The Secret to a Meaningful Meeting? Make It Worth Everyone’s Time

Meeting Room

Poorly organized meetings are costly — by way of attendees’ time and a company’s bottom line. Here are the three crucial phases of a meeting that organizers and attendees can manage to boost productivity.

Imagine a busy CFO being pulled away from her desk to discuss a choice of illustrations for a company blog. Or a designer being asked to join a meeting about quarterly reports. Talk about a waste of time and resources.

Conducting or engaging in meetings, be it with team members or clients, is a fundamental aspect of the business day. Yet research shows most meetings don’t accomplish what they set out to do. Recently, FTI Consulting’s Strategic Communications division hosted an offsite training session for fixed-income professionals to improve meeting communications. An informal poll of participants revealed a surprising result: Only 1.47 percent of respondents “strongly agree” that the majority of meetings they attend are highly productive and create real value.

This minuscule response rate exposes the elephant in the conference room: Attendees’ perception of a meeting doesn’t always align with the outcome. There is a significant perception gap.

Only 30 percent of respondents “Agree"/"Strongly Agree" that the majority of meetings they attend have a clear agenda and objective.

According to Doodle's 2019 State of Meetings report, the cost of trivial meetings in 2019 will reach a staggering $58 billion dollars (£45.49BN) in the U.K. In the U.S., a whopping $399 billion hangs in the balance. Combined, these figures add up to nearly half a trillion dollars of lost time and resources.

So, how can corporate leaders and organizers bridge the perception gap and boost meeting productivity? By optimizing strategies to ensure clear objectives are set and outcomes are reached. There are three stages to a meeting: preparing before, conduct during, and following up after.

Preparing Before:

In the moments leading up to a meeting, presenters and participants should be able to clearly define the purpose of their meeting. The best way to establish goals is for attendees and organizers to ask themselves the following:

  • Who is going to be there? By discovering how familiar participants are with the meeting’s subject matter, or the ways they approach a topic, presentation organizers can gain valuable insight into how to best conduct the meeting.
  • What is the purpose? While simple, establishing goals and expectations leading up to a meeting can help organizers hone in on what’s important. Without a clear purpose, organizers risk wasting everyone’s time.
  • Why? Why? Why? This question gets to the root of any meeting. Why were these attendees selected to participate? Why a meeting versus a conference call? Answering these questions will provide organizers with a better understanding of their own intentions.
  • How do we achieve our goal? Ultimately, this question will dictate how a meeting proceeds. With the insights provided below, organizers and attendees alike will learn how to effectively answer this question.

Focusing on the big picture is important, but so is homing in on the details. Establishing timeframes, bringing thought leadership into the fold and recognizing the importance of face-to-face communications are all worth considering before kicking things off.

"Only 29 percent of respondents “Agree” or “Strongly Agree” that most of their colleagues arrive on time for the majority of meetings.."

Conduct During:

During the meeting, attendees should focus on optics and the ways they present information.

When speaking, the focus should always be on the audience, with the speaker looking to provide insights rather than simply information. Content should be structured, but also fresh and free of cliché so that it’s both compelling and informative.

Non-verbal communication and posture are key. Gestures and movements should be intentional; a person’s body language should be energetic while also comfortable.

For meeting leaders, the goal is to foster productive interactions. Here’s how they can accomplish this:

  • Time management – Determining how much time should be allotted to a topic.
  • Equality of opportunity – Ensuring everyone has a chance to participate.
  • Creating a safe space – Providing participants with a vibrant, energized space where they can speak freely about the topics at hand.
  • Cutting through fodder – Deterring unproductive or unhelpful behavior.
  • Listening for gold – Recognizing an exceptional could happen in a second.

As for participants, the same rules apply to both organizers and attendees: Listen with undivided attention, show respect for different viewpoints and be empathetic. At the end of the day, the requisites for being a good meeting attendee don’t differ much from being a decent individual: Be your best. Give your best.

Following Up After:

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It can be easy for participants to quickly move on after a meeting. However, following up is vitally important as it confirms that everybody is clear on what’s expected of them. Here’s what organizers and attendees should be asking themselves when the meeting ends:

  • How good are we at following up and following through? If the answer is “not very good,” then it would behoove organizers to take the lead and send a follow up email that summarizes the meeting and establishes next steps.
  • What is the culture of ownership and accountability? To truly make the most out of meetings, a culture of accountability must be established so everyone understands the important role they play.
  • How can we ensure people take responsibility? It’s important to have a system that encourages following up and being accountable to keep the momentum of the meeting up.
  • What do we do when people don’t follow up? Be understanding, but stern, when it comes to what’s expected. Everyone has a role to play — collective success is built on a foundation of accountability.

By putting some thought into the three phases of a meeting, executive leaders and organizers can drive real value. As for attendees, it’s all about making it worth their time. After all, there’s no reason why a designer couldn’t help balance the budget, or why a CFO wouldn’t be interested in seeing a lighter shade of green.

The views expressed herein are those of the author(s) and not necessarily the views of FTI Consulting, Inc., its management, its subsidiaries, its affiliates, or its other professionals. Copyright © 2019. All rights reserved.

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