You might have seen plenty of memes and jokes about how awkward or exhausting meetings are. We all love to complain about days of back-to-back meetings, the time we spend gathering together online or in person, and how it can take away from our day-to-day work. Our attitudes to meetings have consistently remained the same but meetings themselves have changed very little - other than migrating online (thank you Covid).
Beyond the jokes, there is a serious message here - that meetings in their traditional format don’t always work and that facilitators need to create a better experience. We have put together some thoughts, reflections, and ideas to inspire you to make more engaging and interactive meetings throughout 2022 and beyond.
In the hands of someone that knows how to properly and efficiently use PowerPoint, it can be an incredibly useful tool. But for most of us, it can be a user-unfriendly experience that is the butt of countless jokes. Bland white slides and black Arial font haunt many of us. For others, the sight of these monochrome slides and awkward transitions are a one way to ticket to daydreams. If you want to jazz up your meetings and keep your audience engaged and attentive, then make the switch to another presentation software; before someone suffers death by PowerPoint.
Mentimeter is one alternative that lets you gain some input for your audience by way of live polls, quizzes, and Q&As; the goal is to create a truly interactive experience within which your audience can become active participants. There are plenty of tools on the market, and sometimes a pen and a few post-it notes can take your meeting from boring snoozefest to something more interactive. Whatever you choose, be sure that the tools enhance the experience and do not overcomplicate it.
Meetings get a bad name, and with good reason. A straightforward way to make your meetings more engaging and potentially interactive is by dropping the name “meeting” and managing expectations better by calling the session for what it is. For example, a “workshop” points to a collaborative session, whereas “training” indicates that attendees will learn new information, develop new skills, or hone old ones.
If you, as the facilitator, define the meeting better, attendees will know what to expect and bring the right mindset to the session. Think of this as a quick and easy way that you can better prepare the group for what exactly is to come. “Updates” will alert everyone that new information or new is on the way while check-ins signify that they will probably be asked for their input.
Now, we are not advocating for speed meetings where facilitators are Spartan with both their words and the information they share, we are, however, proponents of cutting all unnecessary fat from meetings. Putting together a meeting agenda and plan to map out how long each section may take is a practical way to keep things both concise and efficient.
What can be done in 30 minutes should be kept to 30 minutes, there is no need to stretch things out to an hour. Remember that we all have a limited attention span and no matter how riveting the subject we will begin to switch off after a certain point. More is less when it comes to meetings.
Top Tip: If you find yourself or others covering a very niche topic during a meeting that does not concern the group, try asking “Can this be covered afterward.” If the answer is yes, follow up with the relevant parties and spare everyone else a few minutes listening to back and forths that don’t impact their work.
Too many meetings end and fade into the general obscurity of our minds leaving little impression. Too often do we leave meeting rooms only to return to our desks without any idea of what course of action we need to take next. Follow-ups and action points will help you and your team to be more efficient and go and take action rather than just talking about it.
Even worse is when we rush off to another meeting causing us to forget what we went through once and for meetings and notes to all blur together into one mass of information. Take it upon yourself as the host of the meeting to create a series of to-dos, action points, and even a brief summary to send to relevant parties in the immediate aftermath while things are fresh in everyone’s minds.
If virtual meetings have taught us one thing, it is that meetings work better when everyone can be heard (and has a good internet connection). We have been forced to make meetings more inclusive so that people can attend from anywhere in the world. You need to make sure that everyone can join your meeting, no matter if that happens to be online or in-person. Remember, that those on the opposite end of the camera are just as important as those at the opposite end of the room.
While ensuring everyone can attend is the first step in running a more inclusive meeting, making it possible for everyone to speak up and take part is the all-important second step. Oftentimes people can feel that the pressure that comes with speaking up in front of others can be overwhelming. This leads to great ideas, insightful questions, and poignant discussions never being more than ideas in someone’s head. Creating a safe space where everyone and anyone can equally contribute will help you to improve your meeting and workplace culture.
Technology can greatly enhance meetings. However, it can also be a distraction and reduce its effectiveness. Ensure that your business meetings are effective as they can be by removing any unnecessary tech. You can let your meeting participants know what they need to bring by adding a note in the meeting agenda such as: “No laptops, but please bring your smartphone for voting with Mentimeter”.
The fewer distractions the better! We are all guilty of typing away at something on the side while a meeting is in full flow. It could be work-related, it could be a message to your friends - either way, it takes our attention away from what is happening in front of us. As a facilitator, limiting tech use will also force you to become more economical with your time. The longer people are away from their laptops the longer they are away from answering emails, drafting documents, or doing that all-important work they do. Keep things efficient and mess-free.
One way to make your meetings more engaging is to make them purpose-driven and to develop the meeting agenda around the purpose. By simply having a clear purpose, agenda, and, perhaps, even a goal for the meeting, you can see more clearly if the meeting fulfilled its purpose. This is especially relevant for recurring meetings. You may need to reevaluate and see if they need to be discontinued or adjusted if they aren’t fulfilling their purpose.
So the world of Zoom, Teams, and Google Meets meetings made us feel like we needed to go around the call and kick things off with some type of icebreaker. As good as an idea as that may have been, there were plenty of meetings that either recycled the same icebreakers until the ice was well and truly crushed or that used something a bit too cheesy and forced. So best spice up those icebreakers and start your next meeting on the right foot.
We have plenty of templates and ideas that you can use and these range from some fun ways to get to know your colleagues better to conversation starters designed to kickstart some chit-chat at a conference.
Hearing the same voice over and over can not only become repetitive but will lead us to drown out that voice. Delegating facilitating duties can be a great way to spread the responsibility for the meetings, keep things fresh, and improve the buy-in of others. Now that they are in charge of meetings you may see some creative ways of updating your team and communicating the latest news.
By failing to prepare, you prepare to fail. Don’t arrive at your meeting room only to realize that you forgot to invite a new team member, or that you never actually booked a meeting room and now have to scramble to find one. A simple checklist, even one filled with the most simple and mundane tasks, will help each and every one of us arrived primed and ready to go.
Well, we mentioned icebreakers previously and this is a good starting point. But there are other ways to jump into proceedings. If this is a weekly team meeting, then briefly recapping the past week can be useful, as could a quick run-through of updates.
If your meeting is a brainstorming session or a workshop, mapping out the itinerary and plan of action will help to prep everyone. When running a client meeting, consider giving a brief introduction if you and the client are unfamiliar with one another.
Luckily for you and me, we have written extensively on this very topic, so why don’t we just redirect you in that direction? There are plenty of tips and tricks on how to end every one of your meetings with a bang.
So we have mentioned what makes a meeting successful, but what are some of the signs that a meeting was less successful? Some examples may be seeing people working on something else while the meeting is going on, a lack of participation (think blank faces, no one willing to answer questions, etc.), as well as a general lack of concentration are the tell-tale signs that a meeting is going poorly.
While a complete meeting revolution may be the stuff of dreams, we can at least make them incrementally better. Meetings will continue to take place every day and we will often spend a good chunk of our weeks taking part in meetings. By improving this experience, for everyone, we can make those few hours more enjoyable and engaging, thus leading to a more productive and exciting work week.