3 Tips for Productive Meetings

How to Plan and Follow Up Effectively

As an engagement manager, I spend roughly 20 hours of my work week in meetings. My job is to make sure every meeting between our team and clients is as productive as possible. By following a few best practices, I’ve discovered how to plan meetings that are necessary, produce results, and stay on schedule.

Putting thought and care into your meetings is important because every minute wasted is a dollar lost. In a September 2017 blog post, Seth Godin says, “A $30,000 software package is actually $3,000 worth of software plus $27,000 worth of meetings.” The idea is that meetings inflate the cost of software packages because people don’t lead focused meetings.

Whether you’re leading an internal meeting, client meeting, project team meeting, sales meeting, design meeting, or one-on-one meeting, three tips can help you host productive meetings. Fortunately, a meeting was cancelled today so I had time to write down these tips and share them with you.

1) Define the Desired Outcomes and Meeting Agenda

Before I send a meeting invitation, I make sure an in-person meeting needs to happen in the first place. Is the topic something we can effectively work through over email? Could we all hop on a call? If the answer to either of those questions is yes, I don’t schedule a meeting.

After you determine that a meeting is absolutely necessary, clarify what success looks like when attendees leave the conference room or Google Hangout. What does the team or client need from the meeting? Clearly defining success before the conference room starts filling up is crucial because the outcomes you want will inform the preparation you and attendees do beforehand.

After you know what how everyone needs to prepare, you’re ready to invite people to the meeting. Make all relevant information, including the agenda and any notes, available in advance. With these details, attendees can prepare and compile their thoughts before the meeting begins.

2) Manage the Meeting Time with a Topic-by-Topic Schedule

During a meeting, the facilitator needs to keep everyone in the room on schedule. At DeveloperTown, our clients rely on us to keep things moving in a timely fashion.

A little prework can help you. When creating agendas, I estimate how much time attendees need to devote to each agenda item.

Then, during the discussion of each item, I have my eye on the clock and listen for resolutions. As the time limit allotted for a specific conversation approaches, try to naturally wrap up the topic. Also, identify whether a decision has been reached or additional time is needed later to continue the conversation.

3) Follow Up Using Each Meeting Attendee's Preferred Communication Tool

After the meeting, I follow Seth Godin’s advice for following up with attendees: “The organizer of the meeting is required to send a short email summary, with action items, to every attendee within ten minutes of the end of the meeting.”

The summary is important because it helps make sure everyone agrees on what was discussed. The action items are important because they determine what comes next. And when you send this summary and action items, I recommend thinking about how you do it as well, a factor that’s possibly underrated.

In other words, ask how your meeting attendees prefer to receive your follow-up. For some people, nothing is more frustrating than receiving email after email when you already get hundreds every day. Or when someone is on seven different Slack accounts, your follow-up may get lost in the notifications.

Identifying when and how your attendees want to be notified will help ensure they review your summary and keep track of your action items. I happen to love a quick text message reminder. Other people use their email or calendar as a to-do list.

Keep these three tips in mind while preparing to facilitate your next meeting. Your coworkers, clients, and calendar will thank you for it.