Meetings are often used within business to solve problems. If used effectively, meetings are a fantastic tool for solving problems. If they are not managed effectively, meetings can create more problems than they solve. Poorly managed meetings regularly run over time, fail to stick to the agenda, result in unnecessary disputes and can be a general source of stress. These factors mean that many people dread meetings or come up with an excuse not to attend.
The solution is to focus on creating stress-free meetings. Stress-free meetings solve a specific issue in the minimum time required, causing the minimum disruption to the attendees. Once you have implemented stress-free meetings, people will be happy to give up their time to attend and contribute.
12 Tips for stress-free meetings
The following tips will help you to create stress-free meetings which invitees are eager to attend:
1. Only meet when necessary
Too often, people have meetings for the sake of having meetings. If there are not any issues to be resolved or important information to be delivered, then a meeting is usually unnecessary. Before arranging a meeting, take a look at the objectives of the meeting and ask yourself ‘Could this be dealt with by email?’ If the answer is yes, forget the meeting and send the email.
2. Set a strict agenda
It is tempting to try to solve all the companies’ problems in one meeting but it is not possible. Meetings work best when they focus on one main topic or area of the business. Keep the agenda narrow and focused. Set specific beginning and end times for each item on the agenda and make sure that everybody understands exactly what the meeting is about.
3. Only invite those who need to be there
You are not the only one with a hectic schedule. You need to be respectful of other people’s time. The objectives of the meeting are important to you but that does not mean that they are important to everyone. People who are required to attend a meeting, which is unimportant to them, resent being there and resent the person who invited them. They can often become disruptive by dragging the conversation off track or making comments on issues that they do not fully understand.
4. Offer options
Make sure that it is acceptable for non-essential attendees to decline your meeting request e.g. you can arrange to copy them in on the minutes. Alternatively, they may only need to be there for part of the meeting. If so, arrange for them to attend that part and leave afterwards. As you will have set specific times for each item on the agenda, this will be easy to arrange. They will be grateful for your attempts to facilitate them.
5. Appoint a strong chairperson
An agenda is only as good as the person who enforces it. Appoint a strong chairperson who will make sure that people stick to the point and that the agenda is strictly adhered to.
6. Send the minutes of the previous meeting in Advance
Valuable meeting time can be wasted by arguments over the minutes of the previous meeting. If you pre-distribute the minutes, you can require people to raise any objections prior to the meeting, where they can be handled without disrupting the meeting. Then, the minutes can be read swiftly, and agreed to, at the beginning of the meeting, allowing you to move onto to the agenda.
7. Agree a group contract
For long meetings or regular meetings, agree a group contract beforehand. This sets out how people are expected to behave and communicate, along with the process for handling disputes. All attendees can be required to agree to it before the meeting.
The most effective way to do this is for the organiser, or chairperson, to draft a contract and send it to all attendees, allowing them to raise any objections they may have. If no objections are made, attendance will be viewed as agreement.
8. Set up working groups
Meetings are often dragged off track when discussions about minor issues on the agenda escalate. Where it becomes apparent that the issue needs to be tackled, it is better to set up a working group to tackle it, and then get back to the agenda. The working group can then meet separately, prior to the next meeting, and report back with their conclusions.
9. Schedule Breaks
If it is anticipated that the meeting is going to last a while, breaks should be built into the timetable. If attendees know when they are going to be able to have their toilet break, make a phone call, send an email or have a cigarette; they are less likely to pop in and out of the meeting. Instead, they are likely to give their full attention.
For longer meetings, it is essential that there are refreshments available for those in attendance. People who are thirsty, or hungry, lack concentration and are likely to make less valuable contributions.
11. Stand up
If you are aiming to keep the meeting brief, you might consider requiring the attendees to stand up. This prevents them from getting too comfortable. As nobody likes to stand for too long, they will be motivated to keep to the point. If the meeting is long, it can help to allow people to stand up and move around the room. This will help them to stay alert.
12. Have an effective wrap up process
At the end of the meeting, summarise the main points and inform the attendees of the date of the next meeting. At the first opportunity, distribute the minutes of the meeting and request agenda items for the next meeting. Don’t forget to set a closing date for submissions for the agenda of the next meeting.
If they are not managed effectively, meetings can create a lot more problems than they solve. Confusion, arguments and stress can occur as a result of badly organised meetings. The alternative is stress-free meetings. Stress-free meetings solve problems with the minimum of inconvenience. With stress-free meetings, you get attendees who are motivated to be there and have a valuable contribution to make. At the end of the meeting, these people are glad that they attended. They leave with a sense of progress and achievement. If your meetings are unproductive and stressful, it is time that you focused on creating stress-free meetings. The 12 steps listed above will help you to create the effective, productive and enjoyable meetings which everybody wants to attend.
Carthage Buckley is a Stress and Performance Coach with Coaching Positive Performance. Carthage has more than 10 years international experience working with entrepreneurs, executives and ambitious professionals; helping them to eliminate stress and maximize performance.