In my opinion one of the first things to do is to make sure everyone switches their phones onto silent before the meeting starts. We have a rule in our businesses that participants agree to hourly email or phone call breaks rather than reviewing their phone under the desk to see if anything new has happened.
I won’t hold or participate in meetings where people continually monitor their phones or are reading emails on iPads. Frankly it’s just not on and only makes an hour meeting drag on for two or three hours, and who wants that? We all have more important things to do than wait for someone to finish a phone call or answer an email. I have been known to leave a meeting where the chairman cannot control these continual interruptions; I’m just too busy to be listening to whether someone’s wife or husband has organised a window cleaner!
Have an Agenda and Stick to It!
If you are organising a meeting, send everyone an agenda ahead of the scheduled time, listing all the items in the order you would like them discussed. Ask for comments and additions by a date which gives you time to adjust the agenda to the new input and then send out a final draft at least twenty-four hours before the meeting is due to take place.
Make sure you are at the meeting place twenty minutes before everyone else and sit reading the agenda so that when everyone else arrives you are fully up to speed with what is about to take place. Organise refreshments to be in the room waiting rather than be interrupted by staff bringing it in when the meeting is in mid-flow.
Ensure the Bathroom is Close By!
Another thing to consider is where the toilets are located. Sounds odd I know, but how many meetings have you been at where everyone is waiting for someone to return from using a toilet which is right down the end of a long corridor, or even on a different floor? Try to book a room next door to the bathroom and you will be surprised how much time will be saved, especially if there are ten or more people in your meeting.
Good Cell phone Signal
Despite my warning about allowing the use of mobile phones during the meeting itself, make sure that the room, or immediately outside, has a good mobile phone reception or you run the risk of losing participants for long periods immediately after breaks as they search for that elusive signal. It’s much better these days in UK, US and Canadian cities but there are still many areas of the world where signals disappear without notice- along with delegates if you don’t watch it!
Make sure that people are allocated individual actions post-meeting and ensure they take ownership of that particular task during that section of the agenda before moving on. Note the date by which the action will be completed and make a diary note for yourself.
Stay on the main highway! This is important because meetings have a habit of drifting if you allow them to. Don’t waste time by allowing personal discussions to develop during the meeting there is plenty of time after for people to reminisce about their holidays. I was at a meeting recently when one of the people present actually started to show the person next to him photographs taken on a recent holiday to Africa! Great and very interesting I’m sure, but after the meeting please, not during it!
Room Temperature and Acoustics
Room temperature is something else to consider. Try to make sure it isn’t too hot or too cold and that there is adequate ventilation. Make sure the room is light, even bright because if it isn’t, it encourages people to drowse or fall asleep. It’s an anthropological phenomenon-as soon as it gets dark, the brain gets the message that it’s ok to doze off and a warm stuffy room only aids the process.
I always try to use a room which is carpeted and has other soft furnishings to absorb sound because acoustics are important. If you have ever been in a long meeting in a room with a tiled floor and metal chairs you will know what I mean.
Right at the end of the meeting, run through each task that needs completing and assure that ownership has been taken of the task. Once that’s done, all you need to do is set a date for the next meeting and wrap it up.
Original article for the Urban Times July 2013.