They Are Happy To Come To My Meetings!
Clear Objectives For An Effective Meeting

You have all been to meetings, right? I hope you have been to some good ones. I know that you've been to bad ones, because most of them are. So how can you tell if you have been to a good meeting?

  • You went to the meeting to accomplish something and you actually did.
  • Everyone participated!
  • There was a lot of positive energy!
  • You felt like you contributed!
How can you tell if a meeting has been bad?
If when you come out of the meeting, you say, "What did I ever do in a past life to deserve this punishment", you've been to a bad meeting.

Meetings should be events that people are happy to come to and, afterward, feel a sense of accomplishment. To find out how to accomplish this on a consistent basis, read on. You'll find out how to make meetings more effective than you ever imagined possible.

An effective meeting has three parts.

  1. Preparation
  2. Holding the meeting
  3. After the meeting.
This doesn't seem like rocket science. Yet so many bad meetings give slight consideration to "Preparation" and "After the Meeting", sometimes no consideration at all. These are important pieces. Preparation sets the meeting up for success. "After the meeting" cements the success of your current meeting and sets up the success of your next meeting.

Let's start with Preparation.

Well begun is half done
          ~Aristotle

 You can ensure that your meeting will begin well if you set it up well. Effective preparation allows the participants to focus on achieving the meeting objective. So first you have to have an objective.

  • What is the reason for the meeting?
  • What do you want to accomplish?
  • What specific outcomes are you trying to achieve at this meeting?
  • How important is this outcome?

When you bring 10 people together for a two-hour meeting, you are spending 20 hours of your organization's time. You need to ask yourself if the outcome is worth spending 20 hours to achieve it. What organization priority could be accomplished if you spent these 20 hours on it? You would never walk out to these 10 people and say, "For the next 2 hours I want you to do nothing productive. Just twiddle your thumbs. It's important to the organization that we waste 20 hours." (If you did, they would take you away in a strait-jacket before you did any more damage.) Yet many managers are very willing to waste this same 20 hours in a staff meeting.

I'm not pointing the finger at staff meetings. You simply need to have a good reason to hold a meeting and that reason needs to have a positive ROI for the time invested. Make sure that the people that participate also consider it a good reason to invest their time.

I urge you to evaluate the reasons for, and the benefits of, holding any repetitive meeting, e.g. staff meetings. Do you have a sharply focused objective for each meeting that benefits the organization? I recommend that the meeting leader ask the participants what they get out of the meeting and do they think that this is a valuable use of their time. Before you ask the question, consider how you will respond if you receive a negative reply.

Now that you know your objective, and you've determined that it is important, how will you know if you hit the objective?

  • How will you measure success?
  • If you had to prove success to your boss, could you?
  • When you claim the meeting to be a success, can you prove it to participants who might not be so sure?

When your objective is to make a decision, the criteria is pretty straightforward, yes or no. When your objective is softer, like team building, it's not quite so clear. You may have to get creative in how you measure success.

Considering how to measure may cause you revise the objective or it may change your approach to meeting the objective. In either case, you will have created a solid objective and a method to prove it.

I have been to a lot of meetings where the meeting leader thought that the objective had been achieved. The other participants left knowing that they fell way short of the objective, if they even knew what the objective was. This is why you need to make the objective and the success criteria visible to the participants. Everyone should leave with the same opinion of success, or lack of success.

You want the participants to know that that they set out to accomplish something and they did! You want every person to leave pleased to know that they were part of a successful meeting. People won't grumble about coming to your meetings when you gain the reputation for making effective use of their valuable time to get something done.

Meeting participants can only know they have accomplished something when they know what it is and how to demonstrate that they hit the target. You, the meeting leader, need to establish a clear objective and establish a clear measure of success.

You now have a firm basis for holding a meeting. The other pieces of the Preparation phase are described in They Are Happy To Come To My Meetings! Setting Up An Effective Meeting Take a look. It will help you build toward an effective meeting.