My first two jobs had crazy approaches to meetings:
Job #1 = Super time consuming meetings over 2 hours each.
- Format: Daily meeting where the whole department would “check in.”
- Start Time: 7:30 am
- People Involved: 30+ 🙄
- Frustration Level: Aggghhh 🤮
Job #2 = Zero communication
- Format: Random meetings every few months, no structure
- Start Time: ????
- People Involved: 2-3
- Frustration Level: Aggghhh
Meetings don’t have to be extremes like my examples, though.
If you plan them right, meetings are essential communication tools that keep everyone happy and make sure projects develop efficiently.
Here are a few ways you can prep and run meetings the right way.
#1) Does this even need to be a meeting?
Some people make the mistake of only communicating during face-to-face meetings.
But these days we’ve got the tools to handle most of our communication without needing to meet in person or via video calls.
If you do it right, that means you’ll only have to meet for the essentials. Actual “live” meetings can be laser-focused and efficient, productive uses of your time.
Here’s the communication stack I use and how I split it by “task”.
What it’s good for: “Quick” messaging
- Checking in with teammates if there’s a technical issue that needs quick action
- Sharing links ahead of or during a call
- Asking little questions that your colleagues can answer in 30 seconds
What it’s good for: “Big” deliveries
- Pitching a project
- Delivering a project summary
- Sending out monthly notes to team members
Tool: Hangouts / Zoom / Skype
What it’s good for: Focused, 10-45 minute talks
- Brainstorming sessions
- Live coworking, like reviewing the latest version of a website
If you’ve got a question that can be answered in 30 seconds, use a messaging tool like Slack.
If you’ve got a big milestone to report, deliver it with an email.
If the issue is more complex and needs a real conversation, set up a meeting.
#2) Make sure everyone knows the right place and the right time.
The quickest way to screw up a meeting is to be unclear about when and where it’ll take place.
This sounds really simple...but people still get this wrong all the time.
When you’re speaking with people in different time zones, it can get a little confusing.
Plus, with all the different communication options, it’s easy to forget whether you’re supposed to be using Zoom, Hangouts, or some other software tool.
The good news is that there’s a really easy solution to make sure your scheduling is always clear - Google Calendar!
There are a ton of scheduling services out there but nothing beats Google Calendar.
It’s great because:
- It automatically shows everyone the meeting time in their respective time zones
- It’s got all the info (time, venue, software, notes) in one easy place
- Most people have access to a Gmail / Google account
- It’s free
If you find yourself or your team juggling different tools, just pull it all back to a simple Google Calendar event. It’ll save you time and it’s the easiest way to get everyone on the same page.
#3) Give the meeting a clear, specific purpose
Without a purpose, you’re just meeting for the sake of meeting. What’s the point?
You need a clear goal for every meeting, even if it’s a really simple one.
If you go the extra mile and actually create an agenda, you’ll stick to the script and get to your goal quickly and efficiently.
“Have an agenda” is pretty basic advice but you’d be surprised how many people just don’t bother with it.
That opens you up to forgetting key details, getting sidetracked, and generally being messy where you could be productive.
I think the best way to do this is in your meeting invitation. Whether it’s a Google Calendar invite or just a simple email, here are a few messages you can send that’ll make every meeting clear and keep everyone sticking to the same script:
Just follow this format:
“Hey [NAME], let’s meet at [TIME] to discuss [THING]. I’d like to establish [GOAL]”
I’d like to meet with you (Bob, Sue, and Joe) to kick off the Shopify project and set a timeline together.
You should see a Hangouts invite via Google Calendar in each of your work inboxes. It’ll be at 10 am EST next Monday.
I’ve blocked off an hour so plan accordingly.
Speak to you then!”
Here’s the invite for our quarterly meeting: [LINK].
I’m planning on a brief check-in (30 minutes total) with each team member (it’ll be just the 5 of us on the call), followed by Sharon’s breakdown of last quarter’s sales numbers (60 minutes). We’ll then wrap with a few specific goals I’d like each of you working towards (15 minutes).
See you all at 1 pm in the Zoom room on Tuesday!”
Are you both free to speak this Friday @ noon EST?
I’m delivering the project next week and I’ve got two “big” edits to work through with you both. Specifically:
- Issue X
- Issue Y
Send me a quick confirmation and I’ll set it up.”
#4.) Invite (only) the right people
Most meetings and conference calls have too many people attending.
When too many people are present, it creates so many issues.
- Crosstalk becomes distracting and confusing
- Shy people clam up
- It takes forever to get through the meeting
- Different people try pushing different agendas
The only question you should be asking yourself is:
“Who actually needs to be here?”
Figure out who’s essential for the meeting and only invite them.
A focused 3-person team can get more done in 20 minutes than a department-wide “all-hands on deck” session.
If you’ve built your meeting agenda around a focused goal, then the meeting roster should be pretty obvious. Don’t be tempted to pull in more people just because it feels important.
#5.) Choose ONE person to lead the meeting
Role-setting is a big deal…it’s just as important as having a clear purpose.
Without structure, most meetings will devolve into confusion and very low ROI results.
You can avoid this by assigning one clear leader per meeting.
The best meeting leaders are like emcees. They lead a group through a series of speakers and consistently speak up between “presentations” to make sure everything is clear and everyone is on board.
Meeting leaders don’t necessarily have to be the boss or the senior team member. It’s just a temporary hat to wear so that one person is in control and can keep the conversation running smoothly towards a focused goal.
If you’re not sure whether it’s clear who’s going to lead the meeting, include it in the invitation email. (This is extra helpful for junior staff members when they “lead” for the first time).
You can say add these clauses to the “invitation templates” above in section 2:
“...P.S. We’re going to have our summer intern, Lenny, run the meeting. Please respect this format (I’ll be supervising)”
“ ....here’s how I’m planning to set up the meeting:
- Leader: Me
- Notes: Joe
- Presenter: June
- Everyone else: Rick, Diana?
#6.) Delegate note-taking to one person (or software)
This one’s a little controversial, but I’m a big believer in paying attention to what’s being said.
For example, back in college and high school I always found that I performed best and retained information when I didn’t take notes during a lecture. If I paid attention and asked “live” questions, I saw things more clearly (and remembered them better).
I still recorded took notes - but post-session. I’d either record lectures myself or download them from my university’s intranet database, then do the analysis.
I’ve got the same approach to meetings.
I think they flow much more smoothly when the participants are fully engaged in the conversation. You can still take notes - I keep a blank page ready to go if necessary - but I prefer to talk and ask my way through meetings instead of trying to jot down every detail.
I do note down important elements like dates, names, and big ideas….but aside from those, I’m not a big notetaker.
If I’m on an important call I know is going to be packed with info (like an interview with a client’s customer) I’ll ask the other party if I can record the call privately. In the last two years I’ve never gotten a “no”, and I end up with deeper, smoother conversations that I can reference for as long as I need.
To do this, I carry a handheld recorder around for in-person meetings and interviews and I use Loom for Zoom and Hangout call recordings.
If you’ve never tried it, give it a shot - it’ll improve the quality of your meetings, whether they’re face-to-face or via a video call.
#7.) Spend the last 2 minutes of the meeting on next steps
How you end your meetings is even more important than how you start.
The worst thing is when you’ve spent an hour speaking about a complex subject, feel good, hang up…..and then realize you have no clue what to do next!
(this happens all the time)
It’s a result of a meeting that lacks structure - see a common theme here?
Goals and agendas are vital, but they’re on thin ice without a wrap-up session.
That’s why you should spend the last 2-10 minutes of every meeting reviewing what was said and who’s going to do what next.
This applies to every type of meeting:
- Job interviews
- Masterminds + accountability talks
- Project management meetings
- Performance reviews
If you’re not wrapping up, you’re not creating “next steps”.
A meeting is meant to be a fluid thing that moves the participants from A to B. Assignments and next steps are vital - otherwise, you didn’t have a meeting, you just had a conversation.
It shouldn’t be complicated.
As soon as you’ve covered all the agenda items, move on to assignments.
Each participant’s “next steps” should be summarized in one line. Make it simple and make sure everyone is clear about what they’re supposed to do and when it’s expected.
Jim, we agreed you’re going to work on the homepage next and have a live page up by next Friday. Yes?
Bob, you’re going to get the next article published by Friday, right?
Jen, you’re going to pitch the project to leads X, Y, and Z next Thursday? Does that work?
Andy’s next step: interview the job candidates and hire someone by the 31st.
#8.) Make the meeting notes available to the participants
Having notes and clear tasks is great, but they’ve got to be easy to find and use.
One way to do this is to send out a traditional memo or “meeting notes” email to everyone. Here’s a handy guide to writing effective memos (ie ones that are actually going to get read).
If you’re working with a remote team, I like using a shared Google Drive folder to keep meeting notes / memos. It’s a lot like the email option, but I think it’s a little neater and easier to refer to.
However you send them, here’s the format I use for meeting notes:
Ready to plan your next business meeting?
If you plan them correctly, business meetings are easy, productive, positive experiences.
With the right structure, everyone will show up on time and know exactly what’s expected of them. By the end of the meeting they’ll leave knowing what to do next.
Here’s a quick breakdown of the steps you can take to plan and run meetings the right way: