Recently, MIT published an article that took the saying “that meeting could have been an email” to a whole another level by coining a new phrase - meeting recovery syndrome - where employees lose additional time mentally recovering from a bad meeting
I would hate to be THAT meeting owner 😵
Although very few of us have formal training in meeting management skills, we can ALL apply tips from the 40-20-40 rule to run meetings our colleagues actually look forward to attending!
The 40-20-40 rule, first mentioned in the book “How to fix meetings,” essentially states 40% of our time should be spent on preparing for meetings, another 40% on productive follow-through, and only 20% dedicated to the meeting itself
My first tip for the preparation phase is the go/no-go test. A meeting is unnecessary if any of the following are true:
Speaking of who should join, tip number 2 for running effective meetings is don’t over-invite.
The rule of thumb here is to only include 1 representative from each department or function affected by your project
They’ll be responsible for gathering input from their teams and bringing those insights into the meeting, and then briefing their teams on decisions and next steps afterwards. Pro tip: If someone DOES NOT have action items at the end of the meeting, they probably didn’t need to be there
Tip number 3 for running meetings that don’t suck is something I call the OC Combo: Objective and Context
Heading into the meeting, each participant should know the goal they’re all working towards - the objective - and why they’re doing it - the context
These should be sent ahead of the meeting via email AND included in the calendar invite for easy reference. Although there can be multiple objectives for a single meeting, each objective should be actionable and results-oriented
“Finalize the 1 livestream platform to use for our year-end event.”
“Our product marketing teams have used 4 different vendors for livestreaming this past year, each with their pros and cons. We need to settle on 1 for this last event. Click here to see an analysis comparing each platform”
Not only is this super clear for all meeting participants, but notice how you’re respecting their time by giving them the option to learn more.
Senior managers who are busy can scan the objective and move on. Those who are more involved in the operations can scroll down to the context and even go through the pre-read document as needed.
I’m probably going to get a lot of hate for tip number 4 because people think it’s “try-hard” but I think it’s super effective and I call it the pre-alignment appetizer
Long story short, you want to get the meeting participants buy-in before the meeting - the main course - itself, either through a ping, an email, or even a quick 1:1 meeting
This tactic is extremely effective because your colleagues are much more likely to be upfront about any concerns during this offline 1:1 chat, and gives you an opportunity to address this complications before the meeting
To give an over-simplified yet very accurate example, imagine you’re working with 3 people, and they would have each raised 1 separate issue during the meeting. By pre-aligning with each one of them, you successfully address 1 and make progress on the other 2
Now, you use the meeting to find a solution to the remaining 1 issue before moving onto your agenda instead of having to deal with all three and risk the discussion getting out of hand
If we are brutally honest with ourselves, the reason we don’t do this is because it’s extra work. They’re my colleagues, they should be working on this. But it’s precisely because pre-aligning with them shows you don’t take them for granted that they will take your meeting even more seriously
Moving onto the “DURING” phase, the 5th tip for running effective meetings is “inclusive facilitation”
Here, to prevent a few individuals from dominating the discussion, you want to use tools to give everyone a chance to provide their input.
For example, you can use menti.com, slido, - completely free online tools - to run polls and create wordclouds when brainstorming ideas. This way, even participants who are not comfortable raising their hand or unmuting themselves, will feel heard and as a result be more engaged with your topic
Tip number 6 for meetings that don’t suck: Use the parking lot
During the meeting, if someone brings up a great point but starts going off on a tangent, you want to capture that idea on a whiteboard, or in the meeting notes - the parking lot - then bring people back on track
The trick here is to actually follow up or people will lose trust in you. A manager I recently worked with said “...that’s really interesting. Let me pencil that in during our 1:1 later this week and we can bring up our findings during the next weekly update” which I thought was a great way to phrase it
Tip number 7 - Call people out
Yup I said it. At the end of the meeting, when next steps have been agreed upon, first take the lead and share your own action items. Then, confirm next steps for each participant by mentioning their name
Using their names instead of vague terms like “so it’s agreed, WE will move towards this direction,” gets rid of any room for miscommunication and prompts your teammates to clarify any ambiguity before the meeting ends
Moving onto Tip number 8 for the “AFTER” phase - Send a concise meeting summary.
One line of pleasantries, one or two key takeaways that capture the main point of the meeting, and of course, action items that again, are tied to individual names.
Tip number 9 for running effective meetings is to prepare something I call “after-action comms”
For example, if the sales POC - point of contact - is supposed to brief the sales team on next steps, draft an email or a slide for THEM to send to their team
Not only will this ensure nothing is lost in translation, but you have literally decreased the friction for your colleagues so much so that they will definitely take action, helping you push your agenda, forward.
Tip number 10 is the most try-hard one so far and that is the tried and true method used throughout the ages - Bribery
I can literally feel some of you shaking your head in disgust but in my experience, bringing coffee, donuts, snacks to the meeting immediately lightens the mood and the rule of reciprocation means the participants are more likely to buy into your ideas
If you found these tips helpful you might enjoy my video on how to have productive 1:1’s with your manager!