In the past 20 years, humans have intensified our efforts to communicate more effectively. We’ve invented new means and tools to talk to one another and, in the process, have created innumerable devices with the hopes that we’ll become more efficient in this vital activity.
What we are basically trying to do is convey information more easily and quickly from one group or individual to another. Have we come closer to reaching this goal? What have we gained during our quest to share more and more information? Are we smarter? More informed? Are projects finishing on-time more often, or even faster than before?
Communicating is such a basic activity, yet hard to effectively manage, especially within a corporate ecosystem. With non-stop phone conversations, unlimited plans, GoTo and WebbEX meetings, Skype sessions and teleconferencing, many corporate cultures believe that simply meeting and talking constitutes effective communication. Having sat through thousands of meetings, I believe that effective communication must be a two-way street, where two or more parties take turns being the receiver and the emitter of information. In order for communication to actually take place, the receiver should be “on mute” as long as the emitter is sharing information, and deliverables and actions should be defined at the end of every such instance.
It is estimated that almost half of all meetings are held just for the sake of talking. The end result is lots of talk, with few tangible results. “Meeting for the sake of meeting” is very popular in corporate cultures across the country. Appearing busy seems to translate into perceived job security.
Follow these 11 points to combat, curb, and even eliminate such unnecessary behavior:
- Check with participants to make sure a meeting is necessary. Very often, short bursts of email exchanges or a short conversation over coffee can potentially solve the problem or achieve the same (or better) results as a meeting.
- Always book a meeting room if possible, and keep the group under 5-6 people to ensure effective communication.
- Make sure the right people attend the meeting – those who are directly involved in the project, not representatives or assistants. Ensure that everyone present is actively participating and doesn’t lose focus during someone else’s monologue. Better yet, do not allow monologues.
- Go into every meeting with a clearly-defined agenda. Keep the agenda under five bullet points. If you have more than five points to cover, split the meeting into two sessions. This best practice keeps people energized and actively engaged.
- Send out the agenda, along with any goals you want to achieve or any deliverables you want generated, prior to the meeting. Do not invite people with an agenda “coming soon.” A meeting is not a movie – people need to know why they’re invited to attend, how they should prepare, and what they should expect to accomplish.
- Invite one reliable assistant who can quickly synthesize issues and record meeting minutes. Distribute these notes via email as soon as the meeting is over.
- While encouraging attendees to speak up and brainstorm freely, maintain a clear direction within the scope of the meeting, and constantly steer attendees toward the goals and deliverables you’ve defined.
- If the discussion seems to be revolving around one subject, or if additional time is needed to solve a complex problem, table the issue, and schedule a follow-up meeting before the group disbands.
- Check off completed goals throughout the discussion so that participants have a clear view of the meeting timeline and any progress made.
- Close the meeting by swiftly summarizing accomplished goals and how attendees should move forward upon leaving the meeting.
- Allow each participant a few minutes to share his or her insights and takeaways. Explain that remarks such as “this was a good meeting” aren’t very helpful. Attendees should take this opportunity to contribute meaningful comments or ask any questions before departing.
Follow these simple best practices, and your corporate communication will improve exponentially, your productivity soon to follow.
Additional benefits? Your reputation for stellar leadership will be something to reckon with! Fellow colleagues will look forward to your meetings and will be eager to participate, knowing that when you hold meetings, you get things done!