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Thoughts on Effective Meetings with Susan Otto

Posted at 7:03 PM on Sunday, June 22, 2008

I sat down with Susan Otto, owner of Training-Modules.com, instructional designer extraordinaire, colleague and friend of mine recently (okay, we did it through email because we are both busy and live two hours apart) and asked her some questions about her experiences and advice around creating more effective meetings. Here are her thoughts on my questions . . .

What is the biggest issue with meetings today?

No one is considering the true cost. When was the last time - if ever - that you estimated the cost of a meeting. I don't mean the room, lights, food, etc. I don't even mean time spent just chatting because you were waiting to start the meeting -though that is important, too. I mean the meeting member’s salary for that time spent. If everyone in an hour-long meeting made $30.00 per hour and there were seven people present, then the cost for that hour-long meeting would be $210.00 just for the members. That doesn't include the cost of what they could have been doing with there time if they weren't "stuck" in the meeting. And, that cost gets much higher when you have executives attending the meetings.

(a note from Kevin - when you add in the cost of infrastructure and benefits, the number goes up by another 30-50%!)

What do you believe is the most important thing you can do to make a meeting more effective?

Create and provide an agenda - based on the purpose for the meeting. Any meeting items that are not pertinent to the meeting's purpose should be eliminated. And, if possible, the agenda should be distributed prior to the meeting.

What is one of the biggest mistakes people make when attending meetings?

Not being prepared. This follows what I just mentioned . . . if an agenda is distributed prior to the meeting, each member attending should know what they need to do and/or bring to make the meeting more effective. And, if you are invited to attend a meeting and you don’t have a clear idea of why you need to attend, call and find out. Then consider whether your participation at that meeting is really necessary.

What is one of the biggest mistakes people make when planning meetings?

Expecting the "usual" members to attend the meeting, which again follows what I was just alluding to. Only invite those members to attend who really need to be at a meeting. Oftentimes, people are invited to meetings whose attendance is not necessary, especially for the purpose of the meeting. Some meeting could, and should, be sub-meeting where only a few members meet to discuss and decide on issues. Written communication, following the meeting, can provide the rest of the group with what was discussed or decided.

What can I do to evaluate my meetings' effectiveness?

Ask someone to attend one of your meetings, paying attention to the interactions between team members only. Watch for who participates in the meeting, who talks to whom, etc. Oftentimes an outside resource can provide you with valuable insights into the groups’ or teams’ meeting effectiveness, especially if the team is well-established team and has been working together for a long time.

Thanks Susan!

Susan has created a training module that can be used in your organization to improve your meetings - and has created an eWorkbook (a tremendous value) on the same topic. I urge you to take a look at those links (as well as all of the other Modules and eWorkbooks she has available) if you would like to create more effective meetings for yourself or across your organization.

These are just two examples of Susan's excellent work - take a look to learn more, download some samples and make a purchase.

Also posted in Learning, Teamwork and Training.


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