What are the traits of an effective meeting? If you’re someone who leads or attends a lot of meetings, you’ve no doubt experienced some of the best and worst that meetings have to offer. We’ve likely all been in the meeting with no clear purpose, the one that starts late and runs long, the one that could’ve easily been an email or the one that’s held to compensate for the ineffectiveness of another. It’s safe to say that wherever there is a company holding a meeting, there’s likely a group of people who want to see fewer, better meetings. Well, as someone who’s spent a lot of time in meetings, I’ve come to recognize three traits that are clear indicators of whether or not a meeting will be effective. If you want to be a better leader of meetings or avoid the ones that are clearly headed for disaster, then this blog is for you.

If you had to identify, in one word, the reason why the human race has not achieved, and never will achieve, its full potential, that word would be 'meetings.' - Dave Barry

It’s not common for people to talk about meeting attendance and the word “love” in the same sentence. That is, of course, unless the person, “loves that they didn’t have to attend the meeting”, “loves that the meeting was canceled”, or – shockingly – “loves that the meeting actually accomplished its purpose.” We don’t love meetings because they’re all too often ineffective uses of our time instead of the productive, decision-driving discussions that they should be. Here’s the good news: changing the meeting paradigm is within our control. We can actually host meetings that our teams will love but, for our meetings to be truly effective, three elements must exist.

1. The Agenda is Defined Ahead of Time

The starting point for any meeting should be defining the desired goals and outcomes of pulling a group of people together. It could be to brainstorm new ideas for a product launch, discuss feedback from a customer engagement study or rally the team around a new idea or initiative. By creating an agenda, you’re providing a framework to guide the discussion, setting clear expectations on the purpose of the meeting and enabling attendees to ask questions or provide feedback in advance. Additionally, it provides a sense of accomplishment when you’re able to address the items on the agenda and, hopefully, arrive at any necessary decisions. When you don’t provide an agenda, you’re leaving meeting participants in the dark on how the meeting will be structured, what will be discussed and whether or not it’s even worth their time.

2. The Meeting Starts and Ends on Time

Whether it’s for 15 minutes or two hours, meetings break the momentum of all other work that you and your employees need to accomplish during the workday. We all know this and, as a result, many of us manage our time – and our calendars – with diligence. One of the most common and unintentional ways to show a disregard for others is by not treating their time with respect. When it comes to meetings, this goes both ways. If you’re running late to the start of a meeting, notify the host or attendees with a quick note. If you’re the host, adjust the start of the meeting time accordingly. In either scenario, it’s a common courtesy to acknowledge the negative impact of your delay on those who could make the meeting on time. When it comes to the end time of your meeting, it’s better to end early than late. In fact, I recommend that you schedule your original meeting time for 10-15 minutes longer than you expect the meeting to take. This can be a tricky art to balance but, like many things, you’ll find that it gets easier with time and practice. As an added bonus, this buffer often gives people a few minutes of much-appreciated downtime between meetings that they may otherwise have to find by coming to a meeting late or leaving one early.

3. Every Participant Understands Their Role

Have you ever attended a meeting and wondered why yourself, or others, were invited? One of the worst things that could happen in a meeting is having the wrong people in attendance or having the right people there but without clarity on their purpose. It’s a surefire way to have a meeting spiral out of control. Who then, should be in attendance?

I’d suggest going through your next invite list and qualifying whether or not each person has one or all of the following attributes:

  • They have the authority to make any necessary decisions
  • Their expertise would provide value to the topic at hand
  • The meeting’s desired outcome impacts them, and they need to provide guidance or perspective

While this isn’t an exhaustive list of qualifiers, it can help you narrow down your attendance to the people who are truly invested in the goals and desired outcomes of the meeting. Lastly, don’t assume that people know the roles that you’re expecting them to fulfill. It is worth outlining these expectations in your invitation to improve everyone’s clarity on why the meeting s happening and how they can contribute.

Avoiding your next meeting disaster really is as easy as following these three steps. To get started, review all of the meetings that you host to ensure that you’ve outlined the agenda, can commit to the timeframe and have clarified everyone’s role. If you struggle to define that pre-work, that’s a clear indicator that you need to prepare a bit more before you should hold the meeting. For meetings that you’re attending, always request an agenda in advance and, if your role in the meeting is unclear, ask the host to clarify what they’re hoping you’ll bring to the meeting. When I do this as a participant, one of two things happens: I am better prepared for the meeting or I get to remove from my calendar. In either case, I feel great about the outcome! Do you have other tips and ideas for holding more effective meetings? I’d love to hear them! Share your suggestions with me on Twitter: 

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