November 11, 2013
When you’re scheduling an in-person meeting for your Board or committees, do everything you can to make the attendees’ lives easier. As the meeting organizer, you should make sure that all the information they’ll need is right at their fingertips. Think about all of the steps you would take to get yourself ready to attend, and do that for your attendees so they don’t even have to think about it.
Getting them there:
- Give directions – Give the exact address, and if you’re in a city, give the cross-streets. An extra step that would be appreciated – give a Google map link to the location so the recipients can enter their address and find the best way to get there. You might think that the Board members have all been to the location before, but it’s likely that they’re on the road so much that they may confuse your office building with the office building in Tucson they visited last week.
- Lay out transportation options – Give a brief overview of the subway, train and bus stops nearby. If you know some people will be driving, offer a parking garage option and give an idea of prices.
- Explain any obstacles – I recently attended a meeting in the highrise where the first floor was a shopping mall. It took me forever to find the right elevator to get to the upper floors. If you know that there is anything confusing about the building, explain it ahead of time. A simple, “Take the elevators located next to the Auntie Anne’s” is all it takes to make sure your attendees don’t get lost. Or if you know the security guard is slow to check IDs, ask attendees to leave a little extra time for security.
Setting their expectations:
- Start when you say you’re going to start – If your Board is notorious for late starts, train them to arrive on time. Call the meeting to order exactly when you say you’re going to, and after a few on-time meetings, people will realize that they’re going to miss things if they trickle in 20 minute late.
- Be clear about what they’ll need to bring – You probably send documents for the Board to review ahead of time. Be clear about whether you’ll have printouts of the documents in the meeting or not. Since so many people have tablets and laptops, it’s usually not necessary to print everything out for every attendee. In the meeting invite, include a line such as, “There will be printed agendas at the meeting. All other documents will be transmitted by email only.”
- Tell them when you’ll feed them, caffeinate them and give them breaks – You may be focused on plowing through the important items on the agenda, but remember that your attendees are people. People who need breaks and sustenance. Include your breaks on the agenda so your attendees know when they can expect coffee, lunch and bathroom breaks. And make the timing logical. I’ve been in day-long meetings where lunch isn’t served until 2:30pm. You’re going to hear some restlessness (and stomach grumbling!) if you wait that long.
Keeping them on task:
- Set clear meeting expectations – At the beginning of the meeting, lay out the important decisions that need to be discussed or made before you walk away from the table. It sounds simple, but not all meetings have clear objectives and some of the attendees might come to the table with different expectations.
- Take some topics offline – There is a lot of business jargon that I don’t like, but one of the most useful phrases we often use is, “Let’s take this conversation offline,” which basically equates to “Not everyone in this meeting needs to hear us talk this through. Let’s discuss later.” Use that helpful sentence when you feel the conversation getting sidetracked.
- Review action items at the close of the meeting – Before you adjourn, go back through your notes and identify what the action items coming out of the day are. Briefly run through them and make sure everyone knows their marching orders. This is especially helpful to clarify exactly who will be handling what. And keeping a record of the action items is helpful for future status update meetings.
We’ve all had an experience where a meeting has been more stressful than it needs to be. Maybe you arrived late and spent the rest of the morning frazzled and distracted. Maybe you thought there would be coffee but there wasn’t and you couldn’t hide your yawns. If you are able to take all of these logistical obstacles out of the way for your attendees, they’ll be able to focus on the more important issues – the topics being discussed at the meeting.