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Free cake!

Not really, but it was a good way to get your attention! And it's often the only way to get people to attend your meeting. As someone once said, meetings are spaces where minutes are taken and hours are lost. Well, not at our meetings! We're not here to fill the gaps, have unproductive discussions, provide email time or watch people snooze. We're determined to make meetings work - and have fun at the same time - with or without free cake. Here's how we do it.

Step one: why are we meeting?

We've been to far too many meetings where there isn't a clear purpose. So, before you agree to anything, make sure you know what you're trying to achieve. Set out clear objectives ahead of each discussion and keep checking them to make sure you're staying on the right track. We make sure we focus on a maximum of 3 objectives for each meeting - any more than that is hard to manage. And we share the objectives as part of the agenda, so all participants know what they're there for. It's a simple first step, but an effective one.

Step two: get involved

We've also been to too many meetings where people are busy on their laptops or phones, drifting off in a day dream or - in the worst cases - falling asleep. Don't let it happen! If you want really productive discussions that lead to concrete decisions and actions, then politely ask for laptops and phones to be put away and any calls or emails to be made outside of the meeting. Be prepared to move discussions along if you start going round in circles and give participants something to do that will keep their interest. Which leads us nicely to...

Step three: make it interesting

Meetings can be really boring. You're sitting there with a wad of papers that most people have only glanced at, or staring at PowerPoint slide after Powerpoint slide with too many words or tiny graphs. It's time to stop all that! Be creative. Think about different ways to get your message across. Ban any written papers that are more than five pages long. Ban PowerPoint! Design your own visuals that draw people in. We've started using to hand-drawn templates and graphics as a way to create more interesting materials and even that small change has made a dramatic difference to how people engage. And it's much more fun to prepare and present!

Step four: shake it out

The worst thing for me about meetings is all that sitting around. Especially after lunch. We're not conditioned to spend that much time sitting behind a meeting table. So encourage people to move around. You can do this by adding in 'activity breaks' throughout the day, or by encouraging people to leave the building at lunchtime. Just changing seats at regular intervals can help bring new perspectives. Be even more creative and add some yoga! Whatever you do, keep it moving.

Step five: it's all about the outcomes

And finally, good meetings are those that come out with decisions or actions that relate back to the objectives (see step one). If by the end of your meeting you don't have a good set of steps to progress whatever work you're discussing, then you've just wasted a lot of time. So keep focused on those outcomes. Capture them succinctly - and creatively! - and share them widely. Make sure people know what was agreed and have the resources to act.

We know it's all very well us saying this in theory, but does this really work in practice? We thought we'd share a case study with you to put some icing on the cake.

And that's our guide to successful meetings. Follow these five steps and you'll have more productive discussions with more engaged participants. The cake is up to you!

If you need help with your meetings, or simply want the benefit of an external perspective, please do get in touch. We'd be delighted to help!


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