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Making Meetings Matter

Lisa Tarshis
January 5, 2021

Happy new year, friends!

Today’s virtual world allowed me to celebrate the ball dropping with friends across the country (and time zones!). In fact, my Zoom parties spread over two days so that I could fit in late night hang outs with various groups of people. It was just what the doctor had ordered – good friends, lots of laughter, wine and snacks all while lounging in athleisure from the comfort of my couch. And while both celebrations were great, they were also very different.

On December 30, my husband and I tuned into a Zoom call with a bunch of friends we’ve collected over the years. We hadn’t talked in a while, let alone seen each other in person, so there was much to catch up on. We poured our champagne and hopped on the call, greeted by excited friends and waving kids. Yet, I couldn’t get a word in. Everyone was talking over each other in excitement and we struggled to really visit. I ended up talking to my husband most of the time while messaging privately with one other friend.

The next night, we were celebrating with a group of my friends from childhood. My friend had sent out a “Zoom call bingo” sheet by email in advance and her husband was ready to emcee virtual jeopardy. We stayed on the call for hours, well past midnight (and my bedtime) celebrating and laughing together. Because my friend and her husband put a little bit of thought into what our time would look like, we all benefited.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting you set an agenda for every casual gathering, but you can see how a little bit of thought went a long way.

I quickly realized that I see this in my professional life all the time. There are meetings that get derailed without an objective, and there are those where the time flies and people are engaged in the task at hand. 10 times out of 10, I would rather be in the latter and I think you might agree.

Nonprofit organizations balance many stakeholders making meetings a fact of life to get things done. So, let’s talk about some ways to maximize people’s time and attention while gaining buy-in from all involved.

Making a plan is essential. I cannot stress this enough. Different meetings require different levels of planning, but you will never convince me that a meeting without a plan is an effective use of time.

Here are the 12 questions to ask yourself when planning a meeting:

Conceptual questions: These questions will help frame the meeting, meeting objectives, and desired outcomes. If you don’t have strong answers to these questions, ask yourself if the meeting is necessary and why and then go back and try to answer these questions again.

  1. What is the overall goal of the meeting?
  2. What type of input is needed from the group?
  3. What type of decision/consensus is needed?
  4. How do you want everyone to feel when they leave the room?
  5. Who do I need to have in the room to make these decisions?

Things to keep in mind:

  • If the goal of your meeting is to update people, consider whether you can send the updates via email or in another way instead. After all, sitting in a meeting to hear updates is rarely a good use of anyone’s time!
  • Once you answer questions 1-5, make sure to keep those answers in mind when planning your agenda. Each item on the agenda should advance the conversation toward the goals outlined.

Logistical questions:

  1. Who will set the agenda and send it to all participants?
  2. Who will lead each component of the conversation?
  3. Expert tip #1: Think about who, at the meeting, you can involve in leading the meeting. This is a great way to increase engagement from attendees and to make the meeting more interesting so that participants aren’t hearing from one person the entire time.
  4. Expert tip #2: Make sure to prep with these folks so that they know what to cover (and what not to cover) and how much time you are allocating to that portion of the agenda.
  5. Who will play other essential roles like keeping time and taking notes?
  6. What materials are needed to make the conversation run smoothly?
  7. What is our plan for confirming the logistics prior to the meeting? Think about things like technology, which should be tested in advance, or setting up the right number of chairs.
  8. What do attendees need to do to prepare for the meeting? Who will communicate this to them and when?
  9. Who will follow up with attendees after the meeting?
  10. Expert tip: Sending clear action items following a meeting is a great way to keep people on track and to keep items moving forward.

In today’s world, people are busier than ever and want to feel like their time is valued. Dedicating a few minutes to meeting planning will not only make your meetings run more smoothly and help you get the results you need, but they’ll keep your stakeholders engaged and showing up!

To help you continue to make your meetings count, I’m sharing a concept I learned from master facilitator and friend Rae Ringel about planning and facilitating gatherings. I use this all the time and it really helped me reframe how I plan meetings that matter.