With a quick count, I figure that over the span of my career and in my personal time, I must have attended at least six thousand business meetings.
In all honesty, they have never been the favourite part of my job, but I always accepted that they were a necessity to get great minds around the table, to solve problems, to share information and to get out of our cubicles, away from our computers, for some equally important human interaction.
Even before Outlook Express was invented, back when meeting invitations were sent via a sheet of paper dropped in an in-basket, there have been a few occasions when I would be extended a meeting invitation comprising a date and a time, but very little else. Unfortunately, this sometimes still happens today, despite the great tools we have to simplify the process.
When that happens, I find myself wondering what the meeting is about, who else will be there, will I be speaking, do I need to prepare anything, do I need to bring a colleague, do I really need to be there or did someone make a mistake and it is within someone else’s expertise. I just want to ensure that I am prepared and not going to waste anyone’s time.
Meeting protocol is not a new issue. I understand that when things get busy, the formalities of meetings might seem a bit daunting, but in reality, everyone is busy and everyone is trying to make best use of time. Good planning is a small investment that ensures we use our time wisely and that we accomplish what we set out to do.
It is all common sense, but I think there is always room for a high level refresher on the basic principles of meeting protocol:
Preparing an agenda
A short list of the topics that will be discussed, along with an indication of who will be presenting the point.
Is the meeting for brain storming, problem solving, delivering a presentation, delivering a walkthrough, collaborating on a task? Identifying this in the meeting invitation and agenda will set the tone and help participants launch into the required business quickly.
Recording the minutes/record of decision/action items
A written account of the major points that were discussed, the decisions that resulted as well as any items that require follow-up, as well as who will perform that research.
If attendees of the meeting need to read documents ahead of time, send the invitation and the documents with enough advance notice to provide the attendee time to read the documents. Always assume that they are busy too. Sending a meeting invitation on a Friday night with 300 pages of reading material for a meeting at 10:00 Monday will not win you any popularity contests.
Have a good look at the topics when determining the duration of a meeting. Is 2 to 3 hours really necessary when a 60-90 minute might do to keep a meeting short, crisp and focused? I am not saying that all meetings can be conducted quickly, but be mindful of other people’s valuable time. Over the years, I have said that meetings are like gases in that they will naturally fill the space they are allotted.
If a meeting must run for two hours or longer, a short health break in the middle for food, water or to answer to nature’s call is a kind courtesy.
Keep changes to a minimum
Once you have all attendees booked for a meeting, especially a large group, avoid making last minute changes as some people’s schedules may not offer the flexibility to rejig things for your meeting. Also, if the meeting is considered off-site for your participants, do not forget that there could be other logistics involved such as other meetings and appointments, transportation, parking, start times/end times and even baby sitters to coordinate with. A small change can have a huge ripple effect.
To all attendees
Stay on topic!
Even in the most casual of environments, a little structure can go a long way.
If you are hosting a meeting, the last thing you want is for someone to show up and ask “why are we here?” It really does not take more than a few minutes to get everyone prepared, on the same page and to hopefully walk away with ideas, products or better yet, final decisions.
Just for fun, I tried Googling variations on the wording “origins of meeting protocol”, “origin of meeting minutes”, thinking we might be able to chalk up these principles to Ancient Greece or Mesopotamia, but nothing really conclusive really came up.
See?…THAT is what happens when you do not have good meeting minutes!
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Have a great day,