How to create awesome meetings

We've all been there — trapped in one of those mind-numbing work meetings with no end in sight, and no way out. The good news is it doesn't have to be that way. Here are 10 tips.

Estimated $37B US lost each year because of unproductive meetings in the U.S.

Author Gord Sheppard says work meetings don't have to be the bane of your existence, and these 10 tips will help you make it so. (Getty Images)

We've all been there — trapped in one of those mind-numbing work meetings with no end in sight, and no way out. Worst of all are the meetings about meetings. 

But bad meetings don't just cost you time — they also cost money. 

In the U.S., an estimated 11 million meetings occur each day, with approximately $37 billion lost due to poor productivity and tardiness, according to a 2013 study.

Author Gord Sheppard has endured more than 2,000 meetings in his life and career, and was inspired to write the book How to Create Awesome Meetings after his wife pointed out that he spent more time complaining about meetings than he spent actually sitting through them.

To Sheppard, a work meeting is like a canary in the coal mine.

"If it's running well, your company's probably running pretty well, and if it's not, your poor little canary isn't singing very many songs."

Here are his 10 tips to help keep that canary chirping along.

1. Get real with yourself

Take responsibility for yourself in your meetings and choose to participate fully.

Ask yourself how others will perceive your attitude and behaviour, and recognize that will in turn affect theirs.

2. Get real with your team

It's critical to build trust with your teammates and understand how they work best, Sheppard said.

"Rapport is something that's getting left behind in meetings," said Sheppard.

Also, don't be afraid to speak up if you have a suggestion for how your teammates can improve the meeting itself, Sheppard said.

3. Know your total meeting cost

When you add up the hourly wages and the room costs, most meetings cost at minimum a whopping $1,000 per hour, which is something most managers don't realize, said Sheppard.

Hockey teams for example cost around $30,000 per hour. 

Realizing the cost of your meetings can be a great motivator to improve their flow and impact.

4. Get a great facilitator

Ideally, your facilitator will be someone internal to the company who understands the ins and outs of daily operations. 

It's worth considering providing facilitation training or hiring a qualified facilitator to build on those key skills.

5. Get real with your strategy

Name your key objectives at the start of your meeting and keep those at the forefront of your mind to keep things on track. 

​"You should be able to stop any meeting at any moment and connect that moment directly to your strategy," he said.

"If you're talking again about the summer barbecue or who didn't get a muffin, maybe that's not a thing you should be talking about."

6. Create a block buster AGENDA

"Agendas should be as exciting as the script for your favourite Hollywood film, and I say that not facetiously, because if people put effort into creating excitement, making the agenda very intentional, there's a good chance then that that meeting is going to be well-structured and very well-run," he said.

Sheppard uses the acronym AGENDA, which stands for:

  • A - attention grabber at beginning at meeting
  • G - great goals
  • E - excitement  
  • N - navigation tools
  • D - decide now
  • A - accountability checking

7. Meet in the right space

Meet in a space that is actually conducive to achieving your meeting goals. 

Think about the layout and design of the room, the seating arrangement and any additional refreshments or audio or visual equipment.

8. Get awesome resources

There's so much technology out there designed to streamline meetings, and some of it is even available for free.

Sheppard suggested Google Docs, Google Hangouts and as helpful places to start. 

"It's worth getting through those learning curves the first couple of hours."

9. Follow up FAST 

Sheppard uses the acronym FAST, which stands for: 

  • F - feedback loop  
  • A - astonish each other
  • S - standardize the follow up process
  • T - track the process

Consult with your team after a meeting and report on agenda item results. Show how your meeting improved workflow, led to profit gains or inspired new initiatives. 

10. Take action 

The meeting will be an utter failure if nothing comes out of it.

Go do what you've agreed on, and then celebrate your achievements.


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