Guest Column | May 27, 2016

6 Tips For Increased Meeting Productivity

Meeting Productivity

By Mark Roberts, CMO, ShoreTel

As CMO of a business communications company, and having spent the bulk of my career in the industry, it has been my top priority to find ways to transform and streamline the way businesses hold meetings. Meetings were developed to be an efficient way for employees to get together to discuss ideas, debate issues, overcome obstacles, and drive outcomes. However, today’s average worker spends nine hours a week preparing for or attending meetings. Meanwhile, executives consider 67 percent of meetings to be failures.

The purpose of a meeting is to accomplish a specified objective, yet for all the time invested, meetings are often remarkably unproductive. For any business that struggles with employees wasting time or unproductive meetings, here are seven tips that will help you build a better meeting and increase productivity based on statistical research and experience

Tip 1: Getting The Right People In The Meeting
Whether you are having lunch or gathering in a board room, a successful meeting is one that is focused on engaging your target audience, the meeting attendees. If you’re not sure whether or not someone needs to come to your meeting, call and ask ahead of time.

Common mistakes meeting leaders make consistently:

  • 30 percent set no clear purpose or agenda
  • 14 percent invited people who did not need to attend
  • 25 percent of the meeting time was wasted

Research shows 14 percent of meeting attendees didn’t even need to be in the meeting. A quick phone call or an email ahead of time asking if they need to be in the meeting is often appreciated. Once you’ve identified the appropriate meeting attendees, give them a heads up on the agenda and briefly describe your goals for the meeting. This quick and easy poll accomplishes several things. First, it respects your employees’ time and allows them to self-select whether or not they need to be included. Secondly, it ensures you never get a reputation as that co-worker who wastes people’s time with pointless meetings.

Tip 2: Schedule Smarter — Choosing The Right Time And Place
There have been days where I find myself saying, “I wish I had more time.” Imagine a world where you could help your employees get more time back. On average it takes approximately 17 minutes for professionals to set up an appointment and they spend almost four full days per calendar year coordinating appointments. There is a time and a place for everything, and the best times to hold meetings are sometime midweek. Try to avoid Monday morning and Friday afternoon meetings because people are more likely to be distracted by either their plans for the work-week or their plans for the weekend.

If your offices are scattered across the country or on a different continent, be mindful of time-zones and check in with participants beforehand to determine ideal times for them to get together. As a reminder, be sure to use calendars and scheduling tools to avoid stacking meetings, since people will be more likely to multi-task if they are just coming off another call or have a pressing deadline.

Tip 3: Communicate Meeting Goals Beforehand
It’s shocking the number meetings I’ve walked out of and had employees ask what the purpose of that meeting was. Forty-seven percent of employees consider too many meetings to be the biggest waste of time during the day. I want to emphasize the importance of not having employees leave a meeting wondering what the point was, or what their next steps are.

To avoid this it’s critical to set a goal or specific agenda for each meeting. If you are not sure how to set a goal for your meeting, use the SMART method. Make sure that every goal you write down and share at your meeting is: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Results-Oriented and Time-Limited.

Tip 4: Engage Attendees With Topics That Require Active Discussion
I’ve found meetings are ideally suited to serve three workplace functions: addressing topics that require discussion, exploring options in order to make sound decisions, and eliminating confusion on a subject.

Most professionals who attend meetings on a regular basis admit they do the following:

  • nine out of 10 people daydream in meetings
  • 60 percent take notes to appear as if they are listening
  • 73 percent bring other work to meetings
  • 95 percent miss parts of the meeting

It’s important to concentrate on your task at hand, engage your audience, ask questions that require participation, and solicit opinions and play devil’s advocate. But, by all means, get everyone in the meeting talking, discussing and sharing. If you do, you’ll find people will be talking about how great and effective your meeting was long after it is over.

Tip 5: Picture It — More Images. Fewer Words
Research has shown that visual aids increase both comprehension and retention of presentations, and create a higher regard of the presenter. The effect is stronger with color presentations or well-done animation.

When used correctly, PowerPoint is a wonderful tool that supports your message and enables members of the group to quickly process and retain information. Images are especially useful to a discussion when they convey information that isn’t otherwise easily understood.

My rule of thumb is to show, rather than tell, what you are trying to say. Avoid using slides that only contain text. Instead get your audience engaged, use visuals, like graphs, diagrams, and photos to engage your audience. Slides that simply recap — or worse, quote verbatim — what is being said are boring and encourage participants to check e-mail or do other tasks while they are being displayed.

Tip 6: Using Technology That Empowers Moderators
Fifteen percent of an organization’s collective time is spent in meetings — a percentage that has increased every year since 2008. I have to say today’s meeting moderators are fortunate to have a range of communication tools at their disposal to help them foster participation and guide discussions toward meeting goals. A few of the most popular VoIP conferencing tools are:

  • Desktop Sharing — enables presenters to share documents, PPTs and software demos
  • Web Co-Browsing — allows presenter’s browser to be mirrored in participant’s browsers
  • Text Chat — lets participants and presenters text (privately or publicly) during presentations
  • Shift Control — enables control to be temporarily shifted to a participant (or secondary presenter) so he/she can share documents, advance slides, etc.
  • Emoticons — allows participants to raise a hand during a meeting and display emoticons for ‘slow down,’ ‘speak louder,’ etc.
  • Integration — calendaring, instant messaging and presence are all integrated into the meeting technology

The overarching strategy of a successful meeting is to get the right people in the meeting, communicate goals ahead of time, engage attendees and use visual aids and call technologies that empower meeting moderators. Following these tips will help increase the productivity of your meetings in 2016.