A good business meeting can leave participants feeling energised, enthused and five years younger.
A bad one can leave them wanting an immediate change of job or even career, writes Therese Meyer, Regus commercial director, Africa.
People all complain about having too many meetings, but when they work, they generate new ideas, revenues, energy or goodwill. How can participants make sure this happens?
The three elements of meetings
A meeting has three parts: before, during and after. There is lots of advice given about the "during" part. Time-keeping and staying on topic are crucial. So too is ensuring that verbose participants don’t drown out diffident ones.
There is a lot of advice available about the "after" – such as the importance of being clear about agreed outcomes, follow-up actions and deadlines.
Least attention is paid to the "before" stage. The planning stage can make or break a meeting:
* Define the purpose of the meeting – meetings are so much a part of corporate life that people often hold them as a "default" option. Too many meetings have vague intentions: a weekly team meeting or progress update, for example. The best meetings are action-orientated, with clear aims or desired outcomes.
* Limit the numbers – generally, the greater the number of participants, the greater the risk of them losing energy. Think about whether people really need to be there, or whether they could be updated about the outcomes. Handle this diplomatically – make people feel that non-attendance liberates time in their schedule, and not that they’re being sidelined.
* Agendas are not just a formality – agendas are crucial to good planning. They should be distributed in time for participants to read them, and act on them. All participants should know exactly what preparations they need to do beforehand.
* Set the stage – “Another part of preparing for a meeting is setting the stage. I think of this like a football match. No matter the quality of the teams, the football will suffer if they’re playing in a half-dark, empty stadium with a ploughed up pitch.”
How many meetings have people been to where an airless room has participants yawning throughout? Where the glare from a window gives them a headache or makes a screen illegible? Where there are continual interruptions as people check if the room is free?
These pitfalls undermine productivity, by making people perform below par. In a professional meeting room, with the right lighting and ventilation, participants are less likely to be distracted.
Other pitfalls concern first impressions. This is especially important when meeting external contacts. Meeting in someone’s unused office or a coffee shop does not create the same impression as a room of the right size, in an impressive and convenient location, with good facilities.
If a business doesn't have such facilities available, consider renting meeting rooms by the day, half day or hour. Even if the other participants know the meeting rooms are not on the business' premises, it doesn’t matter. Arranging the right meeting room demonstrates respect and efficiency: it’s a good subliminal message.
If hiring temporary meeting rooms, think about what type and size of room would fit the meeting type: boardroom, U-shape, or classroom-type? Then think about extras. Hungry or thirsty participants are less productive, so they may need tea, coffee and water, and possibly snacks or lunch as well.
They also need enough space to put their cups and plates. Meeting room providers like Regus can handle all these aspects.
Then there are the facilities. Check with everyone who will present at the meeting what they need: flip charts, whiteboard, somewhere to do printing or copying? Will people watch a presentation, in which case seating will have to be arranged accordingly? Again, meeting room providers cater for a wide range of requirements, but it’s best to ask in advance.
Another useful facility is videoconferencing. Meetings used to involve all participants sitting in the same room; now they don’t have to. So at the same time as the organiser considers who needs to attend a meeting, consider how they will attend it.
Using high-quality videoconferencing can save thousands of rands in travel costs and time, and is better for the environment. Again, check with the meeting room provider in advance whether they provide such a facility.
In the eyes of a potential client or customer, the care taken over a meeting could illustrate the care taken over, for example, service. So, rather than being peripheral, preparations like seating, catering and the room can be the difference between a company’s success and failure.
Ignore them, and it may jeopardise the ‘during’ and ‘after’ parts of the meeting before it has even begun.