We’ve all lived through at least once:  feeling like a hostage in a meeting that has lost its direction, where colleagues spiral on general complaints, and the odds of reaching any productive outcome seem grim. Uninspiring, lacking intention, dulling the mind…..not fantastic.

What makes a meeting fantastic? For one, it’s a forum that achieves the intended goal. Another sign of success is when all participants were key to the intended outcome of the meeting. Finally, a fantastic meeting is one that takes the minimum amount of time to accomplish the goal. Many experts take extreme measures, such as no chairs allowed, to run an efficient meeting, and many claim scientific evidence to back them.  Perhaps ironically, Scientific American says the answer is to have more fun in your meetings. For cleared professionals facilitating meetings on sensitive topics, they can spend the first five minutes on classification issues alone. So while pulling a Marissa Mayer, who often runs  10-minute micro meetings at Yahoo, might be seem a wild fantasy, a more realistic approach can be achieved while still optimizing the best techniques for a fantastic meeting.

1. Be Clear About the Intent.

If the desired outcome is ambiguous, your results will likely be the same. Stating the topic isn’t enough – your invitation must be clear about what you want to achieve. A definitive outcome, such as a decision or a deliverable the group produces, is a realistic expectation for those diverted from their work to attend the meeting. The goal might be simply to learn from other participants and get ideas on the table for a longer-term initiative. In that case, stating this intent will dispel expectations that the meeting is only a success if a decision is reached or tasks are assigned.

2. Articulate the Agenda or Structure.

You can set a collaborative environment and still keep things structured. I like to use the rule of three when possible. It can help you manage your time and keep everyone focused. Divide a problem into three elements to frame a discussion about solutions. Three main points can help you succinctly communicate new information or policy. To reach consensus on a document, break the document into three main points or segments. Ask participants to do any pre-reading before the meeting, and stress that doing so will help the group leapfrog right into business and optimize everyone’s time. Also set a three-minute limit for would-be hijackers or soap-boxers: if they can’t reveal the relevance of their point in three minutes, tie it off and set up an offline discussion later. Do the same if an emergent topic is only relevant to one third of the group.

3. Confirm Equities.

In a perfect world, participants would know intuitively what their stake is in a meeting. In reality, it’s surprising how often people attend a meeting without understanding their role. Do introductions, and ask each participant to share their equity. If they can’t articulate it, ask others in the group to offer their insight. Identifying common or intersecting equities will ensure each person participates not as passive listeners, but as active stakeholders who understand the influence their contribution has on the discussion or outcome.

4. Keep the Duration Short But Realistic.

If you’re truly going for fantastic, get ambitious and be known for a 15-minute rule. Is this always possible? Of course not, especially given the complexity of projects or problems some teams deal with. The level of engagement and quality of your participants’ input as the meeting progresses can be a good indicator of when it’s time to close. Do your best to end the meeting on time -after that, your participants are thinking about their next priority. You likely got best of the brain cells the first 30 minutes, and for a conference call, it can be as little as 23 minutes.

5. Follow-Up after the meeting.

This is a no-brainer when there are outstanding due-outs, but it’s also important to capture agreements made for future ways forward. A follow-up can also help shape how participants remember the overall encounter, which can be important when you meet with the same group of stakeholders regularly. Good luck!

Related News

Melissa Jordan is an Executive Writer at a US Government agency. With more than 20 years in professional communication and over 16 years of experience working in cross-cultural environments, her most valuable lessons have been learned by trial and error.