Customer Service

tips for effective business meetingsMeetings often annoy communications professionals because they consume vast amounts of time. PR and marketing meetings produce plenty of talk but few valuable conclusions or action items. Some people rehash old material while others drift into a dream and pay little attention. Like many business people, marketers and PR pros complain about meetings but don’t know how to improve the sessions. These meeting suggestions from experts can help.

Set an Agenda. A good agenda states the topics of discussion and how much time will be dedicated to each topic. Those details help prevent the meeting from getting derailed into unproductive, irrelevant conversations, points out Corey Wainwright for HubSpot.

Limit Participants. Meeting times increase exponentially depending on the number of people participating in the discussion, so you have to carefully choose the right people in the right numbers to suit the decision that needs to be made, according to Ray Dalio, founder of the hedge fund Bridgewater Associates, in his new book, Principles: Life and Work.

Establish who’s in Charge: Make it clear who is directing the meeting. Meetings without someone clearly responsible run a high risk of being directionless and unproductive.

Identify Meeting Goals: The leader should explicitly state what they want the meeting to achieve and how they plan to reach the meeting objective, Dalio says. Open discussion should be geared toward making decisions.

Be Open-minded. The meeting leader must explore all participants’ views, balance conflicting perspectives, and push through impasses in order to use time wisely and achieve the meeting objectives. The leader should work through conflicting opinions with an open-minded approach so that participants can better understand the various perspectives.

Minimize Emotion; Emphasize Reality. People’s emotions tend to heat up when there is a disagreement. Dalio emphasizes that the leader must remain calm and analytical at all times. The leader must ground the discussion in reality so that emotion doesn’t cloud or prevent rational decision-making.

Control talkative team members. One or two people sometimes dominate the conversation, leaving little time for others. After the meeting, politely reveal your concern, advises corporate trainer Paul Axtell in an article for the Harvard Business Review. Axtell suggests something like: “Troy, I would like the participation to be a bit more balanced in our meetings. It would be helpful if you waited until other people have entered the conversation before you add your thoughts. Also, I’d appreciate it if you’d look out to see who hasn’t participated yet and invite them share their thoughts.” Having that conversation with a habitually too-talkative offender before the meeting may be even more effective.

If someone gets interrupted during a meeting, return to them to ask them to finish their thoughts, Axtell advises. For instance: “Sarah, was there something else you wanted to add?”

Limit devices. Before the meeting, send a message to ask participants to resist checking their devices during the meeting, Axtell says. Consider writing “no devices” on the whiteboard so that you can point to it if attendees start to check their phones. Top executives can set an example by resisting their phones.

Follow the “two-minute rule” to avoid persistent interruptions. Give speakers an uninterrupted two minutes before others respond. This ensures that they have time to communicate their thoughts without worrying they’ll be misunderstood or drowned out by a louder voice, advises Dalio. .

Beware “topic slip,” or randomly drifting from topic to topic without completing any of them. To avoid topic slip, track the conversation on a whiteboard so that everyone can see the subject currently under discuss, Dalio advises.

Reach closure on each agenda topic to establish the next action steps. State the group’s conclusion at the end of a discussion. Send out a summary of the meeting within an hour after it ended or at least before end of day, Dalio advises. “If there is agreement, say it; if not, say that,” he states. Track how many items are completed, aiming for an 85% completion rate.

Bottom Line: Meetings can waste time. They can also be enormously productive if conducted effectively. A few simple changes in methods of conducting meetings can help PR and marketing leaders resolve the most common problems with meetings and help assure that meetings are more productive.