5 Ways To Make Your Meetings More Productive

Frankie Kemp

14 August 2023

An important lesson in communication skills training is how to get the most out of meetings.

A considerable portion of time is wasted with unproductive meetings, so to avoid an involuntary rolling of eyes when yet another meeting is called, you need to find and implement ways to make them more efficient and more productive.

This is mainly about having structure and cutting out unproductive habits, but language and presentation skills do play a part.

1. Speak plain English

First of all, management speak, waffle and corporate word salad wastes a lot of valuable time. There will be far fewer misunderstandings and meetings would be far more productive if we just spoke plain English.

‘The convergence of alternative methodologies through blue-sky thinking should leverage business action-items for robust solutions.’

or, in other words…

Take a look at these other ideas to make your meetings more productive…..

2. Changing Places

If you have regular meetings with the same group of people, have you noticed where they sit?  Do they have the same seat every meeting, which they hold on to for dear life? I call this ‘The Three Bears Syndrome’ (Who’s sitting in MY seat!)

The problem with this is that it also means that the mind-set of individuals will be unlikely to alter. Reactions become entrenched.

People are more likely to become inately challenged to extend themselves when they’re pushed out of their comfort zone. So, if you’ve quieter people in the group, or dominant people, swapping seating can help to balance out contributions.

Think back to meetings where there’s little movement in the room: as soon as you change your posture or position around the table, you’ll also be thinking more freely.

This creates a different dynamic to the meeting which has a positive impact when there’s an agreement within the group to change up seating.  In number 4, there’s a simple way you can do this.

3. Anchor it

Many meetings have agendas handed out beforehand.

Despite this, it’s not uncommon for very few to refer or even remember the agenda.

The moment discussion starts to drift from this agenda you’re in trouble: attention will become strained and some people in the room will mentally check-out.

In order to ensure people stay on track, copy the contents of the agenda on to a larger flip chart in the meeting itself.

Now, when someone interrupts with a matter not related to the agenda, do this:

1. Walk over to the flip chart, point to the matter you’re discussing and say ‘How is this issue related to the one here?’ Or words to that effect.

2. The speaker will then rephrase their comment so it re-connects with the agenda, or they will retract. You can always ‘Park’ it (see below).

3. The next time someone intervenes with an issue that might not be pertinent, walk over to the flip chart again, and ask the same question.

4. After about three repeats you’ll find that people are thinking twice about interrupting or about introducing a new subject matter, and as soon as you lift the pen and look at the chart, they’ll automatically be prompted to reconsider statements to fit in with the agenda. This should streamline the flow of the meeting and cut our superfluous discussions.

4. Use Parking Places

This is immensely useful for when you think the meeting is being side-railed, as above.

This technique is simply another flip chart with issues, questions or comments that you need to come back to.  When people stray from the agenda you can make a written reference on the flip chart of issues that warrant further discussion.

When you do this, you’re less likely to have ‘A Monopoliser’ taking over the discussion because they think you’ll get back to them.  In addition, you’re showing respect for their opinion by making written reference to it.

What you put in ‘Parking Places’ might form the basis of ‘Any Other Business’ at the end of the meeting, or may become meetings that are best on a one-to-one basis.

Fundamentally, you’re ensuring that you cover  the key business issues first, addressing the main objectives of the meeting, before referring back to these if/when there is time.

5. Decide on your feet

Meetings where people stand up are shorter than those when all parties are sitting.

Studies have shown that, on average, people reach decisions within 10 minutes during standing meetings.

Sitting ones last until people have mastered the skill of sleeping with their eyes open.

Suffice to say, we’ve all known someone who’s happy to sit at the back of a meeting for an hour or more, thinking about what they might be having for tea, and offer no contribution unless they absolutely have to.

One Accountancy practice for which I worked had a table that was waist-height but had no chairs in their meeting room.   Consequently, meetings were short and succinct because people could move easier around the table, which meant that status games were dissolved, there were no dominant monopolisers and everyone contributed equally.

Most importantly, decisions were made more cohesively.

You may still want chairs, because after all, you don’t want people to feel uncomfortable, but you want to avoid opportunities for people to hide and/or over-dominate.

The result? Everyone’s on the same page, and can, therefore, make a decision – other than when the next meeting should be…

These five tips on making meetings more productive form part of my communications skills training.  If you are interested in these courses or my presentation skills training, then get in touch today.

*This original article was posted in 2010 and was updated in August 2023*

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