Breathe life into meetings: how to plan an engaging company meeting
Employees don't hate meetings. Employees hate BAD meetings. So, how do you plan a company meeting that doesn't do more harm than good?
Edited on: July 24, 2023
Whether it’s a regular team meeting, a one-off training event or the annual sales presentation, at least a handful of employees will probably complain that it’s going to be a boring, unproductive time-suck. And the unfortunate reality is – they're usually right.
Planned incorrectly, meetings can stretch for hours, go over ground that’s been covered many times before, and generally leave the participants in a zombie-like daze. Moreover, they're costly. Bad meetings demand time and resources that might've been better spent elsewhere, and they can demotivate employees, as people watch their time wither away just because the organizer didn't put in enough effort to plan a productive meeting.
Plus, with the pandemic leading to a massive spike in hybrid and remote ways of working, we're having more meetings than ever before. Better communication technologies have made it easier to connect with others at any time – and, for better or for worse, people are making use of this opportunity.
Usually, however, it's for worse. The vast majority of employees believe meetings to be a waste of time and resources. People are suffering from Zoom fatigue. And despite an abundance of new tech that's supposed to improve the situation, teams and companies worldwide continue to be bad at meetings.
But it's not meetings themselves that are the problem – it's why and how you run them.
If you plan them well, company meetings are the perfect opportunity to engage employees, inspire them to keep doing better and make them feel more invested in the company’s values and overall vision.
In this article, we'll dive into the 5 main things you need to consider to avoid bad meetings and how to plan company meetings that everyone looks forward to attending.
The 5 keys to meeting success: how to plan a GOOD company meeting
An effective meeting is worth its weight in gold. We all know, at least intuitively, what constitutes a good company meeting and we've all had our fair share of experience with bad ones. Still, when it comes to organizing your own, it's easy to forget or ignore best practices. Especially now that the meeting dynamic has changed with the added hybrid/remote element.
Still, structurally speaking, it doesn't matter whether everyone's in one room or connecting remotely from all over the world – the foundations for a successful meeting remain the same, though the tech might be different.
So here's a checklist of five factors you should pay close attention to when organizing your meeting.
1. Invite the right people
Since the world went hybrid, it's now possible to include everyone in a meeting, regardless of location. This spells good news for all-hands meetings, where it's important to address the entire company.
However, be cautious not to open Pandora's box – just because everyone can attend, doesn't mean they should. Dragging an employee away from their responsibilities to participate in a meeting that doesn't call for them is a surefire way to breed resentment and waste resources.
You should always craft the list of participants to only include people who have to be there.
2. Set measurable objectives and reflect them in the meeting agenda
One of the most common grievances employees have about company meetings is that they lack a clear purpose. This demotivates your attendees and makes them feel like they’ve wasted their time.
With this in mind, your first order of business should be to set out clear objectives. Don’t organize a meeting just for the sake of having one. Make sure there’s actually a meaningful reason for it. A great way to do this is to use the following prompt: “By the end of this meeting I want participants to __”. Keep in mind that the objective should be measurable.
With a goal in mind, you need to set an agenda – the blueprint for your meeting. It should clearly show your attendees what’s expected of them and make it possible for everyone to identify at which point the meeting has reached its natural end. To create the ideal agenda, consider the following tips:
- Seek participant input – preempt tangential discussions and plan your time better by understanding what are the topics people want to discuss related to the meeting goal.
- Frame agenda items as questions – with generic agenda items, attendees won't know what to expect, nor how to prepare. So, instead of putting things like “Q2 sales discussion”, frame it as, e.g. “Why inbound sales fared better than outbound in Q2?”
- Note the purpose of each item on the agenda – attendees will know whether they’re expected to give input, participate in decision-making, or simply listen and take notes.
Clear objectives allow you to evaluate the value and effectiveness of the meeting and a well-crafted agenda ensures you get the most out of it.
3. Be mindful of time and timing
Getting your scheduling right is super-important. You’ll want to make sure your meeting starts and finishes on time and, more importantly, has a reasonable duration.
How long should a meeting last? Make the meeting too long and you’ll lose your audience. But make it too short, and there may not be enough time for the meeting to be effective and reach its stated goal. Some say 25 minutes is the ideal length. Others suggest working in increments of 15 minutes with a maximum of 45 minutes.
The reality is that there's no correct answer – the duration of the meeting depends entirely on its type and purpose. An end-of-year all-hands meeting can easily drag on for two-three hours, whereas a quick team catchup can take as few as 15 minutes. And that's fine, as long as the objective of the meeting is achieved effectively.
What you SHOULD be mindful of, insofar as you should make space for breaks, are longer meetings. If you’re planning a longer meeting or a multi-day event, you’ll need to split up the agenda into sessions, ensuring you allow enough break time in between. This gives your attendees’ brains time to recover and refocus their attention.
Still, a major challenge will be to stay on track. It’s a good idea to set out the steps you need to go through for each and every item on the agenda, as it makes the whole process a lot more effective. It also avoids situations where some of your attendees are wrapping up the discussion while others are still trying to get to grips with the issue.
You’ll also need to allocate enough time for each item. Most people tend to underestimate this, so try to err on the side of caution. Here is a great resource with some practical tips for staying on track.
4. Fostering engagement is crucial and it requires work and preparation
Proper planning is only half the battle – admittedly, the bigger half. But you also need to find ways to engage your attendees and motivate them to actively participate in the meeting.
Active participation is crucial. It makes your attendees stay more focused and retain information better. And, at the end of the meeting, they’ll feel they’ve accomplished something, which makes it likelier that they’ll look forward to the next one.
It's a good idea to start a company meeting with some warm-up activities. Warm-up games are fun. And they require everyone’s attention, which helps ease your attendees into the swing of things. They also improve collaboration and trust, which sets the stage for a more effective meeting.
One classic warm-up exercise involves calling a letter and naming a person whose name starts with that letter. You can do this by going around the table. Or, for a more energetic version, get each attendee to toss Catchbox to the person who’s turn it is. If you have remote attendees, then a conferencing microphone like Catchbox is crucial to ensure that they can hear what's being said by the in-person crowd.
For longer meetings, avoid attention slumps by throwing in some energizing activities. These are short activities designed to raise energy levels at key parts of the meeting, for instance right after the lunch break.
Word association can work well as an energiser; and has the added bonus of being perfect for kickstarting a brainstorming session. Once again, you can perk things up by using Catchbox to gather words and ideas from around the room, while getting people to move a little bit and get the blood flowing.
5. Post-meeting activities
After every meeting, you should do two things: follow up with attendees and reflect on whether the meeting was a success.
Following up serves two important purposes. Firstly, it’s a way to ensure your attendees follow through on any action agreed during the meeting. This instills a sense of accountability and reinforces the idea that the meeting was productive.
More to the point, however, you can get valuable feedback about the meeting from employees. Which will allow you to measure the meeting’s effectiveness, build on what went well and make improvements.
Speaking of meeting improvements, it's highly advisable to reflect on the meeting's added value. Ask yourself – did we achieve our intended goals? Were the right people present? What can be improved next time? Was this the right format?
For instance, company meetings don’t necessarily have to involve sitting around a boardroom table or looking up at a stage. Depending on your meeting’s objective, you can make it more effective and inspiring simply by changing its format.
Here are a few ideas:
- organize an inspirational tour of another company;
- hold a ‘notes day’, where teams reflect on company challenges in small groups and present their findings to other departments;
- use the “fishbowl” format, where your attendees switch from passive listening mode to active participant mode at regular intervals.
Bad meetings are inevitable, but it's on your shoulders to ensure they don't become the norm.
Here's to better company meetings and happier employees
There's no single formula to effective meetings – it's a matter of trial and error until you find what works for you. That said, the framework outlined in this article provides a good way to approach organizing and planning meetings, regardless of type or duration.
Once you start putting in the effort, your team will respond in kind. They'll be better prepared and more engaged, but you have to help them get there.
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