Here’s a tidy stack of helpful tips to make your gatherings more fruitful, efficient and possibly even enjoyable.

There’s no one way or correct method to orchestrate a successful meeting. Every team is different, and each business problem requires a unique problem-solving approach.

However, there are plenty of science-backed guideposts to follow and pitfalls to avoid. Let’s explore a few, shall we?

What the data suggests

There’s no shortage of research into conducting efficient meetings. Most of which speaks to in-person, pre-pandemic settings. However, many of the bedrock principles remain the same:

  • Keep it short.
  • Make sure everyone gets to voice their opinion.
  • Keep groups small.
  • Distribute an agenda beforehand, and capture specific action points.
  • Do not—for the love of Pete—intrude upon lunchtime.

What else is there? How else can you become a meeting master during this uncertain season of life? HBR lists 10 more ideas to keep those meetings on track:

1. Prepare your points—not just an agenda—in advance.

Rather than just riffing mid-Zoom or thinking out loud until you reach a salient point, consider:

  • “What ideas do I want to raise at this meeting?”
  • “What challenges do I or we need help with?”
  • “Who deserves praise or mention?”
  • “What questions do I most want this group to discuss and consider?”

2. Provide the purpose up top.

How much time gets wasted at the outset of meetings? If your team tends to get overly absorbed in greetings and salutations, you might try opening with “what needs to be decided, reviewed, or accomplished as a result of the meeting.”

3. Guide your listeners.

HBR suggests using a “preview/transition/review scaffolding” to shepherd your enrapt audience through whatever material needs to be covered.

4. Be ready to listen.

Slow down, gabby Gus! Let your people speak. And don’t do that eyeroll thing while they talk, either.

Demonstrate leadership and empathy by listening intently. To do so, HBR suggests:

  • Always face your audience and try to maintain direct eye contact when listening.
  • Demonstrate that you’re listening by nodding.
  • Don’t use listening time as an opportunity to plan what you’re going to say next.
  • Avoid interrupting speakers or finishing their sentences.
  • Consider reflecting questions back to the speaker before immediately offering your perspective or jumping in with a solution. For example: “I want to make sure I hear you correctly. You’re saying we have too many meetings, especially on Fridays. Is that correct?”
  • Finally, keep an open mind and resist the urge to defend.

5. Prepare questions.

This is another underrated aspect of meeting prep that all too often arises in the heat of the moment. HBR suggests parsing questions into three buckets—”strategic,” “recognition,” and “helpful.”

6. Keep detours brief.

Zooms can go off the rails faster than a greased hog on an icy pond.

When it’s your turn to speak, exercise self-control by staying away from tangents or “discussion for another day.” If others are veering off course, gently guide the conversation back to where it needs to be.

7. Know when you’ve finished your point.

Don’t just keep talking to fill airtime.

8. Give credit—concisely.

HBR says to be specific, swift and precise with praise, explaining: “A good template for giving credit or appreciation is: who did it, what they did, and what impact it had on organizational or team objectives.”

9. Help others stay on point.

If a colleague is wandering, don’t be a jerk. Gently nudge them back on course by saying something like, “What do you recommend?’ or ‘What do you propose we do?’”

10. End with meaningful action steps.

Don’t hang up and do the awkward “Zoom wave” before somebody writes down what’s next. Etch action steps in writing, and vocalize them before switching off.

Other tips for meeting success

There are even more ways to have better meetings in 2022—including not having one at all! NPR suggests thinking outside the Zoom box and offers these alternative ideas:

  • Converse, collaborate and post updates in a shared Slack channel.
  • Brainstorm and edit in a shared doc.
  • Send an email with key ideas and points.
  • Ask for quick individual check-ins.

MIT Sloan Management Review also offers a warning that only 50% of meeting time is “effective, well-used and engaging.” It shares these data-backed suggestions to keep your collaborative flow rolling:

  • Don’t over-invite.
  • Start and end on time.
  • Establish norms and clear expectations.
  • Use tools (such as Klaxoon, Mentimeter, and Poll Everywhere) to quickly gather feedback and reach a consensus.
  • Ask for feedback on how to improve meetings moving forward.

How about you, comms pros? What meeting tips would you offer? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below.

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