Taking Minutes Off Meetings

Today, I was in our wonderful local bookshop. As I found myself browsing the shelves of business-oriented books, I spotted one entitled “Taking Minutes Off Meetings”. At least at first I was sure that was it’s title and I thought, what a remarkably good idea! Many meetings seem to go on far too long and have little point – the larger the company, the more frequent the meetings. So much wasted time! Any practical suggestions for reducing the length of meetings must surely be welcome.

Then I looked again at the book’s spine – and again. As the truth dawned, I must admit that I almost lost interest. Because once I had read the title properly, it said “Taking Minutes Of Meetings”. What a yawn! Who would be inspired by a book title such as that? Clearly my mind had added the extra “f” as a way of enlivening an otherwise bald and unconvincing narrative.

So I started thinking – if “Taking Minutes Off Meetings” is really what I want, how can I bring that about? How can I make sure that my meetings are always interesting, short and to the point? Here are some things to do before, during and after your meeting:

Before

  • Do you really need a meeting? Or would an email, memo, audio or video recording be more effective?
  • Make sure that you have a mandate – you don’t want your senior management, clients, suppliers or other influential figures “pulling the plug” by questioning the validity of your activities.
  • Ensure that there is always a clear purpose for the meeting. What are the positive outcomes? Who benefits? How can you communicate the benefits to those who might be less than enthusiastic (what’s in it for them)?
  • Check that most of the people who you want to be there can attend your meeting on the planned date/time. If your organisation does not already use Outlook (or similar) to do this, you might consider a web-based solution such as www.agreeadate.com.
  • Just as important, create an agenda for the meeting and mail it to all attendees well in advance of the meeting. Ensure that the agenda reflects the benefits.
  • Who will be the Chair for the meeting (or series of meetings)? If this person is not you, do you have the Chair’s approval/buy-in? Ensure that the Chair understands the need for keeping to the agenda and to time constraints. The success of the meeting depends on how well the Chair manages, so pick someone with energy, enthusiasm and commitment.
  • Have you communicated the how, what, when, where, why, who to all attendees? And sought feedback on their understanding and agreement?
  • If the meeting is likely to be of a sensitive nature, invite a neutral facilitator to attend.

During

  • Start meetings precisely on time, to reward those who have taken the trouble to turn up punctually.
  • Winston Churchill insisted that people stood at his meetings, thus keeping them short! Will this work for you, or will it cause more ‘challenges’ than it’s worth? In general, are there incentives that you can offer to ensure that people turn up on time, stick to the point and keep it brief?
  • Ask each attendee to make a specific contribution to the meeting. That way, everyone feels included and valued. Conversely, it is much less likely that someone will become an agitator, disrupting the meeting.
  • Time flies by when you’re having fun – so build in a fun/interest element. For example, unknown to your regular attendees, you might invite someone from a different department or company to give a presentation to the meeting from a fresh angle. Of course, any presentation must be on topic!
  • Assign action points to named individuals – preferably, with their prior agreement!

After

  • Ensure that the meeting minutes are written up and go out to all stakeholders in double-quick time.
  • Minutes should mainly be action points from the meeting and a brief summary of any decisions made at the meeting.
  • Ensure that each minuted action happens!

Of course, making meetings shorter is not always the best solution. But making meetings more effective is. And the above suggestions will help you do that.

Afterthought: I can’t really complain. Some of my best poetry has been written in long and otherwise boring corporate meetings. :-)

Watch image courtesy of Jacci Howard Bear, About Desktop Publishing, http://desktoppub.about.com

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