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Golden Rules For Effective Meetings: Making meetings more productive

By Molly Messenger, Chief of Staff, Udemy

If you’ve been tasked with leading your first meeting, you might think all those hours sitting in meetings as an attendee have adequately prepared you. But were they all good meetings? Being the one in the driver’s seat brings additional responsibilities and requires a different mindset to get the results you want.

First, think about the “bad” meetings you sat through. I’m guessing they were disorganized and unfocused. Maybe you felt like there was no point to the meeting or wondered why you were there. Those meeting leaders failed to set clear expectations, control the discussion, and guide it to a productive conclusion.
 
You don’t want to be that person, right?
 
At Udemy, we took a hard look at our meeting culture and launched an initiative to provide a framework that would help people decide when an in-person meeting is truly needed and how to make the most of that time. I think every first-time meeting leader would be well-served to take this advice to heart.
 
Don’t Wing It
As a busy professional, you may be tempted to blow off preparation and tell yourself you already know what you want to get done. Poorly planned meetings, however, ultimately lead to more meetings that try to accomplish what was missed the first time around.
 
It’s worth thinking through why you’re having a meeting and, perhaps most important, what needs to happen after it. Our framework asks that meeting leaders clearly define the purpose of their meeting, share a detailed agenda, and communicate the desired outcome — in advance — to establish a shared understanding right from the start.
 
As a novice meeting leader, you might be inclined to invite certain people “just in case,” but this can waste valuable time for everyone. It might make more sense to assign an attendee to communicate up the chain afterward, than to have someone sit in a room for 30 minutes to weigh in on a decision that will take 30 seconds.
 
You should also plan how much time you’ll spend on each agenda item, so you don’t rush through important topics. Watch the clock (or, better yet, assign a timekeeper) to ensure you cover everything.
 
Be Aware of Group Dynamics
If it’s your first time running a meeting, you might just focus on getting through your agenda. But your job as meeting leader is to facilitate productive dialog, not merely to check items off a list. Don’t only look only at your presentation deck; keep an eye on the rest of the room too.
 
Successful teams make better decisions by soliciting diverse ideas. For this to happen, your culture needs to be built around a commitment to psychological safety, so people feel like they can disagree and challenge each other without judgment or retribution. Notice if certain attendees dominate the conversation or cut others off. Establish a “step up/step back” norm that encourages people who are quiet to speak up, while those who tend to dominate conversation are asked to make room for others.
 
On a tactical level, watch out for attendees busy on their phones and laptops instead of paying attention to the discussion. Plenty of meetings fail simply because people weren’t listening and offering input when the team needed it. It’s okay to politely ask everyone to close their devices.
 
Nail your Finish
The most important thing to do when leading your first meeting is to learn from the experience. Ask for feedback from the team. At the meeting’s conclusion, summarize what you talked about and check that you met your objectives, have assigned action items, and have a clear plan for owners and deadlines.
 
If your office has a culture of meeting overload, there will always be one or more people who dash from the room because they have another meeting starting in two minutes. This is why it’s important to watch the clock and make sure you’ve covered off on important discussion topics as well as project management needs that will keep you on track. No one should leave the room without a full understanding of what was decided, what their responsibilities are, and when they’re expected to deliver.

Originally published at www.hr.com.

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