The Basics of Meetings
By Robert Kelly
It’s no secret that meetings are one of the downsides of a career in project management. At one point or another, we have heard someone say “I would love to get that work done and could, if I didn’t have to sit in so many meetings.” Requirements gathering, design sessions, planning sessions, status meetings, and even meetings to prep for meetings…really, I have had to host a few of those! With such an emphasis on collaboration, meetings aren’t going anywhere, anytime soon. This isn’t going to be a post on how to run a meeting, I am actually going to get even more basic than that. Similar to my post on email basics, I am reminded daily that too many people are getting the basics wrong.
- Logistics: Take a few moments to make sure you have included the correct dial-in number and access codes for remote attendees.
Hosting an engaged meeting isn’t difficult these, days so take a few extra moments to setup a WebEx, GoToMeeting, Lync, etc and put up a visual to frame the conversation. If you do have a .ppt slide or other presentation, it is better than hearing “Sorry, what slide are you on?”
Lastly, make sure the correct building, floor, and room information are in the meeting details for those attending the meeting in-person.
Ok…one more. Make sure you have actually reserved the room. I have followed too many clients and colleagues aimlessly looking for an ‘open’ room.
Meeting Title – This could go under logistics, but I already said lastly on that section. Actually, this one is really important and I wanted to call it out separately. In today’s mobile world, most people use their mobile phones for calendar reminders and that real estate is very tiny. Also, I already mentioned all the meetings everyone might have on any given day. Considering these two facts, make sure your meeting titles are short and have meaning. At one point, I was meeting with 150 clients per year and the sales team would consistently invite me to “Client Meeting” – really? What client? What topic? A better title would have been ‘Customer Name – Services Overview’ or ‘Client Name – SOW Redlines’.
Consider Purpose – First of all, does your meeting even have a purpose? Too many people are setting up meetings to ‘stay in touch’ or because they are ‘supposed’ to have a weekly meeting. Horrible. If you don’t have a purpose, then don’t have a meeting…learn to value people’s time. If there is a significant update, a decision required, or actions required then state that in the invite…”Good day everyone! The purpose of this meeting is to discuss options around item X and obtain a decision to move forward.”
Consider Audience – I mentioned valuing people’s time right? Don’t invite people who have zero experience, interest, or influence to the purpose of your meeting. If you’re in doubt, then ask them “Hey, I am setting up a meeting to discuss item X. Larry from your team is attending, as is John Doe from Dept 1 and Jane Doe from Department Y. I can invite you or include you on the follow-up meeting minutes?”
Preparation – Too many meeting hosts have adopted the thought that if they coordinated the meeting then they are done…Get everyone together and let them do the work. That’s nonsense and makes you look dull. Make sure you take time to speak with key contributors to the meeting, as you develop the agenda. Yes, you need to create an agenda and get it out the day before the meeting (some folks like it 48 hrs prior to the meeting). You don’t need to need to be the expert but should be able to frame the meeting, facilitate the conversation by ‘connecting’ the relevant attendees. “Next up on the agenda is to discuss what we want to do with item X. I know that has an impact on Jane’s workstream but is a strong requirement from John’s department. Jane, can you talk John through some of the options you had shared with me?”
Timing – Everyone understand that we need to be flexible and move at the speed your respective business moves, but that doesn’t mean you can setup last minute meetings all the time. It happens, but should be more of an exception vs. the rule. Meetings invites should provide 24hr notice…again, client issues, escalations, etc may not allow for it. While we are on time, I want to say a few things that everyone is thinking… If you are in a standard 9-5 environment, then do not setup a meeting from 9-930 AM or from 4-5PM (especially on a Monday for the former or a Friday for the latter). I worked in a global environment and was on 5am calls, midnight calls, and so on but most folks have a standard schedule. Also, don’t book people during their lunchtime. If their calendar is full, with the exception of 12-1 PM, then consider their time or at least ask them if that is free. I get it, people can block their calendars and we should be ready to go at 9am, but the fact of the matter is that we should take a moment to value our colleague’s times.
Meetings aren’t going anywhere and the only reason people complain about them is because most are a waste of time. If you want to be a leader in your organization, then add value via emails and meetings.
Robert Kelly, PMP, is a program/project manager that does not simply track projects & populate templates, but adds-value by taking ownership and driving results. During his 10 year career, he has managed complex, multinational projects with teams of four through thirty team members at all levels of the organization (Intern through Vice President). You can read more from Robert on his blog, Kelly’s Contemplations