely "discuss" things. Roger Schwarz, author of Smart Leaders, Smarter Teams, recommends converting these vague agenda items into questions. For example, Horton writes, instead of "Discuss video project," switch your agenda item to ask "When will videos be completed?"

7: Give everyone a chance to speak. Presumably, you invited your attendees to the meeting because you want their perspective on the agenda—but if they can't get a word in, you're missing out on their insights and wasting their time. Experts recommend including opportunities to ask virtual attendees for their thoughts and setting up standards for participation that allow everyone to speak.

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8: Assign each agenda item to a specific speaker. It's not the best use of everyone's time if the speaker doesn't know the relevant details of the issue at hand. Determine which attendee is best qualified to speak about each agenda item and assign that person to be the designated discussion leader for that item. 

9: Show attendees you respect their time.  Remember that "everyone in the room is sacrificing part of his or her day to be there," says Shivani Siroya, CEO of Tala, a financial technology startup. This mindset helps you make better decisions about how to use the meeting time in a way that your attendees will appreciate, she argues (Horton, Fast Company, 10/26). 

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