Module 9: Facilitate Your Conference Calls and Meetings for Better Engagement
Conference calls and meetings can serve a number of important business purposes. They can be used to resolve problems, manage projects, brainstorm, or collaborate with colleagues and clients.
However, if not run properly, conference calls and meetings can just be time wasters.
They’re probably not going to say that they live for meetings because they offer a dynamic opportunity for them to get involved. More common words you’ll hear might be, “boring,” “long,” “pointless,” or “unnecessary.”
Many of us wrongly think that meetings are a necessary part of business and there’s no way to improve them. However, there are many strategies that you can employ to engage people in calls and meetings, whether they be in-person or virtual.
The most important tip for hosting a great meeting is thinking through whether you actually need it in the first place. If there is no actual problem or issue to resolve, cancel the meeting. Ask yourself whether it’s something that can be resolved through email or an informal chat with an individual or a few individuals. Get into the habit of reviewing all meetings regularly.
Go through your meeting calendar and decide whether each meeting is critical or not. We often create recurring meetings based on a need at the time, but then we don’t go back to see if the meetings are still necessary.
For example, you might need regular meetings at the beginning of a client project, but now that the project is approaching its end, the meetings are no longer essential or productive. One option is to reduce the frequency of meetings like these if you still feel they’re important. Remember that regular meetings can also lead to important discussions.
When you have everyone together, get to as many items as possible that are relevant to everyone present.
For virtual teams or people in different locations, you’ll still need to run virtual meetings. Those may be the only chance for you all to talk together and chart your progress.
You can also make your meetings more relevant by reviewing the attendees. In general, large meetings with many members are probably a waste of time for some members. Look at the list and confirm whether each person really needs to be there. Those who might want to know the contents of the meeting but whose participation isn’t strictly critical can get a copy of the minutes, presentation materials, or other documents. Start with the purpose and decide whether this is important to each participant.
If you’re using meetings simply as a venue to convey company-related news, hold a regular “town hall” instead. You can share important news and progress against your goals, as well as take questions from voluntary participants.
Once you’ve gone prioritized and cleaned up your meetings calendar, make sure that you have an agenda with stated objectives for all of the remaining meetings. In the example of a weekly team meeting, each team member should have an opportunity to share an update. The agenda should follow up on the actions prescribed by previous meetings. Meetings should end with actions required for the next meeting as well as a Q&A session.
To save time, meeting notes and other documents should be centralized and easily accessible to everyone. Use a shared drive or cloud solution for sharing data.
Hold “flipped” meetings. A flipped meeting is one where each attendee sends their report to the organizer ahead of time, who then shares with everyone else. This way, the act of basic reporting is taken out of the meeting, which trims time, allowing participants to move directly to items that require further discussion or questions. This approach can cut meeting times in half or even more.
When doing a flipped meeting, follow up with attendees after giving them the updates. Ask people specific questions about the others’ updates. This will ensure that everyone has done their work.
Establish clear timekeeping rules for participation. For daily meetings, a 2-minute maximum might work. For a weekly meeting, you could impose a rule of 5 minutes. Manage the time diligently and have code words or set phrases to let people know that you need to move to the next participant.
A good way to manage the time is to use a stopwatch. Have it displayed so that everyone can easily see it and manage their participation accordingly.
During the meeting, part of your role is to manage the topic of discussion and make sure that it doesn’t go off track. Use your code words or set phrases to bring people back if they wander off topic. Attendees might feel tempted to tell personal stories or anecdotes that are not highly relevant to the discussion.
Finally, if you end the meeting early, let people go. We sometimes unconsciously force a meeting to go on longer because we decided on one hour, so it seems like it should go for an hour. But once the purpose of the meeting has been met, there is no reason to keep everyone there when they probably have other things to do. Even finishing just a few minutes early can be helpful.