Many times, meetings can be seen as boring events that people have to attend. That does not have to be the case. You can incorporate various elements into your meeting, which could make your meetings more interesting. Making the most of your meeting does not have to involve a lot of preparation. It just requires creativity and imagination. Let us learn some ways we can make our meetings fun.
The 50 Minute Meeting
The reason why meetings usually last an hour is that our computer program that sets up the meeting usually has 30-minute increments of time. We are forced to schedule meetings to last at least an hour. On a daily basis, we attend more 1-hour meetings than any other kind. When you have several meetings in a row that last an hour each, you will find that you do not have time to check your emails or do other things in between because the next meeting starts right on the hour. The 50-minute meeting is an effective way to space out meetings, allowing us time to do things in between meetings. Conducting 50-minute meetings takes discipline in time management. Here are four steps to make the most of your 50-minute meeting:
- Have an agenda: We discussed the importance of having an agenda. The agenda is the document that outlines what will be discussed in a specific amount of time. With an agenda, you will have the group agree on what topics for discussion. Send out your agenda ahead of time so your participants get an idea of time spent on each topic.
- No side conversations: Set the expectations with your participants that side-conversations are not allowed and that you expect them to be fully engaged in the meeting. Blackberries, iPhones, etc. are not allowed and express that you will hold them accountable if you see people looking under the table at such devices.
- Summarize actions steps: At the end of the meeting, summarize any action steps that resulted from the meeting. You should have action steps at the end of the meeting. If not, rethink why you held the meeting in the first place.
- Send out summary notes: This is the meeting minutes. This should be done as soon as possible after the meeting. Sending out the meeting notes is a great way to solidify those action items with the people responsible for doing them.
Using games in meetings helps to increase productivity. Many games could be used in meetings. We recommend you research the bookstores and find a resource that outlines appropriate games you can use. Remember to think about the meeting purpose before you use a game. If the meeting is about budget cuts, then you do not want to use a game in that type of meeting. Meetings that form new teams or launches a new product is best suited for games. Furthermore, determine how much time the game will take to complete versus the entire time you will be in the meeting. You do not want to play a 15-minute game in a 50-minute meeting.
Here are some Do’s and Don’ts when it comes to using games at meetings:
- Do use games from a book or legitimate resource
- Do use games for meetings that are meant to form new teams
- Do gauge the amount of time the game takes to play against the entire meeting time
- Do practice the game before you use it
- Do not use games in serious meetings
- Do not spend too much time on the game
- Do not make up a game of your own (unless you are confident you can pull it off)
Prizes in meetings should be used to reinforce positive behaviors. The prizes do not have to be extravagant. They could be pens, desk decorations, t-shirts, etc. When giving prizes away, be clear on how to win the prizes. Unclear instructions will lead to outbreaks of conflict when someone feels cheated. For example, if you announce that a person will get a prize for coming back from break on time, almost 95 percent of the time you will have some stay in the room and not go to break to win the prize. Make it clear that they have to leave the room. Perhaps you can up the challenge by stating that the person coming back to the meeting who is the closest to the break end-time without going over will win.
Here are some ways you can leverage prizes in your meetings:
- The most participation
- The first to arrive at the meeting
- Volunteering for something in the meeting
- Creative solution
- Who can recap the action items the best
There are no limits on how to use prizes at your meetings.
In this blog, we will look at the details of how to take meeting minutes. First, we are going to discuss the purpose of the meeting minutes. Second, we are going to discuss what to record throughout the meeting and finally, we are going to review a template that will help facilitate the minute taking process.
What are Minutes?
Minutes record major points, decisions, and follow up actions that are a result of the meeting. Meeting minutes also help to keep the meeting on track, because it uses the agenda as its outline. Meeting minutes serve as historical data that can be referenced in case a dispute should arise. They are also used to set the topics for discussion in the next meetings. Many times people who could not attend a meeting ask for the minutes so they can be updated on the latest developments in the meetings.
The minute taker should not have a major part in the meeting themselves. They must focus their attention on what is being said instead of participating. With this said, the act of taking minutes does not require that every word that is said must be recorded.
When taking notes, avoid becoming bogged down with writing full paragraphs. Outlining your points will make your note taking more efficient. When you are done taking minutes, immediately proofread and send them to the chairperson and distribute to all the meeting participants. File your minutes for referencing later.
What do I Record?
Many times people think taking minutes is a daunting task because there is a belief that every single word must be documented. If this was the case, then all you have to do is use a recorder and you are done. Recording everything will only make the minutes useless. The idea is to record information about who attended this meeting, the results and follow up action items. Here is a list of items that should be recorded in the minutes:
- Date, time and place of meeting
- The goal or purpose of the meeting
- The chairperson’s name
- Action items assigned to someone for completion after the meeting
- Decisions made during the meeting
- Attendees present and not present
- Items that did not get resolved
- Items to discuss in the next meeting
- Items that were on the agenda that did not get discussed in the meeting for one reason or the other
- The meeting end time
Keeping to this short list will make taking minutes more efficient and useful.
Disruptions in the meeting are bound to happen. Personal technology keeps participants constantly connected to the outside world. Frequent disruptions could impede the effectiveness of your meeting and become distracting to those who are focused on the meeting. Furthermore, poorly managing disruptions will reflect on the chairperson or meeting organizer. The key to mitigating disruptions is to plan for them and setting expectations.
In this module, you will learn how to deal with participants constantly running in and out of your meeting, cell phones, off topic discussions and conflicts. The goal is to reduce the affect. It is very difficult to avoid these distractions. It is human nature. Let us begin the module with a lesson on how to deal with participants constantly leaving the meeting.
Running in and Out
Constant disruptions caused by attendees running in and out of your meeting will affect the experience for the other attendees. We often take it for granted that attendees will stay in the meeting and not leave. Therefore, we do not discuss this issue very often at the beginning of the meetings. Addressing this form of distraction is best done proactively. Using the SIT technique helps your set the expectation regarding running in and out of the meeting. Next, incorporating frequent breaks lessens the changes of participants leaving the room, and finally giving timely feedback to those who break the rule is necessary in order to stop frequent violators. Let us review each step in more detail.
Set expectations: tell your participants at the beginning of the meeting what you expect of them when it comes to staying in the meeting room. Tell them the effects of constantly running in and out of the meeting on the presenter and other participants. Let all the participants know that if they need to leave the room to do so only if it is an emergency and if it is a severe problem, that they should leave the meeting. They will be more of a distraction if they stay.
Incorporate frequent breaks: at the beginning of your meeting, tell the participants they will get a five-minute break every hour the meeting lasts. Establishing this up front let the participants know when to expect a break and wait until then to call people back, etc.
Timely feedback given to those who break the rules: when you have a person still running in and out of your meeting, it is best to address that with them as soon as possible. If you have a problem participant, quietly leave the room and wait for them outside. Speak with the participant in a respectful manner and tell them that their behavior is disrupting the meeting. Ask if they are experiencing an emergency and if they need to leave. If they are not in an emergency, tell the participant if they could wait until the scheduled breaks to do what they have to do.
Cell Phone and PDA Ringing
Most people know to silent their cell phones and PDA’s when entering a meeting. However, they may forget every so often. Your job as the meeting manger is to remind them. Here are a couple of steps you can take to remind your participants to turn off those phones.
Place signs in the room instructing participants to silence their cell phone and PDA’s. They can be humorous and light-hearted. In any case, you will get your message across.
Make an announcement at the beginning of the meeting instructing the participants to turn off their cell phone or PDA now. The signs are a back-up in case you forget to do this.
Since the participants will most likely looking at the agenda, place a reminder there too. This way you have several areas where the participants can get the message.
One cell phone or PDA going off in the middle of the meeting could lead to a disruption that could last a couple of minutes. You can reduce this type of disruption by almost 100 percent by just mentioning it at the beginning of the meeting and providing reminder signs.
Off on a Tangent
This is by far the most difficult to manage in a meeting. The biggest challenge is to redirect without offending the participants. Using the EAR technique helps to do this in three simple steps.
Engage the conversation by becoming contributor for a moment. The goal is not to carry the conversation, but to gain some control by getting the meeting floor. Once engaged you are able to go to the next step.
Acknowledge that the topic is valid and worthy of discussion. This should be a short and affirming statement. This avoids embarrassment of those who carried the conversation when it is time to redirect.
Redirect the participants back to the conversation. This brief statement ends the last discussion and starts up the previous one that was on topic.
Here is a sample EAR script:
Participant on a tangent: I think pizza for breakfast is the best! There is now doubt about it.
Meeting manager: I am willing to try pizza for breakfast. It can’t be that bad.
Meeting manager: Perhaps you represent a large number of pizza lovers that enjoy the same thing you do. I won’t knock it until I try it.
Meeting manager: Now, let’s get back to the problem of employee morale in the call center. Who has some ideas they can share?
Granted the topic was embellished, but this last script demonstrated the steps clearly. Using EAR will help you master the meeting room every time the conversation goes astray.
Sometimes a meeting could result in conflict. This may be true of meetings where new teams are storming together and forming the team. Conflict could arise when two participants with opposing views clash. In any case, conflict in a meeting has to be managed. There is an acceptable degree of tension, which is normal in debates. However, when the tension turns in to outright conflict, the focus turns from the meeting to the spectacle that is the conflict. Your job as a meeting manager is to diffuse the conflict and restore order in the meeting. Allowing conflict to go unchecked could fester into a bigger problem for everyone in the meeting. The news of the conflict will spread quickly and how you managed, it will be scrutinized. Here are three steps to take when conflict arises.
- Stop: Stop the conflict by intervening and making a statement that acknowledges the conflict. Do not become frustrated yourself. Avoid taking sides. Never yell. Be professional and calm. Simply state that the discussion has turned personal and that it needs to stop.
- Drop: instruct the parties in conflict to drop the discussion for now and regain their composure. There is no need to carry on if the discussion is counterproductive.
- Roll: roll into a break. Even if you just got back from one, take a break and send the participants away for a moment. Call on the parties in conflict and hold a brief expectations meeting. You are not there to resolve personal conflict. However, you must manage the conflict because it is your meeting. Tell the persons in conflict that they must immediately stop the behavior. Restate the need for the meeting and that healthy debate is always welcomed. Have them agree to behave for the remainder of the meeting.
The meeting room is no place to try to resolve the deeper issues of the conflict. On the other hand, if the participants are all a part of a team that will meet regularly, then this issue has to be addressed in a coaching session and not in front of spectators.
In this post, you will learn techniques on how to keep your meeting on track, deal with overtime and holding participants accountable. Doing all this requires focus and a sense of doing what is right for the sake of all your attendees. Neglecting this could affect the meeting experience for many who will sit there and silently criticize your meeting management skills. Worse yet, they may get up and walk out, because they feel they are wasting their time. Let us begin by learning how to keep the meeting on track.
Keeping the Meeting on Track
In order to keep your meeting on track, you should set clear expectations on how time management will be used in the meeting. Setting expectations up front avoids surprised and indignation from the presenter, because they are not caught off guard. In addition, as a chairperson, you must feel comfortable interrupting the presenter when necessary. Many times the presenter would like to be told their time is up. This way they do not have to worry about time. The STOP technique helps to keep your meeting on track by doing the following:
Set expectations: letting your presenters and attendees know you intend on managing the agenda vigorously removes the element of surprise. When you neglect to set time management expectations, you are subject to an array of reactions from the presenter and attendees. It may be taken as rude behavior. It does not have to be that way. Let the presenter know that you will give them a signal at five and two minutes remaining. In addition, set expectations for questions and answers. Telling attendees to write their questions down to be asked at the end of the presentation avoids unnecessary interruptions, potentially side tracking the conversation.
Time the presenter: using a timer is the best way to manage the time of your meeting. Keep to the allotted time for both the presentation and the question and answer activity. Always provide a warning time so the presenter does not have to stop abruptly.
Overcome fear of interrupting: perhaps you do not have a problem with this, but there are many who see interrupting someone as rude and find it difficult to do. The best way to overcome this is by setting those expectations upfront. This way you know the presenter is expecting an interruption. The same holds true for questions being asked. If left unchecked, you could lose a lot of time by allowing excessive questions. Use your parking lot to hold questions that require more thought in answering. Call time on questions and answers so you can move to the next topic.
Politely warn people time is nearing: avoid being harsh and rigid. Treating others with respect is the best way to keep the meeting moving and with plenty of participation. You do not want them to shut down because you are becoming a tyrant.
Dealing with Overtime
Going into overtime presents several problems. Once the meeting extends beyond its original end time, you will begin to lose the attendees’ attention. This is particularly obvious in large meetings. No matter what size meeting you are dealing with, the goal to dealing with overtime is to acknowledge it before it happens. Look at the agenda and determine if you will need to go over. If you do, then do the following to mitigate the effects of going into overtime:
Determine your constraints
- Is the room or venue available for overtime
- Do attendees have to travel and cannot stay
- Warn attendees in advance that the meeting will over run
- Determine how much more time will be needed
- Communicate the extra time to the attendees
- In a small meeting, gain consensus to go into overtime
- Give choices
- In a large meeting, provide a brief break at the normal end time so those who have to leave will do so during the break and not the meeting
- In a small meeting, allow those who need to leave to do so
- If overtime is not an option, determine what agenda items will be missed and plan an alternative way of getting the information to the attendees
- Follow up email
- Topic saved for next meeting
If you do not manage overtime, then you will see frustration build among the attendees. Have a plan in place so you know what to do once you determine if your meeting is going to run longer than expected.
Holding Participants Accountable
In a meeting, it may be difficult to hold participants accountable. Participation, questioning, and preparedness could easily be overlooked. Holding your participants accountable involves communication.
Here are three basic steps you can take to holding your participants accountable:
- Set your expectations: in advance, perhaps in your invitation you should outline what you expect from the participants in this meeting. You may need them to bring questions, or help by providing information. You may want them to participate with vigor. In any case, you must outline what you expect of them before you can hold them to a standard or expectation.
- Clarify the consequences: let the participants know how you plan to hold them accountable. Perhaps you can warn that you will be calling on everyone for answers. You may also leverage their manager if applicable. You may say that you will be sending the meeting minutes to their supervisors where they can see if they participated or not.
- Follow through: if you said you would do something, then you have to do it. Do not get into the habit of making empty threats. People will respect you and will naturally be accountable to you because of your work ethic.
Most participants do not want to be on the “bad” side. They want to contribute. Your ability to assert yourself and communicate with clarity your expectations, consequences and determination will make this an easy process with practice.
Chairing the meeting is a leadership role. You must be ready and able to stand up and kick off the meeting without sounding nervous or uncomfortable. Your ability to communicate early in the meeting sets the tone of the meeting. Chairing a meeting effectively takes time to develop and requires practice.
Getting Off on the Right Foot
Opening your meeting effectively requires both a technique and a flow. The SIGNALS flow gives you an easy model to follow when opening the meeting. Here is a breakdown of the acronym:
Salutation is opening the meeting by welcoming and greeting your participants
Introduction is where you introduce who you are
Guest mentioned is where you introduce those attendees that are special guests
Need-to-know is a list of things like logistics, bathroom location, fire exits, general meeting format that is shared with the attendees
Agenda is where you discuss the purpose of the meeting and give a brief overview of the agenda
“Laws of the meeting” is where you discuss how the meeting is going to run. This includes policies on electronic devices, participation, and handling conflict.
Segue is the part of your introduction that links this part to the next topic, which in this case will be the role of the agenda.
Practicing your opening is the best way to become better at it. Over time, you will develop your own style, which will be comfortable to you. In any case, you will need to do it in order for you to learn it.
The Role of the Agenda
The agenda is an entity that plays a vital role like the chairperson or minute taker. Is should not be ignored, because if it is ignored, your meeting will experience time and participant management problems. Many times meetings run over or are cut short leaving topics unaddressed that were on the agenda. Consistently missing the agenda time and topics is a sign of poor meeting management. Here is a list of items the agenda accomplishes when handled as a role at the beginning of the meeting:
- The agenda communicates:
- Meeting topics
- Time allotment for each speaker
- The agenda provides focus by:
- Stating the meeting objectives clearly
- Outlining the meeting in increments of time
- Providing a checklist of things to accomplish in the meeting
- Allowing the attendees to see both the beginning and the end of the meeting, avoiding them becoming distracted when they are left wondering when this meeting end will
Here is a sample introduction of how to introduce the agenda as a role at the beginning of the meeting:
“The agenda today will help us meet today’s goal of deriving a good sales strategy. We have four presenters who are going to discuss how to present the new product, handle objections, gain commitment, and close the sale. The agenda will be our guide so we can stay on track and finish on time.”
Simply handing out the agenda does not communicate its role. You must introduce it like any other person that has a role in the meeting.
Using a Parking Lot
Using a parking lot in your meetings provides a place where topics that cannot be answered during the meeting are noted for follow up later. Sometimes the topics in the parking lot may be answered during the course of the meeting, but this is unusual. The parking lot is simple to implement. You could create a physical place by using piece of flip chart paper with sticky notes. Perhaps you prefer electronic documentation. You can collect parking lot topics onto a spreadsheet. Whatever you choose, you need to have a basic format. Here are some things to consider:
- Take a few moments to share with the attendees how the parking lot works
- Meant for topics that require follow up after the meeting
- Hold questions that can be answered later in the meeting
- Provide brief instruction on how to register a parking lot issue
- Provide the question or topic, name, and contact information, on a sticky note or verbally to the minute taker
- Chairperson will review parking lot topics to determine if the topic requires follow up after the meeting.
- Follow up communication will be sent to all the members of the meeting
The parking lot is helpful in managing your time. It gives you the ability to move off a topic that requires more research and time to develop. Remember to check the parking lot at the end of the meeting and always be sure to follow up when you say you will.
Establishing clear roles and responsibilities in your meeting helps to manage the meeting effectively. When roles are established, the participants have a clear understanding of what is taking place because the person in a specific role has a job to fulfill. Assigning roles also alleviates the task you have to manage. This way you can focus on the role you are to manage within the meeting time. Remember that you do not have to do it all. Get others involved.
In this module, you will learn the role of the Chairperson, Minute Taker, and the Attendees. Finally, you will learn how to vary the roles for large and small meetings. Let us begin first by identifying the role of the Chairperson.
The meeting chairperson is responsible for directing the proceedings of the meeting. They are time managers, referees, and enforcer of the rules when they are broken. The chairperson does not necessarily have to be you all the time, but when you do defer the chairperson’s duty to someone other than you, make sure you are confident the chairperson you choose can handle the role. The chairperson must be able to lead the meeting and be firm throughout the meeting.
Here are additional responsibilities of the chairperson:
- Be aware of the rules of the meeting if present
- Keep to the aim or objective of the meeting
- Remain fair with all participants
- Start the meeting
- Transition from agenda topic to the next
- Introduce the next presenter
- Handle disruptions
Some of the qualities a chairperson should possess are as follows:
- They should have some level of authority
- Demonstrate flexibility
- Remain impartial
- Display maturity
The role of the chairperson is essential if the meeting is to have some form of control. If you are the chairperson, make sure you do not take on additional roles. You want to remain focus on the tasks associated with the role of the chairperson. If you select another person to be the chairperson, it is a good practice to meet with him or her in advance of the meeting to coordinate the agenda and set expectations. You want to avoid miscommunication during the meeting, which could hurt the credibility of both your chairperson and yourself.
The Minute Taker
Taking minutes requires some basic skills. For instance, a good minute taker will possess great listening skills, and attention to detail. Furthermore, they should have excellent writing skills and communication skills. The person you select must be able to maintain focus and not be carried away with the meeting, missing crucial meeting information. It is best to select someone who is not directly involved in the meeting, allowing them not to participate. Here is a list of tasks the minute taker should handle:
- Before the meeting
- Determine what tool to use for recording the minutes (ex. Laptop, paper, recording)
- Become familiar with the names of the attendees and who they are
- Obtain the agenda and become familiar with the topics
- During the meeting
- Take attendance
- Note the time the meeting begins
- Write the main ideas presented in the meeting and the contributor of that information
- Write down decisions made and who supported and opposed the decision
- Note follow up items
- Note items to be discussed in the next meeting
- Note the end time of the meeting
- After the meeting
- Type up the minutes immediately after the meeting (if manual notes or recordings were taken)
- Proofread the minutes and correct any errors in grammar and spelling
- Save or send the document to the meeting owner
Using a template helps to keep the minute taking consistent. Remember to meet with the person you choose to be your minute taker before the meeting to go over the template.
The attendees are not excluded from assuming a role or having a responsibility in the meeting setting. Of course, you cannot force the responsibility on to your attendees, but you can attempt to influence them. The attendees are the biggest success factor of your meeting. If they feel that they accomplished something in the meeting, they will applaud you. However, if they walk away feeling they wasted their time, this could affect your credibility. The following are responsibilities your attendees could assume:
- Be prepared to contribute to the meeting
- Be prepared to arrive early and avoid being late
- Be prepared for the meeting by jotting down ideas and questions ahead of meeting
- Be prepared by reading the agenda before the meeting
- Be prepared for a long meeting by getting enough rest the night before
- Ask questions
- Take notes
- Share ideas
- Avoid carrying side conversations
- Remove distractions like cell phones and PDA’s
- Keep to the allotted time if on the agenda
Setting up expectations is the best way to communicate the role of the attendees. This is accomplished in either the meeting invitation, or separate email to the attendees. In any case, it is worth the time. Remember that all participants play a vital role in the meeting. Your job is to remind them of their role and the responsibility that comes with that role.
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