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Planning effective meetings

Planning effective meetings

According to research conducted by Microsoft, the average business person in the U.S. spends at minimum roughly 5.5 hours in meetings each week. This study also revealed that 71 percent of those attending these meetings found them to be utterly unproductive.1 To further crunch those numbers, there are more than 11 million meetings held each year in the U.S. alone. Other studies have indicated that the higher up someone is in an organizational or systems infrastructure, the more time he or she spends in meetings. On average, so-called middle management spends 35 percent of their time in meetings, while upper-level management spends 50 percent of their time in meetings. Most organizations spend 7-15 percent of their personnel resources on meetings.2 If your team is holding a meeting, it better be worth it. How can you ensure that your team meetings are effective and worth the time they consume? We have a few tips for you in this Blue Paper, including how to effectively plan meetings, how best to communicate meetings and agendas, how to evaluate the ROI of meetings and more. Block some time, send your calls to voicemail and keep readingthis is one meeting youll be glad to attend.

Whats the deal with meetings, anyway?

Meetings have been around for who knows how long, as the term refers to a formally arranged gathering of individuals. In theory, meetings are a good thing. They help us conduct business and build relationships. Its when they go awry through poor planning or implementation that problems arise. Management consultant, Gene Moncrief, believes that the most common problems in meetings relate to the following3: People try to accomplish too much, in too little time. You cant do an information dump, solve problems, make decisions, plan for action, etc., all in one short meeting. Meetings are held with a lack of clear objectives and/or

1 Survey Finds Workers Average Only Three Productive Days per Week: Most Respondents to New Microsoft Office Survey Say Theyre Working Longer, But Are Less Productive; They Relate Their Productivity to Technology. 15 Mar. 2010. Web. 01 Apr. 2011. <>. 2 Bonner. Planning Effective Meetings. Bonner Foundation. Web. 20 Mar. 2011. <>. 3 The Ayers Report: Meetings: Time Wasted or Well Spent? ENews Builder | Email Marketing and HTML Email Newsletters, Create, Send and Track. Web. 01 Apr. 2011. <,0,w>.
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organization. If objectives have been identified, the agenda may not properly reflect them and there may not be an established process to allow each person to contribute to meeting the objectives. Attendees often dont have clearly defined roles in meetings. Too often team members are asked to carve out valuable time for meetings in which they have no real role. I talk, you listen isnt a good format because no one listens. Its BlackBerry time. Attendees minimize differences of opinion and conflict. Emotion is given no place in American businesscertainly not in decision making. We dont know how to handle strong emotions, so we suppress them in meetings. We even expect our meeting leaders to suppress them for us. Yet its emotion that contains the passion and commitment we strive for. These problems, like all approaches to business, can be avoided when approached strategically and thoughtfully.

Deciding when to meet: Meeting goals

Lets start by determining if and when to meet. In the day and age of digital, virtual technology, theres a wrench thrown into the whole meeting thing. Not only do you have to determine whether or not a meeting is actually needed, but whether the meeting can or should be held online or in person. First, as a rule of thumb, dont meet unless its beneficial to everyone involved. Time is moneyeither yours or your clients. Dont waste it. Second, dont have a meeting for something that can be better communicated via email, phone conversation or good-old fashioned memo or sticky note. If you just need to distribute facts, use email. If you need feedback on a project, determine how in-depth you want your feedback: a thought or two, or a discussion that includes recommendations for alternatives? The more time consuming or back-and-forth involvement likely means a meeting is the way to go. Another way to decide if a meeting is necessary, consider the end resultwhat do you hope to accomplish, what are the goals associated with the meeting youre trying to propose?

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If you ask David Allen, author of Getting Things Done and creator of online solutions for Getting Things Done, or GTD, there are five goals involved with holding meetings4: 1. To give information: Hello everyone. Ive brought you all together today to let you know whats been going on about the pending lawsuit. Id like you to leave here today understanding whats going on, and with as much background as you need to be able to answer questions that may arise from our customers. 2. To get information: Thanks for coming. Weve invited you all here to find out from everyone what we should be aware of thats going on in your division relative to the new product roll-out. We want to know whats happening at all levels in the organization about this, so we can make some adjustments in our plans accordingly. 3. To develop options: Wed like to spend this afternoon surfacing, formulating and exploring as many possible ways to deal with the problem weve just uncovered in the new system implementation. We want to make sure weve got everyones perspectives and all the possible alternatives formulated. 4. To make decisions: Weve brought you all together this morning to present to you the three proposed approaches to launching our new product, and get a consensus decision on which one to pursue. 5. For warm, magical human interaction: There are 3 agenda items we would like to cover today. And though we could have done this by email, we wanted to have an opportunity to bring the new team together in one place, and get some time to get to know each other between the lines ... You may often have more than one of these agendas-sometimes even all five, says Allen on his website for GTD. Pretty common sense stuff, but its very valuable to get clarification and agreement on the front end, as to which of the five reasons for a meeting you have going on.

4 Allen, David. Five Reasons for a Meeting. Getting Things Done. Web. 30 Mar. 2011. <>.
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Not only will this direction help shape agendas, but it will hopefully prime attendees for participation while at the same time illustrating value to those who join in. If youre still unsure of whether or not to hold a meeting or you are questioning other options that dont involve a conference room or travel, Dustin Wax, writer at suggests considering one of these alternatives, instead5: Instant messaging While Instant Messaging (IM) is likely to be viewed more as a time-waster for teenagers and lonely geeks, a lot can get done via IM. IM allows you and your team to maintain a long-term virtual presence as you work, posting questions, updates and ideas as they strike you or as you come across problems in your work. Since IM programs maintain a full record of the chat session, theres no danger of missing anything or losing it just scroll up. Alternatives to IM include private chatrooms like Campfire or Yammer. Teleconferencing If more personal contact and real-time sharing is needed, try a teleconferencing system like Adobes or GoToMeeting. Most services allow screen sharing, collaborative whiteboarding and other substitutes for same-room presence. Since most also create a transcript, you dont need someone taking minutes, either. Wikis Wikis provide a collaborative environment that is ideal for the development of working documents and statements, as well as material that will need to be referred to again and again. For one-off projects, an online wiki like WetPaint or PBWiki are ideal: affordable, easy to set up and easy to use. For more mission-critical material, especially when you plan to use it repeatedly, and where security is a major concern, your organization can fairly easily set up an internal wiki on your intranet, using advanced software like MediaWiki, the software that runs Wikipedia. Wikis are self-organizing and easy to create and edit, and they keep track of changes made along with a record of who is responsible for each edit (no more dickering over credit!). Where real-time interaction isnt a necessity, building a wiki over a long period of time can be far more productive than a chain of meetings but make sure to assign responsibilities and allow time for wiki work.
5 Wax, Dustin. 5 Alternatives to Time-Wasting Meetings. Your Daily Digest on Productivity and Life Improvements - Stepcase Lifehack. Web. 02 Apr. 2011. <>.
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Email lists/groups Another solution where real-time interaction is not a factor is the old-fashioned email list. Somewhat out of fashion these days, email lists can still be quite productive ways to get things done as a group and both Yahoo! and Google offer services that are free and easy to set up. An effective email list should probably have a moderator not to approve messages, but to remind people when theyre going off track. Good etiquette is essential in this environment; something about the medium encourages flame wars. But with a few precautions, email lists can still be quite effective tools, allowing for thoughtful, considered exchanges and automatically maintaining a searchable archive of past discussions. Collaboration apps Finally, effective use of a project management application can forestall the need for most meetings. Systems like Wrike and Basecamp allow notes to be exchanged, tasks to be assigned and files to be shared. They also offer a number of ways for users to interact: SMS, email, online, RSS, or using a third-party application through Basecamps API. If full-fledged project management is too much, consider using online services like Google Docs (which can be installed to your own domain via Google Apps) alongside Google Talk or another IM you can share documents, add to and edit each others work, and create a repository of materials at the same time.

Planning for meetings

So youve decided to hold a meeting. Then you better plan for it, bucko. Yes, even those quick 30-minute meetings should have a plan that helps reach the goal youve just identified. Its important, too, that this planning takes place prior to soliciting the invitation to your meeting in order to prepare attendees and offer the opportunity to seek or review any necessary background information or action items prior to the meeting time. Get started by developing an agenda, which will serve to provide direction but will also be used as a tool to keep attendees on track. To prepare an agenda, consider the following factors: Priorities what absolutely must be covered? Results what needs to be accomplished at the meeting?
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Participants who needs to attend the meeting for it to be successful? Sequence in what order will you cover the topics? Timing how much time will be spent on each topic? Date and Time when will the meeting take place? Place where will the meeting take place?

With an idea of what needs to be covered and for how long, you can then look at the information that should be prepared beforehand. What do the participants need to know in order to make the most of the meeting time? And, what roles are they expected to perform in the meeting, so that they can do the right preparation? If its a meeting to solve a problem, ask the participants to come prepared with a viable solution. If you are discussing an ongoing project, have each participant summarize his or her progress to-date and circulate the reports amongst members. Assigning a particular topic of discussion to various people is another great way to increase involvement and interest. On the agenda, indicate who will lead the discussion or presentation of each item. Use your agenda as your time guide. When you notice that time is running out for a particular item, consider hurrying the discussion, pushing to a decision, deferring discussion until another time, or assigning it for discussion by a subcommittee. Generally speaking, agendas follow a pretty standard format: Date Time Duration Place Purpose Topic A Objective Presenter Time Activity Objective Instructions Facilitator - Time Topic B Objective Presenter Time (So on and so forth ..) Once an agenda has been established, review and send itas a draftto attendees. Let them know that it may change, ask for additions and open the

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floor to discussion of the meetings purpose and objectives. Send initial invitations through your offices calendaring service with a note that briefly explains what the meeting is and why it is being called and the agenda attached. Send a reminder email the day before the scheduled meeting and follow-up with a phone call if necessary to those attendees coming from other locations or traveling.

Prepping the room

On the day of the meeting, take a moment to prepare by going through this quick checklist: Overall logistics: How are participants notified? Is space scheduled? Are confirmations required?

Equipment use and set-up: Is AV equipment needed and arranged? Is chair and table set-up determined and confirmed? Is there a set-up and clean-up crew? Do you need flip chart, paper, markers, etc.? Who will get it?

Supplies and materials: Do you have hand-outs? Copies? Any films, videos, slides, presentation materials? Did you generate a complete list of supplies? Who is getting them?

Program and presentation: Did you walk through and finalize the agenda? Are all presenters confirmed and ready? Is there a back-up plan in case of interference or technological disturbance? This checklist may seem a bit much for smaller meetings, but get into the habit of running through it each time your establish a meeting. Not only will it ensure that time isnt spent wasted in the meeting getting materials or cueing videos or altering the agenda, it will mentally prepare you for purposefully facilitating the meeting thats about to occur.

Facilitating meetings
Speaking of your role as facilitator, even the briefest of meetings require a leader. Leadership is a major factor in the success or failure of team meetings, says
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Moncrief. An executive once called me in because his team wasnt creative enough. In talking with the team, I learned that he had come into meetings swinging a baseball bat and shouting, I pay you people to be creative! Fear and intimidation wont create effective meetings.6 Moncrief suggests that leaders need to do the following7: 1. Create an open environment. Participants must know that their most challenging input will be welcomed, not judged. 2. Engage everyone. Meetings need to be structured so that theres less information dumping and more room for conversation, debate and airing of emotion. 3. Prepare participants so they come to a meeting knowing: They will be able to contribute. The process should allow analysts, problem solvers, organizers, information synthesizers, etc., to contribute according to their individual strengths. They will get what they need: clarity, a plan of action, a direction, etc. Something positive will come from their investment of time and effort. 4. Let participants know how each decision will be made. The decision-making mode is key to engagement. If your objective is to achieve buy-in, on the continuum of least to most successful the four styles are: Directive: Make a decision and announce it. Collaborative I: Make a decision, announce it and challenge others to change your view. Collaborative II: Make a tentative decision and gather input to make the final decision. Consensus: Participate in a process where everyone contributes to the decision and agrees to support it. 5. Manage unproductive behavior. One person or a clique behaving disruptively can drag the whole team down. These situations have
6 The Ayers Report: Meetings: Time Wasted or Well Spent? ENews Builder | Email Marketing and HTML Email Newsletters, Create, Send and Track. Web. 01 Apr. 2011. <,0,w>. 7 The Ayers Report: Meetings: Time Wasted or Well Spent? ENews Builder | Email Marketing and HTML Email Newsletters, Create, Send and Track. Web. 01 Apr. 2011. <,0,w>.
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to be managed on a case-by-case basis, whether through the use of group dynamics to change the offending behavior, the leader pulling aside and confronting the offender(s), or an established process. If you call the meeting, facilitate it. Or, meet with someone such as a superior or guest speaker to delegate the responsibilities and role. The goal is to reach your meeting objectives in the time allotted, constructively and efficiently.

More tips for making the most of your meetings 8

After taking into account all this information, your team is well on the way to more effective meetings. Here are a few additional tips for getting there. And remember, try to have fun and focus. 1. Start your meetings, presentations and training sessions with an ice-breaker or warm-up activity. In a large meeting or a short meeting, the ice-breaker can be a single question that gets people thinking and talking with their neighbor. As an example, ask a question that causes people to raise their hands. The length of the ice-breaker depends on the length of your meeting, so plan wisely. 2. Diversify your presentation methods. If every speaker talks to the audience, in lecture format, even interested heads soon nod. Ask people to talk in small groups. Use audio-visual materials such as overheads, PowerPoint presentations and pictures. If youre talking about a new painting process, show your employees before and after parts. Pass around positive customer surveys and comment cards. 3. Invite guest speakers for audience participation and excitement. Your customers have lots to say to your workforce about their needs and quality requirements. One client organization that partners with non-profit, charitable associations features guest speakers from the organizations that receive their donations. Speakers from organizations your employees support financially are dynamite. 4. Encourage questions to get a dialogue going. Ask people to write

8 Heathfield, Susan M. Spice Up Your Company Meeting: Ten Tips for Meeting Planning. Human Resources - Business Management Development Jobs Consulting Training Policy Human Resources. Web. 01 Apr. 2011. <>.
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down their questions in advance of the meeting and during the meeting. Allow time for questions directed to each speaker as you go. If you cant answer the question immediately and correctly, tell the people youll get back with them when you have the correct answer. If questions exceed time, schedule a meeting on the topic. 5. An often-overlooked, but very important, successful meeting tactic is to ask each speaker to repeat out loud every question he or she is asked. The person asking the question then knows the speaker understood the question. Other people attending the meeting can hear and know the question, too, not just surmise the question perhaps incorrectly - from the speakers response. 6. Set goals for your periodic meeting. You cant present every aspect of the companys business at a one hour meeting. So, decide the important, timely issues and spend the meeting time on them. Take into consideration the interests of the majority of the attendees as well. Remember, you have other methods for communicating company information, too. It does not have to take place at the meeting. 7. Formulate the agenda carefully. Identify the needs and interests of the participating majority. Start with good news that will make the attendees feel good. Vary the order of the speakers on the agenda each month. You dont want people bored by sameness. Distribute important items across the agenda so people dont tune out the end of the meeting, or think the final items are less important. 8. An article in the Wall Street Journal, several years ago, stated that U.S. managers would save eighty percent of the time they waste in meetings if they did two things correctly. The first was to always have an agenda. The second was start on time and end on time. Ill add that you need to allot each speaker the amount of time necessary to cover their topic. Hold them to their time limit nicely. 9. Organize the physical environment so people are attentive to meeting content. No one should sit behind or to the side of your speakers. Make sure there are seats for all attendees, and if taking notes is required, a surface to write on, too. Make sure visuals are visible and that people can hear. You may need to use a

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microphone. You can pass props or samples around the room for viewing. 10. Never underestimate the power of food at a meeting. Food relaxes the atmosphere, helps make people feel comfortable, helps people sustain positive energy levels and builds the camaraderie of the team. Ensure you meet the diverse needs of your group with the food you serve. As an example, offer fruit and yogurt in addition to donuts. Offer nut-free or dairy-free items, too, to accommodate those with allergies or other dietary restrictions.

Success! (?)
How do you know when a meeting has been successful? When all the coffee and Danishes are gone? When an action plan has been developed? When each item has been crossed off the agenda? There are a variety of ways to measure meetings and events. First and foremost, whether or not the meetings objective was reached is the best indicator, but sometimes this indicator doesnt offer insight on how to improve the meeting process for next time. In addition to examining whether or not youve accomplished what you had hoped, the ROI approach developed by Jack Phillips is perhaps one of the most well-known methodologies, as well as one of the most rigorous for measuring the success of a meeting. With its five-tier approach, planners can use the tools and methods it provides to create very convincing business cases for meetings. The ROI model consists of five levels of measurement: Reaction and planned action What are participants reactions to a meeting and what are they planning to do with the material? Learning What skills, knowledge or attitudes have changed following a meeting and by how much? Application Did the participants apply what they learned or what was discussed? Business impact Did the application produce measurable results? ROI Did the monetary value of the reached objective exceed the costs?

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According to Boone and Associates, meeting and event planners should evaluate every meeting, but only a small percentage need to be taken to higher levels of evaluation. For example, reaction should be captured in every meeting to understand the extent to which the participants see the meeting to be relevant, important, useful, challenging, motivating, etc. Up to 80% of meetings should be measured at the learning level, capturing the actual takeaways as people learn information, gain knowledge, make new contacts and develop limited skills.9 It is critical to follow-up on important meetings to see the extent to which participants are actually using what they have learned. A small percent of meetings, usually around 10%, should be pushed to the business impact level. The business impact connects the meeting to business measures such as productivity, sales, quality, errors, cycle time, employee retention, etc. While this level of rigor is more demanding, it is necessary for meetings that are designed to deliver business value.10

Wrapping up
Meetings dont have to waste anyones timein fact, they shouldnt. They should be an investment of time that pays off in relationships and business objectives. Meetings should be productive and efficient and with a bit of careful planning, clear objectives and thoughtful execution, who knows maybe your next meeting will be one no one wants to miss.

9 Allen, David. Five Reasons for a Meeting. Getting Things Done. Web. 30 Mar. 2011. <>. 10 Allen, David. Five Reasons for a Meeting. Getting Things Done. Web. 30 Mar. 2011. <>.

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