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How to be productive in project meetings

Productive project meetings - team around a table looking happy

Have you ever been in a project meeting and started playing “meeting bingo”? Or have surreptitiously checked your phone? I’ll put my hand up and admit I’ve done both on more than one occasion.

Why do people do that? Surely, you’re in a meeting because you either want to or have to be there?

Looking back at my own behaviour, the reason I was doing that stuff was because I was disengaged with the meeting. I felt it had no value and, except being forced to, I had no reason to attend.

This has taught me that ensuring a project (or any) meeting is productive, isn’t just the responsibility of the meeting organiser. Those attending the meeting are also responsible for its productivity.

However, the responsibility does start with the meeting organiser.

Why?

Well, it’s a bit like selling a car. No-one is going to buy a dirty, messy, beaten-up old banger that misfires when you turn on the engine. Likewise, very few people are going to engage in a meeting which is badly run – especially if they happen every week.

So, if you’re a meeting organiser, how do you make sure your project meeting is productive?

Having organised and run a fair few project meetings in my time, I:

  1. Invite only relevant people. Normally this isn’t the entire project team.
  2. Send out an agenda and any meeting papers beforehand. I know that isn’t always possible, but with a project meeting the agenda shouldn’t be too long. To make my life easier I set up a template which I email. I also send out any papers we’ll be discussing at least a day in advance. This gives everyone a chance to read them before the meeting.
  3. Stick to the start and end times. Even if some attendees are late, I start the meeting when I say it would start and finish it when I say it will finish. After a couple of sessions people tend to arrive on time!
  4. Have a bit of fun in the meeting. I’ve sometimes used the meeting bingo idea and actually handed out pre-made bingo cards at the start of the meeting. I’ve offered up a small prize for the first person to get a “full house”.
  5. Don’t use the meeting as a status update session. It’s very tempting to use these meetings as a status update session, but it should be avoided.
  6. Keep the meeting on track. It’s really easy to get dragged down rabbit holes but as the meeting organiser you need to moderate the discussion and make sure everyone sticks to agenda.
  7. Take notes throughout the meeting. If, for whatever reason, I can’t take the notes, I record it using my phone.
  8. Record actions against every agenda item. If an item is on the agenda, it’s important enough to have something done with it, so I make sure actions are agreed during the meeting and properly recorded for tracking.
  9. Publish the minutes of the meeting and include the action items, action owners and due dates.
  10. Follow up on the progress of the action items after the meeting.

I’ve also been an attendee at more than a few project meetings over the years. I’ve observed some behaviours from fellow attendees that I think helped made them more productive.

So if you’re a meeting attendee, here’s a few things you can do to make sure you’re productive in project meetings:

  1. Read the papers beforehand. There’s nothing worse than having to spend the first five minutes of a meeting going over the papers that people didn’t read. Being prepared also helps the meeting stay on track and on time.
  2. If you’re responsible for any actions from a previous meeting, make sure you’re prepared to answer any questions that might come up.
  3. Turn your phone off, or at least onto silent mode if it can’t be off completely. Not only is it distracting to have your phone beeping and ringing, it’s also pretty rude.
  4. Take your own notes. I know this might sound strange, especially when the meeting should be minuted. I’ve found taking my own notes keeps me focused.
  5. Stay on point when providing information to the room.
  6. Try not to interrupt. I know how hard that can be in some meetings, but it’s a sure fire way to disrupt and distract.

In summary, it’s both the meeting organiser and attendees’ responsibility to ensure project meetings are productive. Anything else is unfair.

What tips do you have to make project meetings productive?

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If you’re looking for a project management tool which helps you run more productive meetings, then look no further than Psoda. Not only does it have over 100 reports out of the box, it allows you to attach meeting minutes and actions to projects and assign them to individuals automatically. Click on the big red button at the top right hand side for a free 30 day trial.

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