How To Make Every Single Meeting You Attend Useful

Every single meeting you attend fits into one of three categories. Here’s what they are and how to approach them.

How To Make Every Single Meeting You Attend Useful
[Photo: Flickr user Massimiliano Tuveri]

During your next meeting, look around: Almost half of your employees would rather be waiting in line at the DMV or watching paint dry, according to a poll by software company Clarizen. U.S. employees spend about nine hours of each week preparing for or attending team meetings, and more than a third of them believe those meetings are a waste of time.


“Meetings don’t suck, we suck at running them,” says Cameron Herold, author of Double Double: How to Double Your Revenue and Profit in 3 Years or Less. “The key is to clarify or classify the style of your meeting in advance, so participants are prepared before they walk in the room.”

Herold says there are three basic styles of meetings, and each one requires a different mind-set:

1. Information-Share Meetings

In this style of meeting, information flows in one direction only: Employees tell the leadership something, senior management has something to say to employees, or information is shared laterally, says Herold. Requests for clarification can be entertained during this type of meeting, but there’s no real debate or discussion. Participants in this meeting come to listen.

2. Creative Discussion Meetings

This style of meeting revolves around brainstorming. It’s a problem-solving session where the goal is to get a lot of ideas out on the table without making any decisions about the feasibility or validity of what’s produced, says Herold. Once the brainstorming is done, everyone leaves the room, and key stakeholders make decisions at a later date.

3. Consensus Meetings

When decisions need to be made, this type of meeting should be held. Herold warns that this type of meeting can get heated, and passionate feelings will almost certainly be expressed. Despite any conflicts that may arise, all participants must reach consensus.

“Once you’ve concluded the meeting, put it behind you; all feelings and conflicts should be left in the meeting room,” he says. “Never continue the discussion outside of the meeting.”


The Agenda

The most important part of a meeting is an agenda that is distributed before the meeting starts. “Allow a rule in your company that states, ‘No agenda, no attenda,’” says Herold. “It puts the onus on the organizer to take an extra minute or two and describe in the meeting notes or request what is going to happen.”

A meeting might incorporate one or all three styles, and Herold says each style should be identified on the agenda.

“One part might be creative, and another is an information share,” he says. “It’s important that people know at each stage what is expected of them. If the meeting is an information share, they’ll know there is no room for discussion and debate. When people accept or deny the meeting request, they’ll know what they’re signing up for.”

Using bullet points, include the order of the agenda with an allotted time for each topic, so participants can choose to attend only the part that pertains to them. “Quite often people end up in meetings they don’t need to attend,” he says.

When meetings are defined and broken down like this, Herold says participants will no longer dread them. “They can be prepared and they can leave feeling fulfilled and like they covered everything that was necessary,” he says.

Related: Are You Managing Meetings Efficiently?