Tips for getting more out of meetings

If you have a boss who loves meetings, chances are you're not quite as enamored with them. Many professionals view meetings as a colossal waste of time, especially if your boss isn't the best about maintaining a tight timeframe, focus and system for accountability.

Brendan Cahill, chief executive of Trinity Horne, consultants who sponsored a report on worker productivity, Getting More From The Same, says in the Times of London that managers should spend 60 to 70 per cent of their time "actively managing staff, giving coaching, guidance, support and assistance," and only 15 to 30 per cent on administration and meetings.

If your boss isn't one of those people, you can do something about it. For one, don't make meetings worse than they already are, and for another, volunteer to help. Perhaps you can help transform meetings into productive uses of everyone's time.

Here are a few tips.

  • Be on time. It wastes other people's time if you show up late and the boss has to go back and review what's already been covered.
  • Stop texting. Do you really think you're boss doesn't notice your downturned eyes and clacking fingers? Resist the temptation to have a "sidebar" conversation with your neighbor. Mind your manners, and set the tone.
  • Come prepared. If it's an informational meeting, there's no need to get involved a discussion, unless you need to ask clarifying questions. But if it's a budget planning meeting, for example, do your part and read the agenda and background material. Come prepared with your own cost-related data to add to the conversation. If you don't receive an agenda, contact the organizer ahead of time and ask him to briefly explain what he hopes to achieve in the meeting.
  • Volunteer. John Reh, a senior business executive and contributing author to Business: The Ultimate Resource, suggests that a "topic keeper" can keep meetings on track. This person interrupts when the discussion starts to stray. Another idea is to be the "facilitator," the person who makes sure the meeting process is running smoothly and that no one person dominates the conversation.
  • Put your idea in a "parking lot" if necessary. If you have a thought that is related to the objective of the meeting, but slightly off-topic for the goal of that meeting, write it down or mention it so that it can be put on hold for a future meeting.
  • Read the minutes. These should be distributed within 24 hours of the meeting and can remind you of action items and progress.
  • Make yourself accountable. Don't rely on the minutes alone. About 80 percent of people in business meetings don't write anything down, according to the ACA Group, so they don't get things done because they forget what they are supposed to do.

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