If you ever need to hold a meeting and you want to make it a success, use the 40-20-40 continuum. Focus 40% of your attention for each meeting on preparation and getting everything right before you meet, then 20% of your attention on the meeting itself — the time you’re all together — and then spend 40% of your attention on the follow-through.
Get the preparation right and you will make the meetings you hold seem like magic. Here are a few ways that good preparation can pay itself back in spades.
1. Begin with the end in mind
When planning your meeting, start with the end in mind. Rather than waiting until halfway through a meeting to work out what you think the outcome should be, start there. You can even add this to the agenda, and as a chair, make sure it is part of your introduction. By being clearer from the outset, a lot of thinking will have been done before the meeting even gets under way.
Think about the meeting as a journey. The starting point is setting the scene: Introductions to one another, the topic and to the endpoint in mind. The middle stage is the exploration: Discussion, questioning and beginning to form some agreements. The end of a meeting should be where you are into decisions, actions and agreeing the next practical steps forward.
3. Schedule difficult agenda items immediately before breaks
When working out the agenda and meeting length, it is useful to schedule difficult agenda items immediately before breaks. This will hopefully keep things brief as it is a brave person who delays everyone’s lunch, and if things do get a little heated, the break offers time to calm everyone down.
4. Length — allow time for wiggle room
Make sure you are sensible, yet realistic, with the length of the meeting. If you are a disciplined chair, you can probably get it done in a shorter time than would be expected, though always allow time for wiggle room.
5. Control your Outlook, don’t let Outlook control your meetings
Meetings should rarely be exactly 30 minutes or 60 minutes long — the default times from Outlook — so make it 20 minutes or 45 minutes. It may only seem like ten minutes here and there, but ten minutes of proactive attention time is like gold dust.
6. Prepare — create the culture you need
Print agendas, bring background papers or information and use PowerPoint to provide a professional ‘feel’ and structure. Create a culture where preparation is absolutely expected. I did some interim management work where we were expected to have read all the papers in advance. As a result, the conversations were focused on opinions and actions rather than on clarifications or long explorations.
20% is the Meeting Itself
You have prepared meticulously and encouraged others to do the same. How do you ensure that the meeting is productive?