John was in a typical business meetng with his colleagues.
He knew the topic being discussed, but was not sure if he was expected to contribute. He looked around. Some attendees were locked in a heated argument, others had stopped listening and were texting on their mobiles. He looked at his watch. The meeting was supposed to end half an hour ago, which meant that he was now officially late for his next meeting.
Could this scenario happen to you? Unfortunately it is all too common. And if poor meeting etiquette is tolerated, it soon spreads - resulting in widespread frustration for employees and a negative impact on productivity.
So what can you do if you find yourself in this situation? Here are some ideas to help you move from this unproductive scenario and have more effective meetings in your business.
If you are the Chairperson/Organiser, consider who needs to attend. Often people are invited when their presence is not necessary - a copy of the minutes to keep them informed would suffice. Ask yourself if the attendees need to be there for the whole meeting, or can they leave when their contribution has been made?
If you are the Secretary, distribute reading material, the agenda and previous minutes in advance. The aim of the meeting should be clear to attendees and they should be allowed time to adequately prepare.
The location and timing of the meeting should be chosen with care. Effective meetings will be hard to achieve if attendees are distracted by noise, interruptions, poor ventilation or the fact that they are going home shortly.
Click here for sample meeting agenda layouts.
A key factor is to start and finish the meeting on time - and ideally keep it to no longer than one hour in length. If you have a lot to cover, have a break or run a further meeting at a later time. If you are in the Chairperson role, make sure that the agenda is followed, everyone is heard and decisions are taken. If you are in the Secretary role, take notes and can keep an eye on timekeeping.
The secretary should issue minutes, within 24 hours if possible. They should be short, indicating action items, deadlines and names of those responsible for completing actions. Click here for sample meeting minutes templates.
Effective meetings may be hard to get established, if bad habits are entrenched. Yet if one person is ten minutes late for a meeting, and five people are left waiting, you have lost an hour of company time. So work out the financial cost of your current meeting practices, and use that to promote respect for this important business activity.
One of my clients is ruthless with following good meeting etiquette, particularly time keeping. She worried that people found her approach too rigid. Yet when I talked to those who attended her meetings, they were full of praise. They knew that they would be well briefed beforehand, her meetings would finish on time and that the necessary decisions would be made.
So lead by example and avoid time wasting in your meetings. With time and persistence, you will find that scenarios like the one experienced by John will be a distant memory.
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