Meaningful Conversations: 8 Productivity Hacks to Drive Better Meetings

Here are some hacks to bring into your meeting so you can have a more productive conversation and get back some of your precious time 🙂

Team meetings, company-wide meetings, one-on-ones, stand-ups, sprints, retrospectives, workshops, phone calls, teleconferences, coffee catch-ups…. are you exhausted yet? Jumping from one conversation or meeting to the next can be overwhelming and mentally draining! And you haven’t even started the growing list of follow-ups or actions!

Here are some hacks to bring into your meeting so you can have more meaningful conversations and get back some of your precious time 🙂

8 Productivity Meeting hacks for meaningful conversations

  1. Use Time limits
    Research has shown the most effective meetings are no more than 45 minutes in length. However, many a time, conversations get hijacked or turned around and you’re lost in a sea of idle chatter for hours. Our Notiv team surveyed the general population and found that most people spent at least 9 hours in meeting per week! Additionally, a Harvard Business Review article claims some executives spend up to 23 hours per week in a meeting. That’s a lot of time to waste.
  2. Always set an agenda before the meeting
    All your agenda needs to focus on is how long your meeting will be and what topics it will cover. Then all you have to do is stick to it! While you can allow people to add topics or modify the time limit so each person has a voice, it is important to also curate the conversation. For example, points that are not actionable need not be included in the agenda! If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.
  3. The Parking Lot Method
    This productivity method ensures your meeting does not go off topic, while assuring participants that their points of discussion will be addressed. Effective use of the parking lot method means that topics not relating to the point being discussed are identified, recorded, and then discussed after agenda topics have been closed (if time remains). It’s best to have someone in charge of keeping the parking lot list, so if time runs out these items can be discussed at the most ideal time.
  4. Stand up for your time
    Many meeting rooms have lush, cushy chairs, coffee, bagels and when you throw in laptops, it’s easy for people to get too comfortable. Having standing meetings can be the best way to make sure people focus on the topic at hand and end the meeting on time. It also stops people from doing unrelated things during a meeting. The result is a focused and attentive team!
  5. Freedom of speech
    We’re not talking about saying whatever you want, but considering opposing opinions can lead to more productive conversations. This balance of thoughts can clear up miscommunications, misunderstandings and lead to better long-term outcomes. That said, you need to manage the more vocal people in the room and make sure everyone has their speaking time respected. After all, you’re having a conversation and not a lecture!
  6. Set a weird time for your meeting
    No, we are not advocating meeting at 2 am. Instead of setting a meeting for 1030, set it for 1006! Believe it or not, but having a seemingly random start time increases the chance of everyone being on time. That way you’re not wasting time waiting on people and you can start the meeting, dead on time!
  7. Recap
    Try as you might, when you have a long meeting, even if it’s one on one, there are going to be points you forget or miss. Therefore, it’s always a good meeting hack to factor in time on the agenda for a debrief. Run through the important decisions made and the action items each member will need to act on.
  8. Take effective notes
    Note taking is one of the most crucial aspects of a meeting. It allows you to recap important points, promotes accountability and can keep you on track. However, it is important to take smart notes. To find out how to take smart notes that can help your team effectively take action, here is a guide I’ve created for you!

Don’t worry if you’re not ready to get Notiv in your meetings – although I assure you, with Notiv, you’ll be able to have more meaningful conversations.

If you’re part of a team, perhaps it’s time to look at ways to improve how you meet! Because, let’s face it. When you meet better, you can drive better client outcomes.

How to Create a Great Agenda That You Will Stick To

Wondering how to write an agenda that you will stick to? In this article, we’ve outlined all the steps you need when creating a great agenda.

When planning to meet, one of the best tips for productivity is to create an agenda. Although an agenda is simply a sequence of topics or tasks that need to be discussed, it helps attendees understand why you are meeting and prepare accurately.

Have you ever been in a meeting that’s run overtime, where people have come unprepared or that was just down-right a waste of your time? Most of us have been in at least one meeting like this and you’re probably still thinking of what a waste of time it was. If we’ve all got this stressor, why haven’t we come up with a solution by now?

The issue might be as simple as introducing a mandatory agenda. An effective agenda can help you solve some of the most frustrating yet common issues with meetings. For example, when you introduce the concept of an agenda for every meeting, you’ll be able to answer the following questions.

–       Is everyone contributing to the meeting?

–       Have the relevant people been included and are there any unnecessary people involved in the meeting?

–       Will you stay on time and end on time?

–       Have you discussed all the points of interest?

–       Have you efficiently followed-up action items and tasks from the last meeting?

We’ve studied hundreds of hours of meetings to help you write an agenda that you’ll stick to.

Effective meeting agenda: Purpose

When planning your agenda or deciding on the agenda topics, it’s important to keep the team’s needs and reason for meeting in clear view. From this, you can decide on the format of the agenda. While your agenda outline and format might be different, it’s important to ensure that they serve the same purpose; an agenda informs your participants of the meeting, what tasks need to be done and their importance.

How to write an agenda:

It is important to create a well-planned and orderly agenda. A disorderly agenda can cause your discussion to go off track, creating unproductive discussion and leading to poor outcomes, discussions or missed insights. Here’s how to write an agenda template you can use for your next meeting.

  • Set the objective of the meeting as the main item of the agenda:
    The objective of the meeting is the main component in an agenda and must be set clearly. The said objective, when communicated to the participants, sets their expectations correctly. We recommend using minimal words and simple language to ensure ease of understanding in no uncertain terms.
  • Inform the participants of the details of the agenda, ahead of time:
    The time, place, date and details of other participants, items to be discussed, and other important pre-meeting details must be communicated to the people attending the meeting via the meeting agenda. It’s also important to send our your agenda well in advance so that participants have enough time to read, revert and prepare accordingly. Last-minute communication usually results in key members being unable to attend or prep and effectively renders your meeting ineffective before it’s even started! Making sure that you craft and disseminate your agenda in a timely manner greatly increases your chances of having a successful meeting. 
  • Ask for input from attendees:
    Every team member or attendee in your meeting will have concerns, questions or points of discussion that must be addressed in the meetings. Including your team in the pre-meeting process will help keep your attendees engaged and focused. This also helps in the creative development process of the project or work you are discussing. Therefore, the next step in creating a great agenda is to allow your attendees  to add items to the agenda. This enriches the overall purpose of your meeting and studies have shown that this involvement motivates participants to engage as their respective concerns will be addressed.
  • Select important topics for discussion ahead of less important ones:
    While it’s crucial to get input from other attendees, it’s equally important for the meeting host to curate the flow of the meeting. Meetings take time and you’re taking time out of your busy schedule to attend. Therefore, you want the most value out of that invested time. That’s why you’ll need to review the agenda again and prioritize important topics that are of immediate concern above the unimportant ones. Always use the Parking Lot method for anything that can be dealt with later. Examples of important topics are ones that affect the entire team, decisions that have a deadline and follow-ups of previously discussed topics.
  • Set it in a questionnaire form:
    Asking a question enables people to have an insight into the topic and know exactly what is being asked of them. It’s been shown that people are more receptive to questions than direct orders. Therefore, by listing items as questions on your agenda, you’ll be able to prepare the team for a thorough discussion and will be able to track where each member stands on the project/topic of concern.
  • Set a time limit for each agenda topic:
    Meetings are notorious for being long, dragged-out timewasters. This can be because the discussion veers of on a tangent, attendees are unprepared or if there are distractions during the meeting. Therefore, it’s always a good idea to set a time limit per topic. When estimating the time limits, you’ll need to take into consideration the length of the entire meeting, scope of the topic, if there are any issues to be resolved and allocate time for solution discussions. By setting a time limit, people are less likely to veer off-topic, attendees stay focused and you’ve created an effective meeting agenda!
  • Propose a process for addressing each agenda item:
    There should be a process that you must adopt to address each item on the agenda list. This increases the effectiveness of the meeting. This includes identifying issues, resolving them, coming up with solutions and more.
  • Identify who is responsible for leading each topic:
    It is not always up to the meeting organiser to lead the discussion on each topic. Usually, other participants are also assigned certain agenda topics for discussion. Sharing this load will help your team stick to the agenda because there is a clear delineation between topics and cultivates a meeting culture. This also ensures that competent voices are heard in the meeting and your team can make informed decisions together!

 

When an agenda is simple, comprehensive and contains the important details, then it becomes very easy to stick to it. The above steps are sure to help you create an effective agenda for your next team meeting!

How to Run a Meeting Like a Leader: Lessons from Google, Microsoft, Apple and Facebook

Meetings are a crucial part of all our workdays. Whether that’s an official team meeting or an impromptu conversation in the hallway, we have important conversations on a daily basis. A study has averaged that we have more than 20 conversations or meetings per day! That’s a lot of time we’re investing in communication, relationships and collaboration. So, how do we run an effective meeting?

In fact, researchers estimate that companies in the US alone waste at least 37 billion every year in lost productivity due to poorly organized meetings.

Today, we’ll look at how the leaders from some of the largest companies in the world like Microsoft, Google, Apple, Amazon or Facebook run a meeting? It pays to study and learn from the meeting styles of successful business leaders because they take back-to-back meetings on a daily basis. So, how do they minimize their inefficiency because if they can’t afford it, neither can we!

And there are several reasons for this inefficiency. We all know what to do to constitute a ‘good’ meeting.

Meetings become inefficient when:

  1. The team is unaligned or unsure as to why you are meeting
  2. Without a strong agenda or a reason for meeting, it’s likely that attendees won’t be able to prepare for the meeting, which leads to useless discussion and a risk of going off tangent. This also means that attendees are unable to prioritize the reason for meeting and tend to view the meeting as an interruption to their day rather than as a useful tool.
  3. You don’t keep to time or to topic
  4. While an agenda can help solve this issue, it’s also crucial that each attendee understands the scope and topic being discussed. This ensures that the team is well-aligned, the discussion is relevant and each topic is given due consideration. Nominating a meeting chair or facilitator can also help your meetings start and end on time, and stay on topic.
  5. Your meetings don’t have any ground rules
  6. All meetings need ground rules. The same way you have a dress code at work, there needs to be a code of etiquette when it comes to meetings. These rules don’t have to be extensive. Start small with a rule to “turn up to every meeting at least 5 minutes before kick-off” or make it a rule to ‘parking lot’ any topic or question that’s not immediately relevant to the discussion at hand. You’ll save yourself lots of distractive comments, discussions and useless whiffle-waffle.
  7. Another great rule is to encourage attendees to “make your coffee at least 10 minutes before the meeting” or you could move your coffee machine to your meeting room!
  8. Coffee?
  9. Coffee is whispered with reverence in most workplaces and everyone has their vice, but a recent study on the effects of caffeine on meetings revealed an interesting gender difference. During periods of stress, women who drank coffee performed better than men in the same situation. While we’re not throwing out the coffee just yet, the difference is said to lie in your instinctive response to caffeine. While women on caffeine generally tend to take on a collaborative, teamwork style, which is ideal for the meeting space, whereas men generally react in a practical or active style.
  10. The point of a meeting is not to talk
  11. Perhaps this is where the collaborative, teamwork approach makes the most sense. It’s how we define the point of a meeting. The point of a meeting is to listen and collaborate. The whole reason you’re together in a room is to benefit from one another’s viewpoints and perspectives to drive better outcomes for your team and clients.
  12. It’s about the tasks not the time
  13. If your meeting is set for 60 minutes, you don’t have to discuss for 60 minutes. This is where a strong agenda comes in handy. Focus on the tasks and points at hand rather than the time. Fortune reported that Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg keeps a list of discussion points and action items handy in her meetings so that once she’s done with her points, she can quickly move on to the next meeting and topics at hand!
  14. Disruptions and unengaged team
  15. With a huge multi-national company like Amazon, it’s easy for an unsupervised meeting to grow to exponential hands. You shouldn’t have to rent a convention center just to meet. Amazon’s funky 2-pizza rule is: every meeting should be sufficiently catered by 2 pepperoni pizzas. Only invite the relevant people to your meetings because this will help avoid repeat opinions, it prioritizes the time people dedicate to the meeting, allows for quicker decisions and it’s easier to communicate!

It’s not just how we meet, it’s what comes after that creates inefficiency. A good meeting can save dozens of follow-up emails, prevent major miscommunication, and even give birth to moments of creative magic.

Top workflow management tools from leading entrepreneurs

Talk less. Listen more

This is actually 2 of Satya Nadella’s, Microsoft CEO, 3-step meeting method. Apart from being able to listen better when you talk less, this also creates a nurturing atmosphere that encourages collaboration when you run a meeting.

There are several ways to ensure you are listening:

  • Ask specific questions;
  • Be concise and to-the-point;
  • Approach each problem as a team;
  • Give everyone time to share;
  • Keep to the time.

The worst meeting I’ve ever attended was on where a senior member of the team talked for 20 extra minutes at the end of the meeting on a tangential point. The whole team was equally inattentive and just done listening, but nobody had the courage to speak up.

Be decisive

This doesn’t mean that you call for a mutiny, overthrow the facilitator and reclaim the meeting room as new land. Being decisive means that you know when to step into the conversation and if you run a meeting, how to keep things moving forward. While it is important to listen more, at the end of the day, you need to assign tasks, keep the conversation on point and ensure follow through for better outcomes.

Know your game

You’re in the meeting for a reason and hopefully, it’s not a ‘Dinner for Schmucks’ situation. So, if you’re presenting, get passionate about your idea! No one else will champion your views, topics or expertise, so if you want things moving in a certain way, fight for them!

Of course we all want respectful workplaces, but what we mean here is don’t compromise on things you believe in. It’s also not enough to know what’s important, but you have to be able to articulate why it’s important and then convince the rest of your team.

The way Google does this is with data. Every suggestion or point is backed up by numbers so they can validate and quantify everything they do and it’s been working well for them!

When you run a meeting, you’re making meaning.

This means that before you run a meeting the right priorities are defined.

“We’re doing this because we have a passion about it…because we really care about the higher educational process. Not because we want to make a buck.”

  • Steve Jobs

This also means that you don’t need to wait for a meeting to make a decision. Have a mico-meeting to avoid senior decision makers becoming a blocker for the rest of the team.

But it’s not always the ongoing meeting that derives value, how you end your meetings also matter.

At Notiv, we understand how intimidating it can be to visualize the long road ahead of us. That’s why we end our meetings with some inspiration. It’s important to us to take some time to look back at what we’ve accomplished and to use that as motivation for the road ahead. Apple celebrated their 90th day of business, when was the last time you celebrated how far you’ve come?

No slides

While Google backs their decisions up with data, Amazon relies on the power of storytelling instead. While on one-hand this can prompt attendees to craft detailed meeting memos, it can also leave your team directionless before the meeting. Amazon prizes memos because they give the organizers a chance to better communicate the concepts to be discussed. Attendees can also read, collaborate and improve the work ahead of time, creating team alignment and focus.

Review

We’ve all rocked up to that important meeting where, despite your best intentions, you’re simply not well-prepared. Perhaps you just got off a flight, had a big night out or watched the final season of Game of Thrones.

As a meeting organizer, it’s inevitable to have attendees who simply aren’t ready. But instead of punishing these members, or risk them ‘faking it till they make it’, Amazon instead has instated a mandatory review of the meeting memo at the start of the meeting. This method not only assures the undivided attention of the team, it helps discussion or team leads prepare a final time. It’s also great team practice because it values and places importance on the time, expertise and effort required to put those memos or agendas together.

Review is also important after a meeting. What was said, what was discussed and what needs to be followed-up on immediately?

Assigning a note-taker can help with the review process but this is often a major source of inefficiency. With human note-takers, your team is subjecting itself to the biases and limitations of that one person. If they missed a crucial point, the whole team collectively shares in that loss. If everyone is taking their own notes, the team risks misalignment, miscommunication and lots of time spent after the meeting decoding notes and chasing up information.

Why take the L?

By using an AI meeting assistant, you remove that dependency and inefficiency relating to human jobs.

We all have many jobs to be done in our lives:

Some are little like making coffee in the morning;

Some are big like creating a human being;

Some surface unpredictably like a spare outfit at work because you got drenched in the morning;

Some regularly like packing healthy school lunches for your kids.

However, the menial post-meeting tasks shouldn’t be something we have to contend with anymore. There are tools, like Notiv, available for the discerning professional. Tasks like taking detailed notes while engaging in the conversation, or organizing and disseminating meeting minutes can take hours, when they should only take minutes.

Tools like Notiv help users capture the full conversation, context and rich detail;

Transcribe the conversation for clarity;

Analyze the meeting to highlight important moments;

Segment the data for a quick review of the information;

And support collaboration and dissemination of the meeting notes!

If you want to Meet Better, it’s not hard to implement some of these life hacks into your workflow.

Have you already tried one or several of these meeting hacks? Or do you have something you want to add? Let me know in the comments below!