The Insider's Guide to Effective Meetings

March 9, 2016

Are you ready to become a meeting superstar?

“Meetings are a great way to fill my working day.”
Said Nobody. Ever.

If you’ve ever sat through a meeting and felt it was an utter waste of your time, this guide on running effective meetings is for you.

It doesn’t matter whether it’s a quick catch-up with a colleague or a regular team get-together: a meeting should be an organised gathering of the right people to serve a useful purpose. If it lacks any of these hallmarks, it’s not a meeting.

This guide contains some simple tips and actionable techniques from us here at Citrix that we really believe will make you a meeting superstar – whether you’re a participant or the organiser.

Pushed for time?

Here are the top 5 take-aways for more effective meetings:

1 Workers spend on average 3 hours a day in meetings, over a third of which are considered unproductive. Conference calls make collaboration excruciatingly difficult.
 

2 Effective meetings have a clear objective, required participants only, an agenda sent out in advance and minutes with follow-up actions distributed afterwards.
 

3 Online meetings with HD video support face-to-face interactions rather than relying solely on conference calls or travelling to a designated location.
 

4 Business-grade online meeting tools offer the functionality, reliable connectivity and data security mandated by corporate IT that free tools lack.
 

5 Work is something you do, not somewhere you go. Workshifting supported by HD video is a win for employees, employers, the economy and the environment.
 

 

Contents

Why bad meetings are bad news
Make the difference (if you’re an organiser, moderator or leader)
Make the difference (if you’re a participant)
Survey insights
Online meetings
Our top online meetings tips

 

 

Why bad meetings are bad news

If you added up all the time people waste in bad meetings every day worldwide, the cost would probably equate to the annual GDP of a small country, or at least an elite footballer’s transfer fee. So why do we all go along with it? It’s time to take a stand. But first, we need to get a few things off our chest!

Rant #1                
Most meetings are too long
The average person’s attention span in a face-to-face meeting is 35 minutes, and just 23 minutes on a conference call. When people aren’t actively engaged in a discussion or presentation, they tend to tune out –furtively texting, checking email or playing Angry Birds on their smart phone.

Rant #2                
Meetings are expensive
Normally, if you were going to incur business expenditure for any reason – say, you wanted the latest tablet for work, or needed to offer a customer a discount or hire staff for a new role – you’d have to put together a business case to justify it. Yet meetings are organised every day with little consideration that time is money. Here’s a challenge: do a quick survey of your team or department to find out how much time they spend in meetings, then multiply that by their hourly rate. More than likely, you’ll be staggered by the hidden cost of getting people together!

Rant #3                
Most meetings are unproductive
(but some are more unproductive than others)
In a recent survey, we found UK office workers consider over a third of all meetings to be a total waste of time – ouch! And guess which function has the worst perception of meetings? IT, who said over half the meetings they attended were unproductive. And yet we continue to set up and attend them out of routine and habit. Email has contributed to meeting proliferation by making it all too easy to invite a whole bunch of people to gather round a table by just hitting ‘send’, rather than considering whether the goal could be accomplished some other way.

Rant #4               
A lot of meetings are pointless
Meeting organisers often fall into the trap of not having a defined outcome – a decision to make or a problem to solve. As a result, the discussion gets bogged down in planning and due diligence, but doesn’t reach any sort of resolution. This is especially true of recurring team or project meetings, where more of the time is typically allocated to reviewing what’s already happened rather than to making progress.

Rant #5               
Traditional meetings stifle innovation
If someone introduces a novel solution or radical idea into a meeting, it often ends up going nowhere. It’s a similar phenomenon to what psychologists call the ‘bystander effect’, where the greater the number of people present, the less likely observers are to help a person in distress. Nobody takes ownership, so ‘decision by committee’ means the concept gets watered down, or the outcome is a safe option or even no decision at all.

Rant #6             
Conference calls are bad meetings at their worst
We’re not big fans of conference calls at Citrix. Does that surprise you? Take all the ingredients of a bad meeting, then strip out participants’ body language and all visual cues as to what’s happening, and it’s little wonder you end up with cacophony and confusion that makes collaboration excruciatingly difficult. And that is before you even factor in background noises, “please hold!” messages replaying endlessly to the whole group, or fiddling to enter a multi-digit conference passcode into your smartphone while driving.

Rant #7                
Bad meetings are bad for business
Meetings tend to be a barometer of a company because they’re where a lot of the organisation’s culture plays out. If, as an employee, you find yourself attending mindnumbing meetings with tedious people, you may start to think you work for a boring company. Likewise, if your colleagues are regularly argumentative, hostile or defensive, there may be an underlying blame culture. Either way, it’s not good for staff morale or retention.

Indicators of a bad meeting

 


Survey data*
Common characteristics of a bad meeting

1.The goal of the meeting is clear                                     79,9%

2.Clear actions are assigned                                 69,2%

3.Action items are followed up on                   68,2

4.Decisions get made                                   56,5%

5.An agenda is distributed before 55,1%

*Citrix Survey of 280 UK office workers, 2013

 

Good meetings – and what you can do to make them happen

Effective meetings don’t happen by chance – they share a common set of characteristics that you can control. Whether you’re the organiser or a participant, there are a few simple steps you can take as best practice to help everyone get more from their meetings.

 Indicators of a good meeting


Survey data*
Common characteristics
of a good meeting

1.No clear goal has been set                                    69,9%

2.The meeting goes off-topic                        56,1%

3.There is a lack of structure                      55,1%

4.Attendees are inattentive          49,5%

5.No decisions are made               48,6%

*Citrix Survey of 280 UK office workers, 2013

 

If you’re the meeting organiser, moderator or leader, here’s how you can make the difference, and inspire others to do so.

Before the meeting

“On the first slide of your company presentation template, put the sentence: ‘This meeting will be a good meeting if…’ and mandate meeting organisers to complete the sentence before calling the meeting.”
- Michele Morgan, Senior Online MarketingManager (EMEA), Citrix Online

Tip #1: Establish an objective – and stick to it!
Effective meetings have a clear purpose or aim in mind. What key decisions need to be made? What actions need to be taken during the meeting? If you can’t define what this is, you’re not ready to call the meeting.

Tip #2: Choose your people carefully
Be thoughtful when inviting people to your meeting – you’re probably not the only person making demands on their time. It’s only too easy to end up with a calendar full of back-to back meetings without pause for thought (or comfort breaks or lunch!). And, of course, while there’s no visible cost to you for their time, there’s a financial cost to the company and an opportunity cost to your colleagues in terms of their own workload. Just because Outlook defaults to 30 minute slots doesn’t mean you have to book meetings by the half hour. Consider whether you’re asking for an hour to discuss something that could be covered in 45 or even 40 minutes.

Tip #3: Set the agenda
Does the word ‘agenda’ sound intimidating? Not to worry. For smaller meetings, a handful of bullets covering the key points you want to address will generally suffice. Only more formal meetings with a bigger and more varied attendee list will usually call for a more structured approach.

The important point is: have an agenda and send it out before the meeting (and no – five minutes earlier does not qualify as “before”!). That way, people will know what to expect, come prepared and the schedule will prevent the meeting from descending into a free-for-all.

Tip #4: Knowledge is power
Meetings can get a bit political sometimes, particularly if there’s an important or contentious issue at stake, so it doesn’t pay to fly by the seat of your pants. In advance of the meeting, email or speak to each individual participant and ask “what is your main goal for the meeting?”. Don’t send out a group email or BCC – you want to establish one-to-one trust. Once you’ve received everyone’s replies, you’ll know who in the room will have a similar view or interests, helping you to run the meeting more effectively and manage any conflicts.

Tip #5: Run through pre-flight checks
Running the meeting process is about more than simply inviting people, ensuring they can attend, and organising the practicalities. You can help maximise everyone’s time by assigning meeting roles and communicating your expectations of each assignee upfront. Good roles to have are a facilitator, a note-taker and a timekeeper. Ensure anyone (including yourself) who’s presenting or sharing information has prepared their supporting materials or presentations with time to spare.

Tip #6: Good housekeeping
It’s a good idea to establish some meeting protocols, such as whether people should ask questions during or at the end of a presentation. It’s also helpful to remind people of the importance of starting and finishing on time. If a key attendee is fifteen minutes late for an eight-person meeting, the latecomer has cost the business two hours of lost activity. Having to recap for the benefit of late arrivals is disruptive and wastes further time.

If a key attendee is fifteen minutes late for an eight-person meeting, the latecomer has cost the business two hours of lost activity.

During the meeting

Tip #7: Orchestrate the discussion
Running effective meetings is like conducting an orchestra – you need to guide the conversation, maintain the tempo and ensure no single voice drowns out everyone else. That means keeping an eye out for people who are being too passive – sitting back, fidgeting or otherwise distracted – as well as those who are too enthusiastic and hogging the conversation. If it’s a team meeting, consider rotating responsibilities around the workgroup. This not only rings the changes but can also help individuals to develop their skills because each will bring a different style or contribution to a given role.

Tip #8: Appoint a timekeeper
You can’t always keep a meeting short, but you can help it run to time. In smaller meetings, the leader usually acts as moderator, too. However, you may want to nominate someone else as time-keeper, so you can focus on the agenda rather than the discipline. They should make sure the meeting stays on track for each agenda item and inform everyone when only five minutes remain on the current item.

Tip #9: Keep your mind on the money
Going round in circles? You can flag up the ‘cost to decide’ with a simple, spreadsheet-based tool like The Meeting Meter™ to track the true cost of group discussions. You could make it visible during the meeting, to help the workgroup be more economical with their conversation. Or encourage participants to consider whether it’s worth dwelling on an issue, by informing them how much ‘money’ has already been spent on that particular agenda item.

Tip #10: Minutes shouldn’t take hours
The minutes provide a vital reference point when a meeting’s outcomes impact other activities or projects, and keep everyone on the same page. But minuting doesn’t have to be an arduous task. The main thing is to capture the essence of the discussion, e.g. ideas, feedback, agreements and decisions, next steps planned, action items and progress checks.

After the meeting

Tip #11: Follow up appropriately
After the meeting, fine-tune the minutes – even if they’re just bullet points. Circulate by email, and don’t forget to include those unable to attend on the distribution list. You’ll need to continue to manage team communications to ensure everyone stays informed of progress and is aware of their responsibilities or action points, and any deadlines.

 

If you’re a participant in someone else’s meeting, here’s how you can make the difference, and inspire others to do so.

Before the meeting

Tip #1: Come prepared
Nobody wants their time wasted, yourself included. So if you’re expected to have reviewed something, make sure you’ve read it beforehand. If you’re using a laptop or tablet in a meeting, check your battery has adequate charge or bring your power cable. And even in today’s digital world, it always pays to carry an old-school pen and notepad as a back-up!

Tip #2: Minimise distractions
Have you ever been annoyed at the cinema by someone’s mobile phone? It’s the same for meetings. Tempting though it can be to multi-task, spare yourself the embarrassment of being asked to put your phone on silent, either by activating voicemail or using the Do Not Disturb function when you arrive. Make sure any audible email or calendar alerts are turned off or muted – nobody wants to be distracted by chimes, whooshes or pings.

During the meeting

Tip #3: Participate!
Don’t assume you can sit back, relax and listen to everyone else. You’ve been invited to the meeting for a reason – if it’s not obvious what that is, ask what role, responsibility or contribution is expected of you beforehand. If it turns out you don’t need to be there, then by all means don’t accept. You’ve just regained some precious time in your day! If you have a comment or question during the meeting, raise your hand. Keep your point succinct: if it’s in-depth or complicated, break it down into separate questions. On the other hand, unless a speaker or presenter specifically invites open discussion throughout the meeting, it’s a good idea to hang onto your thoughts until asked.

Tip #4: Be truly present, not just ‘there’
While it’s easy to let your mind wander off, you will only get full value from your participation by staying in the moment. Do your posture, body language and facial expressions convey respect and attentiveness, or boredom and impatience? Is there a chance you’re wasting meeting time by asking something that’s already been answered or addressed? If you catch your thoughts drifting, take a breath and, without judging yourself, bring your attention back to the present.

Tip #5: Set a good example
Good meeting culture can be spread virally, so as Mahatma Ghandi famously said, ‘be the change you want to see’. Show accountability and integrity by only promising what you can deliver and communicating all news (good or bad) proactively. Unless it’s absolutely necessary and you have prior permission, don’t duck out of a meeting early – it’s disruptive to the other attendees and implies your time is more important than theirs.

After the meeting

Tip #6: Do your homework
With today’s demands on our time, it can be easy to flit from one meeting to the next, barely pausing for breath. But it’s also important not to add to your stress by letting things pile up. Note any action items that have been assigned to you and complete any tasks promptly. Be driven to get things done, but also done right.

Better Meetings Infographic

 

Effective Online Meetings

Effective Online Meetings

Have a face-to-face without going place-to-place

So, we’ve talked about what makes an effective meeting. But what could make a good meeting even better? You probably had a hunch this was coming: the answer, from our perspective, is to move meetings online whenever it makes sense. If you’re still relying on conference calls to do business, or only meeting intermittently with customers at their premises, it’s time to drag yourself out of the Dark Ages.

Online meetings are the natural successor to conference calls when it comes to relationship-building. They bring a visual dimension to any get-together, whether it’s a one-to-one, a project meeting or a presentation with an audience numbering in the hundreds. And they also provide a useful complement to in-person meetings that helps sustain momentum behind team efforts and deepen customer relationships.

Of course, we benchmark everything by the standard of Citrix GoToMeeting, because we’ve built it to work exactly the way we and our customers want it to. But what can online meetings give you over and above a phone or conference call?

Desktop sharing
The ability to share your desktop with everyone present literally keeps people on the same page. It does away with the clunky process of emailing a file, calling the other person, asking them to open the file and then discussing it over the phone. As well as displaying the contents of your screen to all participants, you can truly work as a team by passing control of the meeting to attendees as presenter, or enabling everyone to collaborate by annotating or editing the document directly. This saves you from having to write up action points and implement changes to the document after the meeting, while putting a team effort and momentum behind your project.

Audio
When selecting a web conferencing solution, most buyers look only at one aspect of audio: the quality. Don’t get us wrong – audio quality is certainly important (and GoToMeeting’s HD audio is as crisp as you can hope for). Yet an equally important factor that is frequently overlooked is audio integration – how traditional audio conferencing integrates with Voice over IP (VoIP). Most solutions only let you use one or the other, or worse still, only VoIP. The downside: Any meeting with three or more participants will probably include at least one person who’s not comfortable with or able to use VoIP. This forces the whole group to use traditional audio, foregoing the cost benefits of VoIP. So make sure you select a solution that combines VoIP with traditional audio and gives each participant the choice. In our own meetings, easily three-quarters of the team opt to use VoIP. If you currently rely on teleconferences, this would translate into a 75% cost reduction in your audio conferencing costs!

Chat
Public and private chat options allow you to address typed comments and questions to the presenter only or to everyone in the meeting, without interrupting the conversation. But use it sparingly!

HD Video
Given that a large proportion of communication is non-verbal, the ability to observe body language and facial expressions goes a long way towards eliminating misunderstandings and building relationships. Some companies have spent tens or even hundreds of thousands on high-end ‘telepresence’ systems. Like something out of James Bond or Minority Report, these offer the highest level of technical sophistication and fidelity in sight and sound, and no doubt if you’re wanting to hold a G8 summit without putting world leaders on a plane, they’re the tool of choice. But in practice, these systems are over-the-top for most businesses – a vanity project for executives who are happy to squander company resources on something that only benefits a niche group of users.

Nowadays, PCs, smartphones and tablets all come with a microphone, speaker and video camera integrated as standard, which democratises the use of video to every employee, from the shop floor to the top floor. Online meeting software takes advantage of these inbuilt tools to let everyone see each other. This enables both multi-point video meetings and point-to-point conference between two people – ideal for bringing the human touch to informal conversations and catch-ups.

We recommend that you choose a tool that includes HD video for a more natural and high quality face-to-face meeting experience. GoToMeeting has the added benefit of displaying whichever participant is currently speaking, so you can make eye contact just as you would in a real-life meeting.

Mobile
Today, mobile apps aren’t simply the equivalent of desktop software on a smaller screen. Ease of use and convenience mean people and business processes are becoming increasingly ‘mobile first’. Online meeting solutions like GoToMeeting that offer mobile apps let people to attend online meetings on the go via their smart phone or tablet – no bulky laptop required.

 

Our top online meeting tips

“If a key attendee is fifteen minutes late for an eight-person meeting, the latecomer has cost the business two hours of lost activity.”

Whatever tool you’re using, follow these simple, actionable best practices for running effecting online meetings that are as smooth as a pair of cashmere underpants.

Tip #1: All the usual rules apply
Everything we’ve talked about already in terms of good meeting etiquette applies just as much to a virtual meeting as a face-to-face one. You still need a clearly identifiable leader, a defined agenda and good housekeeping. Punctuality, professional courtesy and politeness are just as important, if not more so, when people are dispersed. Good meeting etiquette helps build and maintain relationships at arm’s length, which can prevent feelings of isolation among remote workers.

Tip #2: What you hear is what you get
If you’re joining the discussion by VoIP, it’s helpful to perform a quick audio check, whether using your computer’s inbuilt mic and speakers or a dedicated headset. If you’re dialling in by phone, use a good quality landline or ensure you can maintain reception on a mobile to prevent break-ups or dropped calls. Keep the conference number and PIN code handy so you’re not scrabbling around at the last moment. Join a minute or two early and have any questions or topics you want to raise jotted down in preparation. Mute your line when you’re not speaking and keep background noise to a minimum. If you’re at home, put up a “DO NOT DISTURB” sign if necessary, so your family know you’re on a call (this may not work with pets, though!). Don’t forget to speak more slowly and concisely on a multi-way conference than you would on a one-to-one phone call, especially if not all participants are native speakers of your language.

Tip #3: Eliminate first-time nerves
If your meeting participants have never used a tool like GoToMeeting before, ask them to join a few minutes early the first time they take part in an online meeting to ensure there are no hold-ups for technical reasons. In practice, you should find that the more intuitive your online meeting software, the more enthusiastically people will embrace the online meeting format.

Tip #4: Avoid desktop faux pas
Online meetings shouldn’t lack personality. But if you are likely to be sharing your screen, you’ll appear more professional if your desktop isn’t chock-a-block with icons, or wallpapered with photos of your cats, kids or yourself. Switch off pop-up email notifications for the duration of the meeting if you are likely to receive any sort of email that is confidential, sensitive or non-work-related. Nobody else wants to know about the romantic evening your spouse has planned for you when you get home!

Tip #5: Prepare your environment for video
Whether you’re having an online meeting in your living room or an airport lounge, make sure your environment is neither too bright nor dim so people can see you properly. Keep body movements to a minimum to avoid distracting your audience (you may need to pay special attention to this if you’re someone who gesticulates wildly with their hands when they talk!). Avoid fine stripes or intricate patterns on your clothing if at all possible, and remove noisy jewellery or dangly earrings that might provide an unwanted soundtrack to your meeting.

Tip #6: Overcoming camera-shyness
At first, you may feel a little self-conscious knowing other meeting participants can see your face. You might even be uncomfortable seeing yourself on screen. But once you get going, it’s surprising how quickly you forget about it and fall into a more relaxed, organic conversation because you and your fellow participants can see one another. Stay focused, but relax and be yourself – the point of video is that it’s the closest thing to being there in person. The most important thing to remember is to maintain eye contact by looking into the camera instead of your screen or your keyboard (you shouldn’t be typing anyway!).

Tip #7: Use chat, but sparingly
Live chat is a discreet way to address the presenter or confer with other participants during a meeting. But it’s not an excuse to hold a sneaky side conversation while the main meeting goes on. This might sound obvious, but when using live chat, don’t inadvertently address a private comment intended for one individual to the entire team. You’d be surprised how many people make this schoolboy error. If it’s not polite, it’s probably better to keep your thoughts to yourself!

 

It works!

ShareFile: Video increases sales efficiency by a dramatic 34%

The ability to connect and collaborate with customers is vital to sales success. So ShareFile, a Citrix company, recently put video conferencing to the test in their sales demonstrations with prospects across all industries. Sales reps were automatically prompted to share their webcam when launching demos in the test scenarios, while in the control scenarios they weren’t.

When sales people used GoToMeeting and turned on their webcams, they saw a 34% higher close rate than without video.

“I have seen a significant lift in closing... I feel like people are more willing to return my calls and emails when I used the camera as opposed to when I didn’t.”
- Beth Longley, ShareFile Sales Representative

We realise we’re blowing our own trumpet, but if you’re sceptical, try it yourself. Turn on your webcam today to see how it affects your close rate.

 

More insight


Discover a wealth of informative and insightful content on this and related topics
at our blog: blog.gotomeeting.com

GoToMeetingOnline meetings and video conferences made easy.
www.gotomeeting.co.uk

 

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