At the very mention of a meeting, any meeting at all, I can feel myself getting twitchy and anxious. The thought of sitting and using up precious time that I will never, ever get back fills me with dread. And, I know I am not alone as there are many cynics out there who describe meetings as ‘the most frustrating exercises in pointlessness ever invented.’ Amen to them. These meetings frequent both our work calendars and our home lives through all kinds of places like P and C and sporting associations. The time wasting nature of these gatherings do not discriminate. The good news is, there are ways in which we can make any type of meeting productive and worthwhile. Both David Price and Sean Blanda who writes for 99U suggests there are three critical factors that can make meetings matter:
- All meetings must have a stated purpose or agenda – if not, the meeting is just an aimless gathering or opportunity for a social chit-chat
- Attendees should walk away with concrete next steps or action items
- The meeting should have an end time so that attendees don’t go rambling off topic and get diverted into useless conversation
These three points are integral but not the only things that dictate a productive meeting. How often have you spent your day rushing from one meeting to the next with barely a moment to dash into the restrooms? Managing energy and engagement should go hand in hand with the logistical structure of meetings and some useful strategies include:
- Give me a break! – Any meeting that extends longer than 90 minutes should have a scheduled physical break. Research on the way we manage our physical and mental energy shows that we work best when we cycle between using and renewing energy. Asking attendees to sit for longer than 90 minutes means that it is much more likely they are thinking about other things or switched off and thinking about nothing at all. Taking a 5 minute stretch or refreshment break increases blood circulation to the brain and body and acts as a pattern interrupt allowing you to refocus and re-engage.
- Can everyone please stand-up? – With prolonged sitting being a major risk factor for all kinds of lifestyle diseases, why not make your next meeting a stand-up. It’s a bit like a pop-up shop, you don’t need to have all your meetings like this but it is good to mix it up and spend some time away from the chair, plus it does shift the energy in the group.
- Don’t do distraction – How often do you attend a meeting where everyone is busy looking at a device? Now sure, sometimes the presentation is being streamed through laptops and tablets but would bringing the presentation back to a main screen enhance the engagement of your group? This could eliminate device distraction. Your minute taker should be recording all action items for each attendee anyway.
- Mint mentality – There are few meetings that do not feature the ubiquitous bowl of mints in the centre of the table. These little sugary distractions disappear in the blink of an eye simply because they are there and often more exciting than the meeting. Every time you mindlessly eat one, visualise 1/2 – 1 teaspoon of sugar entering your blood stream. They can really add up can’t they? If you are the meeting organiser ask for the bowl to be removed and don’t forget to have water, tea, coffee and fresh fruit on hand instead.