Woman running a meeting

5 Ways to make meetings pain-free and productive

If meetings are part of your daily work life, you will know how painful and unproductive some of them can be. Equally, some meetings can be remarkably constructive, enlightening, and even at times, inspirational.

In my old corporate life, I ran numerous daily meetings and facilitated multiple workshops. I would pride myself on ensuring that they were efficient, productive and useful… and injected with a little humour.

These days, some of my coaching clients share their sense of frustration that the teams they manage or are part of aren’t functioning to their full potential. I suggest to them that a small part of this dysfunction could be attributed to sub-optimal team communications, manifested often through lacklustre meetings.

I also frequently hear anecdotal stories from those regularly participating in business meetings that they were interminable and pointless. They say they’re achieving very little and wasting a lot of people’s valuable time.

If you lead meetings at work or in your business, I’ve put together these 5 tips to help you make them less painful and more productive.

1. Adopt a meeting etiquette

Experience has taught me that by adopting a meeting etiquette, especially within organisations, you can maximise the opportunity of getting team members together.

Start by cancelling meetings that are surplus to requirements, even if it’s a recurring slot. Your teams will thank you for not filling their lives with meetings for meetings’ sake.

In the interest of progress, hosts should invite all, and only, the right people into the (virtual) room, especially if decisions need to be made. Ideally, people who aren’t instrumental in moving things forward should not be there.

Then for the meeting itself, introduce some rules of engagement. Such as being fully present during meetings by switching off devices and resisting dealing with emails.

2. Have a purpose and an agenda

When arranging a meeting, and as the meeting kicks off, it is always helpful for organisers to share the purpose of the meeting. Even if it’s a regular slot, people can lose focus.

To sharpen focus, it is highly recommended for meeting leaders to put together a tight agenda which they share with attendees in advance. Attendees should be given advance warning if they need to come prepared.

Moving through the agenda efficiently, ensuring that everyone inputs into their slice of it, helps the meeting run smoothly.

Fundamental to making headway is the provision of some good notes and a list of action items. Tasks should be assigned to appropriate attendees with due dates. Make sure that the person responsible for an action understands what is being asked of them, commits to carrying it out and is aware of the due date.

3. Start and finish on time, regardless

Another useful tip is for the meeting leader to time box the meeting to as short a time as possible. You must ensure that it starts and finishes on time. A meeting should not run over (unless the team is aware that this could happen, and they are OK with it).

There is nothing more annoying than an important attendee showing up late to a meeting because their previous meeting ran over. This represents poor meeting management and has a domino effect.

Anyone who has experience of working on software development projects will know about stand-ups – these are meetings which are around 15 minutes long. They are so focused that attendees don’t need to sit down for them.

We can all learn from this format which has the intention of keeping things on point and moving through the agenda efficiently. With contributions remaining quick and concise, no one feels the need to sit down.

4. Kill ‘over-chatting’ and ‘death by Powerpoint’

A seasoned meeting facilitator will ‘kill’ too much over-chat, often perpetrated by one person in a meeting. Even if it is on topic, and especially if it is off topic, the facilitator must become proficient at interjecting with sensitivity to stem the over-chat.

Using a tried and tested technique, it is helpful for the host to practise asking over-chatters to take their important contribution ‘offline’, or to ‘park’ their point. This is corporate speak for ‘shut the hell up’.

Have the conversation elsewhere outside of the meeting context (however useful they believe their contribution to be). If the over-chatterer is a senior executive, the facilitator needs to sharpen their communication skills so precisely that the executive over-chatterer intuits their transgression and steps back in line. 

The meeting leader should also make an art form out of reining in meeting offenders who commit ‘death by Powerpoint’. Many of us will have experienced the pain of sitting through a 30+-slide deck with each bullet being read out by the presenter.

The protocol for handling this is for hosts to review attendees’ slide decks in advance. Ask presenters to cut down the number of slides to 10 or less. If something’s worth saying, it can be summarised in as few slides as possible.

5. Keep it light

A final, golden tip for facilitating a great meeting is always to keep things light. Especially when staring adversity in the face.

This doesn’t mean downplaying the importance of matters of a serious nature. Injecting a bit of humour and lightheartedness into events can help to foster strong working relationships. It promotes good team communication and cohesion. This helps to build a solid foundation for excellent collaboration, even when dealing with a globally distributed team.

Alisa Salamon

Alisa is a certified career transition coach based in the UK who helps people carve out a new career or take their existing career to new heights. Email lifescapecoachingltd@gmail.com to find out more.

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