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Envision's blog contains a series of posts about how to best run your conferences, business etiquette, tips for keeping your meetings productive, and more.

How to Ruin Your Next Meeting

As first appeared in the Nashville Business Journal on May 7, 2014: http://www.bizjournals.com/nashville/blog/2014/05/how-to-ruin-your-next-meeting.html?page=all.

From the Handbook of Bad Meetings: Schedule a meeting - just because it's Monday, and that's what you do on Mondays. Don't bring an agenda, or distribute any of the reading materials to attendees beforehand. Also, make sure you look at your phone several times, and interrupt the flow of the meeting to respond to an email or text.

Unfortunately, this scenario is all too familiar.

We spend a lot of time in meetings. A story in the New York Times cites recent studies that found workers in information-intensive industries spent an average of 20% of their day in meetings (see image below). If you're curious about just how much time and money your organization is spending - some might say wasting - on meetings, Lucid Meetings has created this handy calculator to help you figure it out. So why not save time, and money, and make them better?

ruin-your-next-meeting

It turns out, the first step to having better meetings starts before you even schedule the meeting. How many times have you been in a meeting that started out as one thing, and became something else entirely, then suddenly it was time to go to your next meeting without tackling the issues you met about in the first place?

Following an agenda keeps everyone on track. Even just the act of creating the agenda can help you weed out whether you actually need to call the meeting in the first place. Prioritize your thoughts into clear goals and objectives:

  1. What do you need to accomplish?
  2. What will everyone learn from the meeting?
  3. What action item will they take away?

The Harvard Business Review cites organizational psychologist Roger Schwarz, who suggests that you "list agenda items as a question - rather 'Discuss video schedule' write 'When will videos be completed?' to show what outcome you have in mind." Just don't forget to distribute the agenda to everyone before the meeting.

There are many reasons to exit the carpal tunnel of emailing/texting/tweeting for the more friendly pastures of the face-to-face meeting. Often a meeting’s goal is to maintain a relationship with a client or an employee. Other times, when you typically work out of co-working space you may need more time to meet with a larger group - for example, a new product roll-out, or an announcement that impacts employees.

The solution to keeping everyone’s brains working may seem counter-intuitive at first: build in more down-time. In addition to making sure your colleagues have a chance to take a break, stretch their legs and grab a cup of coffee. MeetingsFocus.com suggests incorporating networking activities or team-building into breaks to give people a chance to actively participate, and process what they’ve learned.

But maybe you’re meeting to brainstorm around a particular issue, with hopes of finding a solution. In that case, think about how you can avoid that dreaded panic a few days later when the Go Team! high has worn off, the details of the meeting are foggy, and you’re left overwhelmed with three pages of notes and 400 different ideas and no clue where to go next. Make sure someone (probably you) keeps the meeting on track. Get feedback, then decide which ideas and action items will be pursued before moving on to the next topic.

Schwarz has some good advice for that, too: manage ramblers by acknowledging their point, then suggesting to talk to them about it later. That way the meeting can stay focused on your agenda goals, and your (long-winded) colleague doesn’t feel slighted.

Characteristics of a Good Meeting

A good meeting leaves people feeling:

Valued. This begins with the decision to have a meeting - are you valuing your co-worker’s time by making sure the meeting is necessary, well-organized, and stays on schedule? Do others have a chance to ask questions and share ideas? Everyone is more likely to hold themselves accountable if they feel heard - that what they brought to the table helped you arrive at a solution together.

Prepared. Make sure the team is on the same page, and everyone leaves feeling equipped to accomplish what is expected of them. All too often employees question whether they are meeting their boss’s expectations -- because those expectations have never been made clear (ahem, “win the day”). During the meeting, set specific action items, with a monitorable timetable. Follow up after the meeting with a summary of what you decided and who is doing what, and their deadlines.

Motivated. Use your enthusiasm for your company/product/idea to energize the room. Remind people every step of the way why you’re taking the steps you’re taking, and how it benefits them.

And for goodness sake, put down your cell phone.

Olivia Tomlin is the vice president of development and operations at Envision Conference Center in Brentwood, Tenn.

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