Does a meeting fit your purpose?
Before sending out a meeting invitation, ask yourself “Why should we have this meeting, and what would not happen without it?”. Sometimes, you will conclude that the information you want to share with your colleagues or clients can be better distributed as a quick message via Teams, Slack, or also via e-mail. Of course, there are topics and information which are more sensitive or need the input of others. In this case, all participants will benefit from scheduling a meeting. Depending on the subject matter, you will then need to define the optimal meeting length. While there are various theories about how long a meeting should last in general, it always depends on your subject. While information can normally be shared within 30 minutes, a brainstorming session or any discussion meeting might need more time, as everybody should be heard during these sessions. Once decided on the length of your meeting, make sure to strictly follow time constraints.
Which topics should be discussed and what are your desired outcomes?
Communicating your expectations and intended goals is essential to a meeting's success. A clear and comprehensive outline should include a list of topics, action items, and other activities that attendees will discuss. Spending time preparing a solid agenda will save you and your attendees time during the meeting. As an example, at Amazon people need to prepare a six-page memo beforehand to guarantee perfectly structured meetings with no loss of information. Of course, not every company has such strict meeting rules, however, a clear and thoughtful agenda will help your participants decide when exactly their expertise is needed and allows them to know what questions or information they should have ready to share.
Who are your participants?
Deciding on your attendees can be very tricky as you should always invite everybody important to reach the objectives. However, having too many people will really take the meeting off track. Some companies like Amazon or Google restrict attendees to 3-8 people to avoid overcrowded meetings. Even Steve Jobs once declined an invite from President Obama to a tech meeting because the guest list was too long. To have valuable discussions, you should be aware of who your attendees are, understand their backgrounds and what they can bring to the conversation. Only if all attendees have been brought up to the same level of knowledge and obtained all information, they have the chance to actively participate in your meeting, so make sure to provide sufficient information about the discussion topic up-front, or at the beginning of the meeting.
Are any facilitation techniques needed?
Depending on the topic and participants, outcomes can sometimes be faster achieved by using certain facilitation techniques or activities during the meeting or workshop. Make sure that the selected exercises fit the meeting goals and be aware that some participants may find certain exercises intimidating at first.
What next steps are required after the meeting?
As decisions and action items are results of the meeting itself, they apparently cannot be prepared beforehand. Make sure to clearly summarize all decisions and action items at the end of the meeting. Deciding on responsible persons for each action item and agreeing on when to follow up on those will help you to get things going.
To sum up, effective meetings don’t happen by surprise. Although this sounds like a lot, it will not require too much effort from you. As soon as you start keeping the mentioned points in mind, and just apply some of them, your meetings will already get better.