How to Make Meetings Less Tedious and More Engaging

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How many people are really waiting for another invitation to a meeting in your inbox? They reduce your time to work on deliveries and increase the likelihood that you will have to extend your workday into the evening. However, meetings increase by 13% and managers are especially bogged down by them. A 2020 Harvard Business Review study found that executives in large companies spend 22 minutes more a day in meetings today than in 2019.

Like it or not, work-related meetings, including individual meetings, departments, projects, and individual meetings, are vital to communication and team building.

The problem? They are not always efficient, structured, interactive or inclusive. Over time, meetings are more tedious to the point that attendees simply disconnect. This happens in face-to-face meetings, but it’s even easier for virtual assistants when they’re off-camera. And while meeting in person may be more appealing in some ways, today’s hybrid work environments mean that at least some attendees aren’t in the same room. Either way, the challenge continues.

Let’s see why this happens and what we can do to reverse this trend.

Virtual meetings diminish human connections

We already do most of our work in front of the computer, but humans are naturally connected to in-person interactions. With the rise of remote work and virtual meetings, these interactions are declining. While face-to-face meetings give you the opportunity to move away from your desk and rest your eyes, virtual meetings only increase the amount of time you spend looking at the screen.

Virtual meetings also diminish our ability to pick up nonverbal cues such as eye contact and posture. And it’s impossible to have a conversation or have quick social interactions with your classmates. These seemingly minor things can significantly affect your colleagues’ understanding and ability to partner with them.

Related: Six ways to make your meetings more productive

Meetings are usually mandatory and unstructured

Lack of face-to-face interaction is not the only problem. How many weekly or daily meetings do we have, regardless of whether anyone has any updates to share? This is not to say that permanent meetings are bad. For example, agile processes are based on brief daily concentrations, where contributors share status updates and critical information that team members need to know. But many permanent meetings are scheduled “just because” – and organizers expect guests to attend, regardless of whether they are needed.

Do not invite the right people are also a problem. Say you plan to launch a new tool on the sales team. Do you need the presence of the entire department just to announce the arrival of the new system? On the other hand, excluding sales trainers from this meeting would be a mistake, as they will present and train the team on the new tool.

Perhaps the worst mistake of the meeting is the lack of structure. Without an established agenda or an expected outcome, it is easy for attendees to “review” or focus on the tasks they deem most urgent. In a recent survey, we found that almost 75% of multitasking meetings are doing other work-related tasks rather than participating in the meeting, which is even more likely when the meetings are virtual.

Related: 3 tips to get the most out of your meetings

Techniques to make meetings less tedious and more interactive

Here are some tips to help you combat the lack of commitment and lack of productivity caused by out-of-focus and unnecessary meetings:

  1. Post goals and an agenda in advance. An agenda allows you to set how the meeting should go and what you want to achieve (and even ask if the meeting is necessary in the first place). Agendas also give attendees a chance to self-select. In the example above, a sales coach who is transferred to another department may choose not to attend the meeting earlier. There’s nothing worse than showing up to find that the topic doesn’t apply to you.
  2. Follow-up of the results of the meeting. After the meeting, send participants a follow-up email explaining what was discussed. If you have actions for any participant, include them (with expiration dates) in the summary. For example, if sales trainers need to schedule trainer training sessions before launching the new tool, let them know when you expect them to complete this task.
  3. Encourage the exchange of notes between participants. While it is impossible to capture all the details of a meeting by taking notes, the same act can cause an attendee to miss essential points. However, if participants share their notes, everyone leaves with a more complete understanding of what was being discussed. Consider using collaboration tools like Microsoft Teams and Google Docs to centralize notes for everyone’s consumption.
  4. Involve attendees with surveys, questions, and inquiries. Sometimes long meetings with many participants are inevitable. One way to break the monotony is with surveys, questions, or inquiries, a tactic often used during webinars. The sponsor may periodically insert a survey or questionnaire to assess the involvement and understanding of the current topic and then make a voiceover of the results. A little friendly competition may be just the trick to breaking the monotony. You can apply the same tactics to improve participation in your meetings.
  5. Record and share freely. One of the benefits of virtual meetings is that you can record the meeting and share it with attendees and non-attendees. Sharing the recording and transcript makes the information accessible to those who had scheduling conflicts or were simply not required to do so in person. In addition, non-attendees can quickly read the transcript or play the recording (at a higher speed if they wish) for efficient, offline absorption of information in the preferred way.

The common thread of these tips is intentionality. In an increasingly virtual world, it is essential to consider how you spend your time and that of your peers. Be intentional about what you will be discussing at meetings and why, who you should invite, and what you expect from them during and after the meeting. Being intentional generates momentum and commitment. The more productive and efficient you organize meetings, the more attendees will stay engaged and make meaningful contributions.

Related: Ways to have fun during virtual meetings

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