The 5 W’s of an Effective Meeting
Meetings are the necessary evil of the working world, and with good reason. Many are ill-run, meander, and generally only serve to make people lose time they don’t have. Having an effective meeting is sometimes like finding a four-leaf clover. A rare, very lucky occurrence—even when you’re the one setting it up.
I’ve taken inspiration from journalists and listed the 5 “W”s of an effective meeting (mentioned in order of importance):
Setting up a meeting with no clear purpose is the worst thing you can do to your co-workers. But even if you have a clear purpose, you need to also make sure that it’s worth everyone’s time. For example, meeting to introduce a new team member is a waste of time: walking him around gets better results and only affects two people.
Also consider other ways to fulfill your meeting objective. If you’re meeting to inform, would a memo do the job better? If you want to discuss something, can it be done via email? Meetings should only be used as a last resort.
Yes, you have a meeting agenda, but what about it? Prepare a list of relevant talking points and stick to it. Idle chatter and unrelated tangents take up lots of time, so play moderator and keep the chit chat to a minimum. If people want to talk amongst themselves, let them do it at the water cooler. Other people in the meeting may not be interested and would rather get back to work. A good rule of thumb is, if it’s not worth taking notes, then don’t talk about it.
For a truly effective meeting, your attendance list should be as carefully crafted as your agenda. Calling a whole team together only to talk to two people is rude and inconsiderate. There should never be any “observers” in a meeting, only participants. The sole exception is when you’re orienting a new team member.
Timing should never be underestimated. I’ve been to far too many ill-scheduled meetings whose attendees fidget and watch the clock. They’re chasing a deadline, but the meeting proctor is too wrapped up talking about last night’s episode of The Amazing Race to care. As a project manager, you should know how to set up a meeting without impacting your production schedule.
It may seem inconsequential, but meeting location has a significant impact on how a meeting flows. Stand-up meetings tend to flow faster, because they’re more informal and there’s little incentive to linger (no seats to get comfortable on, you see). Sit-down meetings are great for topics that need to be discussed in-depth, and this can be either in informal, intimate places like meeting alcoves and coffee shops, or more formal settings like a conference room. Phone conferences are a mixed bag, and really depend on the situation.
The next time you set up a meeting, try to keep the 5 “W”s in mind. Are your meetings more effective and efficient? Come back and let us know how it works for you!
Image credit, Flickr, Terence Faircloth
Patrick Icasas is a former marketing project manager with 7 years of marketing and PR agency experience, managing creative projects for brands such as Nokia, Verizon Wireless, and Adobe. He now spends his time helping people make the most out of their project management software and entertaining his 5 year old daughter.