I’m amazed when I see accomplished executives stumble at running productive meetings. This malady not only includes meetings with colleagues, but with clients and prospective business partners as well. Why is this happening and what can we do about it?

As more companies become team-based, the number of meetings will continue to grow. According to an office design expert, companies should plan for twice as much meeting space as they did 20 years ago. With more meetings than ever, you will save yourself and your colleagues countless hours if you can optimize your meetings. In my experience, unproductive meetings result from a combination of poor planning (before), insufficient accountability (during), and sloppy follow-through (after).

To address these pitfalls, I’ve developed a simple Before, During, After Framework for clients that helps them get more out of their meetings.

Before Your Meeting

It’s essential to let your colleagues, clients, or prospects know the meeting’s purpose before it starts.
Explain what you’re looking to achieve by meeting, but be careful not to be vague or jargony. Citing “increasing sales” or “product development” may confuse some attendees, who could draw different conclusions about what you really mean.
To add clarity, include details explaining how and when. So, instead of saying we will discuss “increasing sales,” you might state the goal of “increasing sales by expanding our regional sales team this quarter.” By adding how and when the purpose of your meeting is now clearer and your attendees will have a better sense of what’s expected of them.
After developing your meeting agenda, email it to your attendees at least 2 to 3 days beforehand and seek their input. Doing this communicates that you respect your attendees’ time and have thought through what you consider to be key discussion points. Of course, attendees may not agree with your key points, which is why you should mark your agenda DRAFT.

If you receive edits or updates to your agenda, accept them with appreciation. Your attendees are rewarding your effort with their own. Some back and forth with the agenda means that you and your attendees will be more aligned when the group gets together.

During Your Meeting

Start by reviewing the agenda and asking for any more additions or changes. (Ideally, much of this has already taken place via email days earlier). This is also a good time to reiterate what you’re planning to accomplish in the next 60 minutes (or however long you’ll be together).

Once the meeting is underway, keep a lookout for any action items that pop up. Action items are important, time-based follow-ups, and are usually the responsibility of one person to complete. Select action items judiciously, since too many can drag down the meeting. (Most meetings will produce 3 to 5 action items, though this varies depending on meeting duration and type.) An action item can be a missing but essential piece of information, clarification, analysis, or anything else that will help you and your team achieve your shared goal.
Finally, guard against assumptions. Just because you all were in the same room for the last hour engaging in deep discussion, doesn’t mean you’re all on the same page with next steps.

When wrapping up your meeting, take five to ten minutes to reconfirm each action item, who will be its champion, and when it will be completed. Confirming this during the meeting ensures accountability and follow through.

After Your Meeting

Recap key discussion points and email attendees a table with these headings: Action Item, Person Responsible, and Due Date. Keep it as simple as that.

Here are some points to remember for your next meetings with prospects, clients or colleagues:

  • Recognize most meetings are unproductive because of poor planning, execution, and follow through
  • Be sure everyone knows the reason(s) you’re meeting beforehand—the more specific the better
  • Good agendas include not only what, but also who and when
  • Send your agenda 2 to 3 days beforehand and seek input
  • Never wrap up your meeting without confirming action items, who will be responsible for completion, and by when
  • After the meeting, reinforce follow through by emailing a simple Action Plan to keep people on track

Try doing these things before, during, and after your next meeting and let us know how it goes. Feel free to contact us if you’d like a copy of our Action Plan template.