How to Keep Meetings on Track


by Aaron F Montgomery

A friend of mine who works in a larger corporation told me that they had meetings to discuss how to have fewer meetings. Really??? I have a great idea, start by not having the meeting to discuss how to have fewer meetings!

Throughout my career I have worked for fairly small companies, but that does not mean I have not had my fair share of unproductive meetings. Granted they have not been about how to have less meetings, but definitely could have used some structure to ensure productivity.

Here are a few tips for keeping your meetings on track:

Make sure there is a clear purpose to your meeting. General meetings tend to lack the direction and guidance needed to create a successful meeting. Make sure any meeting you plan has an agenda and if at all possible, let the others know of the agenda ahead of time. This will allow the participants to prepare for any information they need to bring and will make follow-up meetings unnecessary as you can complete the discussion at that time.

Do not hold a meeting just for the sake of holding a meeting at a regularly scheduled time. Do not be afraid to cancel the meeting, have different people participate or discuss the topic in a different format. Covering the same information time after time with the same group could result in meagre productivity due to a lack of interest by those present.

If possible, exchange the information another way! At times we schedule a meeting because that is how it always has been done. Everyone’s time is precious, so examine possible ways of relaying the information to the key players. Some items can be done at a different time and delivered by email. This way people can get you the information you need while keeping true to their schedule. Forcing someone to block off some time when not necessary or walking into a person’s office and interrupting, you might make that person irritated and may even not get the best information possible. He or she might just agree with you or figure out what to say to get you out of their office so they can work on more time pressing issues.

Make sure the people you invite to your meetings really need to be there. There is no reason to have people in a meeting that really are not part of that discussion. For example, do not have an accounting person in a sale meeting or vice versus. The person, who really should not be there, may interject just to be part of the discussion, but that might derail your goal for the meeting. If there are topics on the agenda where their input is needed, just invite them to provide information prior to the meeting. Or invite them to attend only the part of the meeting that is relevant to them. Meeting notes prepared after a discussion can be beneficial for additional feedback from the key players to help later down the road.

Use the technology that is available to you. Personally, I have found that using Microsoft OneNote for my meetings is invaluable. It allows me to manage my agenda and keep notes of the discussion items right at my fingertips. I can make those notes action items and can easily forward the post-meeting summaries to the attendees. Also, if some information is needed to be presented in a different format, I can easily make a Power Point presentation that makes the data easier for those involved to understand. Use this technology to keep everyone on track and your meeting with be more efficient and more useful.

Follow-up on the “action items” that are discussed in your meeting. This is the real key to a productive meeting. If nothing is done with the information discussed, then the meeting was pointless and probably should have been avoided. Make sure you note each action item and that after the meeting you “assign” that action items to the people responsible. Even if those people were taking notes, if you were the meeting organizer it is your responsibility to remind them. Make sure it is clear that the action item is their responsibility. This is another great function of Microsoft OneNote. One can easily mark notes as action items that then show up in Outlook Tasks. Also, even in an informal meeting there may be action items, which are just as important. It is worth taking five or ten minutes immediately after the discussion to write down the topics covered and assign/follow-up on any action items.

With these tips, I believe that your meetings will stay productive!