Last week we discussed a range of practical means of improving productivity at a personal level. This week we consider one of the most important communication tools, the business meeting. We cannot conduct business without it, yet ask any entrepreneur what their worst productivity killer is, and the business meeting is sure to exist high in the rankings. That love affair extends to those corporate beings whose entire existence is composed of the dreaded business meeting.

Meetings are the most universal and universally despised part of business life. However, bad meetings do more than ruin an otherwise pleasant day - bad meetings make bad companies. Meetings matter because that's where an organisation's culture perpetuates itself. Bad meetings are a source of negative messages about the company and its employees.

So, how do we turn these productivity killers into a means of enhancing productivity? Typing “productive business meetings” into a search engine will give you 98 million search results! How do we make sense of this obviously highly contentious issue?

It can be helpful to ask yourself this question as you prepare for the meeting: "What has to happen at the meeting for me to feel satisfied?" In other words, what is your objective? You can also ask this of the other participants. It is a slightly different angle than asking about goals and it helps to be more effective and efficient. It gets people to think - which rarely happens at a typical business meeting! This alludes to that old trick of ABC – Always Be Closing – in that you have to know what you want to get out of this particular meeting. This may be setting up the next level meeting for a sales pitch or getting the long sought after approval of a purchase order.

Short Version aka The Elevator Pitch:

Alex Mandossian, the Productivity Guy, has three simple tips to promote meetings that are more effective and these include:

Productive Meeting Tip #1: Start your meetings five minutes after the hour.

Starting five minutes past the hour will help increase your meeting productivity because it gives you time to prepare, especially if you happen to have an earlier meeting that goes a bit longer than it was supposed to. However, the counter argument to that is that you should show up five minutes PRIOR to your meeting. That is your prep time so that you start your meeting on time and end on time. If you train your audience that you will respect their time then they will learn to respect your time. Bonang Mohale, Chairman of Shell SA and President of the BMF is famous for starting his meetings exactly on time, regardless of the number of people in the room. That behaviour should drive a certain culture within those organisations!

Productive Meeting Tip #2: When you start the meeting, set an intention at the beginning.

Decide what you’re going to talk about, and how much time you have. If you can anticipate that, you start on time and end on time, improving meeting productivity enormously. Setting and stating a clear objective of the meeting sends the right message to the attendees: that you’re there for a reason and expect an actionable outcome.

Productive Meeting Tip #3: Plan your agenda points.

Plan them in advance. Spend some time before the meeting to create your agenda and preferably send it to the attendees beforehand so that they are better prepared and more productive. Besides the pre-meeting planning, actions taken after the meeting are probably more important to achieve your meeting objectives. Choose one person out of the group to record what's being said and agreed upon during the meeting to ensure that everyone is on the same page. Make sure a meeting recap email (action items and deadlines included) goes out on the same day after the meeting, while it's still fresh in everyone's mind. Use bullet points to summarise each meeting decision.

Each point includes:

1. Clear verb - describes the action;

2. Person responsible for the action; and

3. Deadline - this avoids wordiness, plus speeds up the writing AND the reading

As per the elevator pitch – short, sharp and effective!

Next week’s instalment will discuss the Fast Company’s (US) “The Seven Sins of Deadly Meetings” and their seven steps to salvation to these: tools, techniques, and technologies that make your meetings less painful, and more productive.