Some tips from a previous page on this blog about meetings…
Two Types of Meetings
One type of meeting is for the purpose of people with something in common (a project, a department, a role, a skill set, an interest, etc.) to gather and have a free form exchange of ideas. These types of meetings need only a clear topic and basic shared ground rules (at a minimum, always be respectful) to be productive.
The other type is to accomplish one or more specific goals. If there are more than three goals, some will be missed (and some can still be missed with only three). These types of meetings require a specific agenda beyond the meeting topic. They require that someone is recognized by all as the leader or facilitator or moderator and that person knows how to perform in that role. They require someone good at note taking to be the scribe (or a method of recording the meeting on a shareable medium). If the meeting is missing any of things, any successful outcomes are the result of luck or the meeting was really one of the first type.
Record All Web Conferences
It is a good habit to record the web conferences you host and request other hosts to record and post the recordings for participants. This allows you to focus more on the meeting rather than taking notes. It also provides a reliable source of reference when different attendees later have varying recollections of statements and decisions made in meetings.
Prepare to Participate in Project Retrospectives
The project retrospective is a chance to commit the lessons learned to memory. The issues with retrospectives come in bookend-form: It takes a long time to get the creativity and honesty flowing at the start of the retrospective and the captured lessons are rarely referenced by anyone not in the meeting. For the latter, you can blog about the lessons you’ve learned and for the former you can come prepared (you’d be surprised how often you are the only one).
To be prepared, it is best to keep running notes throughout the project (I use Evernote) or at least to put together some thoughts at least a day in advance of the meeting. If you are the only person that does this you can single-handedly knock over that first bookend (just like that couple that would always be the first to dance in school).
I strongly suggest that you have as many positive items available as possible so that you are ready to start it off on a good note. If you have several, space them out if others do not
Another approach that I have found to be successful may seem counter-intuitive: Make your first “area for improvement” shared something that you were responsible for. This is especially important if you are the first to provide it because by honestly recognizing and sharing your own contribution to things that went wrong it will ease the concern others have of being picked on. The group will be more relaxed and open up sooner, making the meeting highly productive.
© Scott S. Nelson
The concept seems like a no-brainer, and maybe it is just my personal experience, but anytime a poll of the meeting attendees is run asking if they reviewed the material sent prior to the meeting, the overwhelming majority response is “no”.
I was reminded of the importance of being prepared while listening to an episode of one my favorite podcasts, “Think Fast, Talk Smart” (please see my YouTube channel for a link to the podcast playlist and subscribe to my channel while you are there so I can finally get a vanity URL). The episode was titled Communicating Our Mistakes: How to Avoid Common Flaws and Make Better Decisions, which I admit was not one of my favorite episodes, but it did spend some time on this topic of preparation, which triggered a confirmation bias response from me. It started with a learning approach where the teacher asked students to complete the lessons before the lecture so that lecture time was spent building on top of that, then moved on to how meetings are more effective if people review the material in advance and discuss in the meeting…
[sounds of wood scraping across the floor as the author pulls his soap box out]
There are corporate cultures where materials are not provided in advance, probably because of the tendency for people not to review them. This makes the problem worse. These same cultures also frequently have meetings schedule with no agenda. I had someone on one of my teams who refused to attend meetings without an agenda. It was difficult for me to fault him, as I agreed with his reasoning.
People hate meetings because they are often inefficient and inclusive. My approach is to go the opposite direction of those who stop sending the material in advance and including agendas: I avoid reviewing the material in the meeting and instead advise those who didn’t to take notes and review it after the meeting. Depending on the purpose of the meeting, I may just reschedule it and advise everyone to come to the next meeting prepared. This may seem anti-[your pet sentiment here], but my experience has been that people become much more productive when they come prepared as a result of the meeting being more productive and few meetings because things were accomplished the first time.
Finally, if your organization has the ability to record meetings, do so. Notes taken during meetings require that the note taker split their attention, so either something will be missed or they have a great auto-writing process that most do not. And memories are worse than notes, and even worse when prompted by notes that were taken with the expectation that all context would be retained when reviewing (hint: it won’t). Most meeting software that records has an auto-delete time period, so preserve elsewhere if necessary or let it expire if it turns out it isn’t needed. The recording may just save you from another meeting to go over the same agenda (or even non-agenda).
[author returns his soap box to easily-accessible storage location]
© Scott S. Nelson