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    When Meetings Can’t Be an Email: How to Make Meetings More Impactful


    It’s practically an old saw at this point: “That meeting could have been an email.” However, many meetings can’t just be an email, no matter how you may wish it were different. Certain topics and business problems simply require face-to-face conversation so decisions can be made or action plans formulated. When that’s the case, it’s up to leaders to make meetings worth everyone’s time.

    At those times when email won’t do, here are some tips for making in-person and virtual meetings more impactful.

    Make an Agenda (and Stick to It)

    You likely schedule every meeting for a specific purpose. But if the meeting doesn’t stay on topic, your attendees might soon tune out or become annoyed. This is why a meeting agenda is a must. A detailed agenda outlines the goal of the meeting and topics you need to cover.

    Remember, an agenda is only effective if you stick to it. The employee running the meeting needs to keep everyone focused. If an idea comes up that’s outside the scope of the meeting, jot it down to return to another time.

    Eliminate Distractions

    Effective meetings require everyone to be present and engaged. Unfortunately, employees might check email, glance at their phones, or do other work during the meeting. These diversions make the meeting less efficient. So do your best to eliminate distractions during your meetings.

    If you’re in the office, you might ask everyone to leave their devices at their desks. Of course, distractions are harder to control during virtual meetings, but you can remind employees to stay present for the entire time block. At the very least, insist that all attendees keep their cameras on to lessen the chances that, sight unseen, they’ll turn their attention elsewhere.

    And, of course, lead by example. Employees will start checking Slack messages or drafting emails if they see their managers doing the same.

    Ask Thoughtful Questions

    Strong communication is another tool for keeping employees engaged during meetings. As a leader, it’s your responsibility to show employees that you value their contributions. Ask thoughtful questions about the topic at hand, following up if you need more information.

    Asking the right questions can be particularly effective during virtual meetings. As employees experience Zoom fatigue, they might be slowly checking out. Pull your team back in by reminding them that their role matters. A simple, “What challenges have you been running into?” can go a long way.

    Practice Active Listening

    When it comes to impactful meetings, asking thoughtful and relevant questions is only half the battle. You also need to listen. Your team will be able to tell if you’re asking questions for the sake of asking. Plus, you could be missing out on valuable insights.

    Active listening doesn’t need to be complicated. Make eye contact, stay engaged, avoid interruptions, and ask for clarification if you need to. For example, an employee might point out a resource they need or a roadblock they have encountered. If you can’t present a solution at the moment, commit to following up with that person.

    When everyone listens actively, you’re making the meeting into a conversation rather than a lecture.

    Take Detailed Notes

    Your team can also hold more impactful meetings by keeping detailed notes. Of course, it can be tricky, and often impossible, to remember everything that your team members said. But when you have notes, you can refer back to the meeting as needed.

    These notes will also keep absent employees in the loop, while helping at least the note taker to stay more engaged. Just be sure to change up the note-taking tasks. No one wants to be stuck typing away at every meeting.

    Another winning option? Consider an automatic transcription service. This technology jots down the meeting word-for-word, so your team can focus on the conversation at hand.

    Assign Action Items

    If you only schedule meetings when necessary, you’ll want to end each one with clear next steps. This is why action items are a must. As you run through the items on the agenda, assign the next steps as you go. Then go over the list of action items at the end to confirm these assignments.

    As a manager, it might be worth checking in with employees about their tasks between meetings. You don’t need to micromanage, but this extra check-in ensures that your initiatives stay on track.

    It’s also helpful to consider whether you’ll need another meeting to take further steps. For example, this might be the case if you didn’t reach a decision in the last meeting. In this case, a half-hour call might be more efficient than dozens of tiny check-ins.

    Watch the Clock

    Why do so many meetings feel like a waste of time? Because they simply take up too much time. Many companies make the mistake of starting meetings late and going over time. This habit throws the entire day off schedule, causing your employees to dash to their next commitments.

    Punctuality is a sign of respect. Plus, no one likes sitting in a Zoom waiting room for longer than they need to. Honor your team and clients by showing up and ending on time. If you see that time is running out, recap what you need to. Then come back to the rest of your agenda items at your next meeting.

    Today’s companies have endless communication tools at their fingertips. However, sometimes you can’t beat a simple face-to-face conversation. Whether your team is meeting in the office or online, it’s your job to make this time worth their while. If you aren’t sure how to make meetings more impactful, simply ask. Your employees likely have some ideas.

    Image Credit: yan krukov; pexels; thank you!

    Brad Anderson

    Editor In Chief at ReadWrite

    Brad is the editor overseeing contributed content at ReadWrite.com. He previously worked as an editor at PayPal and Crunchbase. You can reach him at brad at readwrite.com.

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