Why My Meetings Sucked

Have you ever been a part of a project that you were really excited about and couldn't wait to start working on? One of those projects where, during the initial meetings, you just couldn't wait to see what the final product was going to look like? One of those things where you wish you could hop in a time machine and skip a year into the future just to see how it all turns out?

Recently, I was a part of a really exciting new project at TRG and in order to get the project planned correctly and all the details figured out we needed a meeting.  One meeting led to two meetings and before any of us realized it, we had spent many hours and hours talking about this project with not much to show for it.  It was then that my boss politely told me (yelled) my meetings were not efficient (sucked) and I needed to decrease their length (stop wasting everyone’s time) and increase their effectiveness (do your job). 

With those positive words of encouragement I decided to speak with a few people here who have hosted a meeting or two in their day to get some advice and learn how to effectively structure and run my meetings.

Mandy Ferrato our Project Manager meets with anyone involved in projects and is regularly required to have very short very productive meetings with clients, vendors, stylists, etc…

Adam Wilde is our Studio Manager and Senior Photographer so he regularly has to switch hats between creative meetings with clients and business-y meetings as the Studio Manager.

It turns out, because they do it so often, they had some fantastic advice to give - so in case your meetings suck too, I decided to put it in a blog.

1. Make Your Objective Clear

Every meeting should have a purpose.  Create a clear objective before the meeting starts so everyone knows what needs to be accomplished.  If you can’t define an objective you probably shouldn't have the meeting. Having an agenda is a great way to make sure your objectives are clearly defined as well as helping you keep everyone on task throughout the meeting.

2. Don’t Over-Invite

If you are not invited to a meeting it is not akin to losing your Cool Kids Club Card.  Only invite people who are needed - you are playing with company time and while it may seem fun to hang out with your friend from accounting for an hour, there’s probably better things he could be doing with his time.

3. Stay On Topic

Yes, that episode of (insert name of TV Show) was (insert emotion) and I hated when (character name) (did something that was shocking or funny or whatever) but unless you work at Buzzfeed or TV Guide, I can confidently say that’s probably not what the objective of your meeting is, so save that talk for the water cooler (whatever that is).

Sometimes you are going to have to be the moderator in this situation and make sure the meeting is not derailed - by actively keeping the talk on track. If it starts to swerve off track, reel it back in.

4. Start on Time, End on Time

If the meeting starts at 10 and you have 15 minutes to decide on a location for a video, start the discussion at 10.  Use up all the allotted time you have, because at 10:15 you should have your decision. Having an End Time not only allows people to manage their schedules better, but puts a finality on the discussions and helps to curb the talking in circles that sometimes may happen when a decision needs to be made.

5. Ban Technology

Sometimes this is easier said than done.  Do your best to not be on your phone reading emails and letting your mind wander to other tasks or ideas. If you zone out for a few minutes onto something else you will inevitably lose track of the current discussion and have to be brought up to speed again when you zone back in. (cough cough Adam Wilde cough cough)

6. Next Step

When you leave a meeting, everyone should be very clear on what the next steps are and what they are personally responsible for.

7. Follow up

Always send a follow-up to everyone involved to reinforce everything that was said as well as have a written account for people to look back on in case they need reminding on what decisions were made/what the next steps are.

Using these guidelines (and they are just guidelines, informal inefficient meetings are sometimes a better fit in certain situations) my meetings have accomplished more in much shorter time periods, which has shown a marked improvement in the flow and efficiency of my projects in general. 

So, given the amount of projects the studio is juggling on a daily basis it makes sense that we would need to know how and actively participate in running efficient meetings. And, I have seen a tangible increase in how smoothly my projects are running now and how much shorter my meetings need to be - so I guess its safe to say my boss was right.

Just don’t tell him I said that.  It goes to his head.

Do you have any meeting suggestions I didn't touch on here?  Please share them with me in the comments below.  I need all the help I can get.