Perhaps Iím being too generous here Ė Iíve heard some meetings described as awful, terrible, painful, a waste of time, and other things I wouldnít choose to put in print.
This article is written to help remove the curse from meetings. These five questions can make any meeting more effective Ė if you both ask and answer them before your meeting. These questions will help you as the meeting leader, facilitator or planner and also will help you as a meeting participant.
Each question has a companion question to further help you improve the results your meeting produces.
The five questions
1. What is the desired outcome of the meeting? (How will you know the meeting was successful?)
This is the first and most important question to ask before any meeting.
Too often meeting planning revolves around the topic Ė which doesnít define success at all. Why would you meet if you didnít know what you wanted to accomplish? Iím not sure why you would, but it happens thousands of times everyday.
Before you schedule or at least plan your meeting, you need to know what your desired outcome(s) are. Without these, your meeting is doomed to being less effective (and more frustrating) than it could be.
2. Who needs to be there? (And who doesnít?)
Iím guessing some of the meetings youíve attended that you would consider to be ineffective or boring were meetings where you didnít see a need for being there at all. This experience should give you a clue . . . the best meetings have the right people (and only those people) in attendance.
Once you know what you want to accomplish, then (and only then) should you think about who needs to be there. Let your desired outcomes drive who you include in your meeting.
3. Is the agenda prepared? (If not now, when?)
Your desired outcome(s) are a pivotal part of your agenda and so once you have them determined you are a long way towards completing your agenda. Add the timing, order of events, and a listing of the desired outcomes, as well as the location, length, attendees, etc. and get that to people ahead of time.
4. What can I do to prepare? (How can I help others prepare?)
If you are planning this meeting, you need to think through the agenda to make sure you are prepared from a logistical standpoint. You also need to make sure the others you have invited understand the agenda, how they can contribute, and what preparation they need to do.
Beyond your planning role though, as a meeting participant you also need to consider your preparation for the content of the meeting. Think about the information or ideas that you need to bring with you. If you need input from others or need to review something, make sure you have done that as well.
5. What can I do to make this meeting succeed? (What is my responsibility?)
Once the planning is done and the agenda is published, this important question remains. Answering this question reminds you that there are many things you can do to make the meeting more effective. Those things you can do include:
- Being on time
- Actively participating
- Maintaining an open mind
- Making sure everyone is contributing
- Asking questions
I could go on, but you get the idea. It doesnít matter what your stated role is for the meeting, hopefully you are there because you have something to contribute. It is your responsibility to offer that contribution.
When everyone attending a meeting thinks about their responsibility Ė and acts on it, youíll be amazed at the results.
A comment about roles
At the start of this article I mentioned that these questions applied to anyone. However, as you read most of them you may have been thinking that this article is mostly for leaders, managers or others who plan meetings.
While those people might be the people actually determining the desired outcomes and inviting people, all of these questions still apply to all of us.
If we arenít responsible for the planning of the meeting, we still need to know the desired outcomes. If we are invited, we need to ask why.
If there isnít an agenda, we can raise our hands and ask for one (or suggest one is written at the start of the meeting). We all can do our best to be prepared, and of course question #5 is completely relevant to anyone Ė regardless of your role or classification in the organization.
If you want better meetings, ask yourself these questions, and take action on your answers.