Today I would like to show you 5 things to consider when inviting others to a local meeting, a video conference or a phone conference. These methods have been developed throughout years of hosting and participating in meetings all over the world and I hope they will be of value to you. You can’t always apply all of them in all work environments, but try to pick your favorites. I’m sure there are some ideas to take away from the list below. So without further ado, don’t forget the coffee and … enjoy more productive meetings!
1. Who needs to join?
Meetings can be a nice way of bringing relevant people together on a table (or virtual table) to analyze the status quo and decide for the best way forward towards a common goal. However a meeting host, who is to send out the meeting invites, has to consider carefully who should participate and who does not add value. That might sound harsh but the reality is that even people often forget it, every person’s time costs money. Maybe they are not charged for it but at some point the time they were involved in this meeting could also have been used differently. That is especially a critical factor if meetings happen with more than just one organization involved.
Often stakeholders want to be informed but don’t need to spend the whole time in the meeting themselves. This kind of information harvesting is not sustainable if the amount of nice-to-know meetings increase beyond your own office hours. For the interested stakeholder it’s best to provide him or her with a summary of what was talked about in the meeting and what decisions were made or whatever is left pending for their decision.
So make sure to analyze the reason for the get-together and invite only people who can add value to the meeting. Feel free to utilize the “optional” invite for people who are not directly impacted. If the outcome alone is relevant for a stakeholder you don’t need to waste their time with the talk – just send them a brief update on the outcome of the meeting. If you are not sure how to handle the situation, just ask the clients or stakeholders if they would like to be invited or not. Generally an interesting approach would be to not have everybody allowed to schedule meetings before they don’t know the etiquette of hosting a meeting. You could call it a hosting-licence and your company could save a lot of time and money by leveraging that.
2. Write an agenda
Agendas and general meeting information should be mandatory to a meeting invite. Make sure that the invitees are aware of “what” will be happening or what project this meeting is related to. Your agenda can be structured as easy as 1-2-3. An example structure for the parts of the meeting could be:
- 1. Introduction / Who is who
- 2. Situation briefing / Problem statement
- 3. Ideas / Assigning action items
- 4. Any other business / decisions tracked in minutes
Tell them in clear written text “when” the meeting is happening and make sure to include recurrence information, date, weekday, time and whenever necessary add the times for all participant’s time zones relative to their location. Also identify how long the meeting should run. Feel free to invite for 15 minutes instead of a full hour if that is all you think it will take. You may plan with some buffer but don’t overdo it. A good webpage to coordinate time zone related matters is TimeAndDate.com and their International Meeting Planner.
Don’t forget to add details on “why” the meeting is happening. It might be obvious to some individuals why the meeting is happening but the rest really appreciates an actual reason for them to invest their time and attend. Often people have a lot to do in their work day and if you ask them to invest their time into your meeting, does it not seem plausible to at least explain them why?
Now you can proceed with the actual agenda of the meeting. Here you list the meeting phases and subjects and identify possible speakers or stakeholders and prepare a plan. While you facilitate the meeting, don’t forget your agenda. Keep it in front of you and stick to it. Make sure nobody eats up more time then scheduled, stealing the chance for others to address their thoughts.
How / Where
Let people know what kind of meeting this is going to be and how they can join it. It can happen that there are newbies, who aren’t accustomed with “the usual” yet. Anybody who can’t anticipate the “how” will greatly appreciate that type of information.
In return people will begin to like this way of planning that ensures that everybody’s time is used at a best possible rate. They will evangelize the method and bluntly reject ‘blank’ invites with the request for a proper agenda to be added before they accept it. The “who” was already covered in the first bullet, in case you missed that one.
3. Tell invitees what you want from them
An important piece of hosting a meeting is to manage the expectations. Advise of your expectations about the outcome of the meeting and also let the invitees know what you expect from them during the meeting and even before the meeting starts. Only if everyone is aware of what is supposed to happen in the meeting, they will be able to value to it. Expect people to decline your invite if this is not clear to everybody.
What to include?
- Make invitees read and understand the full invite
- Advise invitees to raise points to be added to the Agenda if they miss something
- If you attach files to the invite, tell them to review it before the meeting not during the meeting
- Tell them to forward the invite to others, if they think the person could add value
4. Explain how to join the meeting
If you utilize collaboration or communication technology such as web conferencing, video conferencing or even only audio conferencing, make sure that even inexperienced invitees are able to join. Attach a few lines of connection details and dial-in instructions to the end of the invite body before you send it out. If possible provide the invitees with a trial connection, to verify whether or not they would be able to join, before the actual meeting is happening.
This way you can ensure that everybody is there sharp on time, ready and able to collaborate rather than waiting on person X who couldn’t manage to run a plugin in the browser or person Y who was not able to enter the PIN into the Smartphone.
5. Meeting minutes or it didn’t happen
Many meetings are facilitated in swift and adequate manner but lose value if the agreed steps or actions are not tracked after the meeting has ended. Make sure all statements and action points are assigned to individuals with a due date and make sure to follow-up in timely manner. You may utilize a time keeper or someone who records meeting minutes on the fly.
Alternatively you can just write a summary yourself, after the meeting has ended and send it to all participants (and to all who were absent). Make sure to include all statements and outcomes in your summary email and make it the recipient’s responsibility to speak up if something is not correct or misunderstood. It might sound abstract, but some folks behave like the meeting never even happened if there are no records of what was said and decided during a meeting.
Check out our ideas that are considered to be ‘experimental’. Feel free to try this out and let us know how this worked for you or what you think of it.
- Schedule 40 minute meetings instead of a full hour or 20 minutes instead of a half hour. Start at ten minutes past the full hour then end ten minutes prior to the following full hour (x:10 – x:50). This allows a little breather for people who frequently join meetings and allow them to change physical location, grab a coffee or go to the restrooms and still be on time.
- Remove your phone from your desk or put it belly-down and mute it. Keep your focus where it can add value to the meeting.
- Try out meeting sketching. A new trend to visualize information in your notebook that is creative and fun. Check out Eva-Lotta Lamm’s web page with examples.
- If you’re late, you pay lunch/dinner for all. A method that can quickly improve timeliness of participants and hosts alike.
- Pro tip: Listen to the participants. You might even learn something new rather than just giving others updates.
- What are your experimental methods? Let us know in the comment section below!
If you’re a regular reader of TechAcute you might already know our feature of David Grady and his video about improving meeting culture and the Mindless Accept Syndrome (MAS), but if not, I strongly recommend you to check the video out and follow him on Twitter. He’s a very friendly guy, so say “hi” to him.