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“How to Make Meetings More Productive” by Pete Harmon

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“How to Make Meetings More Productive” by Pete Harmon

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“How to Make Meetings More Productive” by Pete Harmon

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Contents

Please Read This First.............................................................................2

Terms of Use................................................................................................................... 2

Disclaimer ........................................................................................................................ 2

Contents.......................................................................................................4

About the Author ......................................................................................6

Introduction ...............................................................................................7

Preparing for the Meeting .....................................................................9

Support People ............................................................................................................... 9

Prepare Your Agenda..................................................................................................... 9

Chairing the Meeting .............................................................................11

Adding Items to the Agenda...................................................................................... 11

Items which Run over Time....................................................................................... 12

Wrap up Each Item after the Discussion ................................................................ 12

The Time Factor.......................................................................................13

Handling Agenda Items .............................................................................................. 14

Keeping a record - the Minutes .........................................................15

Timekeeping.................................................................................................................. 16

Example of Minutes ...............................................................................17

Encourage Wide Participation ...........................................................20

Brainstorming ............................................................................................................... 20

Mind Mapping................................................................................................................ 21

Concluding the Meeting........................................................................22

Nothing Happens Without ACTION........................................................................... 23

Being a Good Participant .....................................................................25

Improving Your Presentation.................................................................................. 26

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“How to Make Meetings More Productive” by Pete Harmon

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Record Yourself............................................................................................................. 27

Body Language ........................................................................................29

Problems and Remedies.......................................................................32

Disruptions .................................................................................................................... 32

Responding to Comments .......................................................................................... 33

Asking Questions the Right Way ......................................................35

Open and Closed Questions....................................................................................... 35

Pointed Questions ........................................................................................................ 36

Follow-up questions..................................................................................................... 36

Best and Worst Questions.......................................................................................... 36

Better Listening.......................................................................................38

Meetings Out Of Your Office...............................................................40

After the Meeting....................................................................................42

Perform your own Post Mortem ................................................................................ 42

Resources ..................................................................................................43

Training ............................................................................................................................ 43

Procedural Guides for Meetings ............................................................................. 43

Video and Teleconferencing ...............................................................45

Running Your Video Conference or Teleconference....................................... 47

A Word from Pete Harmon ..................................................................51

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“How to Make Meetings More Productive” by Pete Harmon

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About the Author

Pete Harmon has been involved with meetings in sporting, social and

business areas for most of his adult life.

Pete has always been focused on making a positive contribution to the

organizations of which he was a member.

Like many other members, he found this very difficult at first. But, he worked very hard to be a more effective member.

He also slowly improved his presentation and other personal skills which

helped with his club activities. He also believes that his career has been

helped by this effort as well.

In the depressed economy and tight job situation, it can be a real plus when

someone shows they can present their self and their point of view effectively

in all kinds of social and business situations.

Pete said that he is not a professional meeting organizer or a lawyer, and he

has no special talent or secret.

He learned by watching and doing.

“That’s the best way, but it takes a fairly long time. And, some mistakes that I’ve seen people make have been costly to their reputations and their

ambitions, both personal and professional.”

“So, I wrote my book to help others learn from their armchair in a couple of

evenings what took me years.”

Pete’s book will give you the basic knowledge to get better outcomes for

yourself and the organizations you support as well as give you more self-

confidence in all kinds of public situations.

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“How to Make Meetings More Productive” by Pete Harmon

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Introduction

A lot of meetings are mostly a waste of time.

They take busy people away from their main tasks, often at the most

inconvenient times.

They are seen as interruptions to the work in progress rather than a valuable

tool.

Researchers have demonstrated that interruptions to a person’s workflow

mean that he or she will lose more time by having to prepare for the

meeting.

There is also a serious cost to the organization’s bottom line from what it

costs your business to have the staff in the meeting instead of performing

their regular duties!

Everyone involved also loses some productive time because they have to

prepare for the meeting and travel to and from it.

They also need some time to adjust back to their normal working pattern

after the meeting is over.

It's our duty to do everything we can to ensure that every meeting we take

part in produces useful results.

My book will help you to get maximum value from the meetings you attend

and suggest ways to prevent you wasting time and money when you have to

organize, attend and participate in meetings.

This book is not a manual on procedures.

I give you some general information on procedures and other matters related

to formal meetings but the rules vary widely according to the country and

type of organization. It’s an area which is often subject to laws and

regulation which are specific to the area where you are located.

I have included links and suggestions for resources on procedures and other

related subjects in the reference section at the end of the book.

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This book is focused on information which will help you produce better results from the time and effort you invest in whatever kind of meetings you take

part in.

I’ve included some information about how to put forward your views and the

ways which I’ve found best to interact with people, including those whose

views are widely different to mine, wherever possible.

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Preparing for the Meeting

If you are given the responsibility to organize and perhaps chair a meeting,

don’t worry too much. My experience is that most people at most meeting

will respect the Chair, even an inexperienced one provided they show they

have done some preparation and do their task without bias or pressure.

When you decide to hold a meeting or are co-opted to organize one, make a

list of the people who you believe may need to be at the meeting.

Then, contact them about their availability and interest in the meeting.

Keep the number of people that your meeting takes away from their regular

work to a minimum. Avoid the temptation to invite everyone who might have

even just a peripheral interest in the main topics to be discussed.

Support People

If you are chairing the meeting, you will need to find someone willing to

record what happens at the meeting and confirm that the agenda items are

attended to.

You will also need someone to look after any equipment or supplies which are

required for the meeting.

Prepare Your Agenda

Give the people you contact a list of topics which you expect to discuss at the meeting and ask them for suggestions of topics which they would like to add.

Sometimes, you may get suggestions for changes to the items which you

have on your initial list. Someone may have reasons for wanting more time

for a particular topic.

You may even discover that some items have been dealt with.

Check with them if they can suggest other people who might benefit from

being at the meeting or who could be a source of relevant information which

could be helpful to the group at the meeting. This information might be

supplied in written form or verbally by you if there is no other reason for the provider to actually be at the meeting.

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Provide the agenda to all the relevant people in a timely manner before the

meeting so that they can prepare themselves, gather relevant material and

fit the meeting time into their personal schedule.

Write the agenda items in a way that makes it clear to the group how each

item will be treated:

A decision about action

Information about current status, outstanding problems or future

possibilities

Suggestions for improvement

Providing a clear agenda in advance will help everyone concerned to decide

whether or not they need to be at a particular meeting.

This can also help anyone that is unable to attend the meeting. They can

contact the organizer or another attendee and provide them with relevant

material.

Sometimes, you can't arrange a time which is convenient for all stakeholders

but you should do your best to ensure that as many as possible are present

and all are consulted.

Check that they will either attend the meeting or contact someone else who

will be able and willing to offer their information and suggestions to the

group.

Check records (minutes) of previous meetings for items which were to be

acted on between meetings and confirm that responsible people will attend

to, report and answer questions, if any.

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Chairing the Meeting

Someone has to control the meeting and that role usually falls to the person

that organized it.

Check that morning with the person who agreed to help you by recording the

minutes. Don’t leave that to the very last minute.

Instead of just waiting “a few extra minutes” for any latecomers while the

people who have arrived chat among themselves, always start the meeting

on time.

You can introduce yourself and then ask each person to introduce themselves

with their name and what they do which is relevant to the purpose of the

meeting. Pay particular attention to people that have only recently joined the organization.

That courteous formality gives you a chance to gain a quick impression about

each of the people. There are likely to be people who try to dominate,

become aggressive or are so shy that they need help to deliver their

contribution to the group.

Ask if there are any apologies for absence from the meeting.

Give a brief outline of the purpose of the meeting and read out the agenda.

Ask if there are any comments about any of the items (some may have been

settled since the agenda was prepared and circulated).

You should also ask for any other important items which anyone present

believes should be added to the agenda.

Adding Items to the Agenda

The Agenda is important, but not cast in stone but flexibility may be required at times.

The chairperson will give priority to the items which were properly submitted

in advance for inclusion in the meeting’s Agenda.

But, they have to be ready to accept new items of business which arise

between the preparation of the Agenda and the actual meeting.

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The secretary or minute-taker should write them in a separate list. They can

sort them according to urgency and importance so that as many as time

allows can be dealt with after the main items have been discussed and

actions decided.

Items which Run over Time

If any agenda item starts to take more time than you think should be allowed

for it, suggest that the group agree to defer further discussion so that the

more important items can be given sufficient time.

Then, give it some time, if available, near the end of the meeting or defer it to the next meeting.

If it needs to be finalized before the next meeting, suggest that a sub-

committee be formed, including those with a particular interest in the matter, to deal with it.

If that is accepted by the meeting, ask the sub-committee to call on you or

other members of the group for any help which they feel they might need to

do so.

Wrap up Each Item after the Discussion

When discussion is over about an item, either the Chair or the secretary

should give a quick summary of the main points made, decisions and the

person responsible for any agreed action.

This may add maybe a minute or so to each item but it can reduce the length

of discussion when people start to repeat points which have already been

made.

Copyright © 2009 All Rights Reserved

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The Time Factor

Set the time of the meeting and

start on time. This is one of the

most important recommendations

and one that is most often

ignored.

Many organizers accept that

people will arrive late, sometimes

for very good reason and

sometimes just because “they always do”.

But, the organizer may believe that it is both polite and practical to delay the actual starting time by a few minutes.

That will not help to encourage prompt attendance at future meetings by the

latecomers. The problem with this approach is that everyone will assume that

future meetings will also start a little late.

Even some of those who made the effort to be on time for this meeting will

give themselves a few extra minutes to do their own work before coming to

future meetings because there seems to be no advantage to arriving on time.

That is also not considering the people who make the effort to be ready at

the appointed time and place. The delay rewards the latecomers and cuts

into everyone else’s productive time for that day.

Give your starting time and your finish time in your agenda and stick to them

both.

Emphasize this policy when the agenda is circulated. That will help to

encourage everyone to be on time or even a little early.

Of course, this policy makes it very important that you get to the meeting

room in good time yourself.

Show respect for the group’s other commitments by finishing the meeting on

time. There is likely to be a little over-run with even the best meetings but

keep it to a minimum.

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“How to Make Meetings More Productive” by Pete Harmon

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Handling Agenda Items

Sometimes, an item may need more discussion than first thought. If that

time is not available at the meeting, ask the group to suggest a small

number of people that could deal with the matter in the days after the

meeting and report back to the full group. To save time, if the group is in

favor, give the smaller group the authority to finalize the matter before

reporting back.

Try to gauge the time each agenda item should be given. Move less

important and time-sensitive matters to the front of the list before circulating the agenda.

When you feel that the group has finished with an item, give a short review

of what was said and the outcome, then ask the group to confirm, ask the

group to review and, if necessary, revise your summary.

Ask your assistant, or the secretary, to record the final version of the review.

Make sure that the conclusion and any required follow-up are spelled out.

Do not waste the group’s time by allowing ongoing discussion of suggestions

for action which are not within the power of the meeting to promote or take

action on.

Some people may be involved with only one or two of the items on your

agenda. Where possible, they may want to leave after those items are dealt

with so that they can get back to their regular work. Let them do so where

possible.

You might be able to help them further when you originally contact them

about the meeting by giving them the approximate time when those will be

discussed so they can reduce their time at the meeting.

Copyright © 2009 All Rights Reserved

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Keeping a record - the Minutes

There are specific rules which

secretaries and other office holders of

incorporated bodies need to follow

during their meetings.

The suggestions in this book are

intended to help less experienced

readers who are involved with

meetings of community, sporting or

work groups where recording and use

of the minutes are also very important but not subject to official regulation.

The minutes are a vital record of everything which occurs in relation to the

running of the organization.

A summary of the minutes from each meeting should be sent to each

attendee as soon as possible after the meeting. This will give the people

concerned a reminder about what was discussed and decided and who is

responsible for any subsequent action or other follow-up.

The summary also makes it easier for anyone to give feedback about the

meeting and the contents of the summary which can be considered before

the next meeting.

Get a copy of the agenda from the organizer before the meeting starts.

Check if there have been any amendments since the agenda was circulated

to those attending.

Record the names of those present, including any special guests, as well as

apologies from people who could not get to the meeting.

The Chairperson will ask for “any other items” and there may be other topics

offered from the floor during the meeting. All these should be put on a

separate list.

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You will need to show this to the Chairperson so that they can introduce

some or all of the items during the meeting, according to their importance

and the amount of time available.

Timekeeping

The secretary or person recording the minutes may also be timekeeping in

some of these groups.

The group will be told by the Chairperson or the timekeeper how much time

will be allowed for each person to speak about a topic.

They will demonstrate the signal which will be used to let the current speaker know when there is just one minute of their time left. This may be a small

bell, buzzer, colored light or just a raised hand.

The same signal is often used a second time to signal when they should

finish.

Use a stop-watch or other reliable device to see and record the time when

each topic or section of the agenda begins and finishes.

Record the time the meeting finishes.

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Example of Minutes

This example of a set of minutes will need to be adapted for your particular

group. You might need less or more detail according to the rules set by your

organization.

…………………………………… [Organization]

…………………………………… [Department or Committee]

Minutes of Meeting [DATE]

Present

…………………………………… Chair

…………………………………… Secretary

…………………………………… [Other Office Holders]

…………………………………… [Other Group Members]

…………………………………… [Guests]

All items from this point are numbered and each sub-topic is given a decimal

number:

Example:

4 Proposed Picnic Saturday October 5th 2009

4.1 Report from Sub-Committee

5 Visit to Fartown Branch Office

1) Apologies

Apologies received before the meeting and those offered from the floor are

recorded here.

2) Minutes from Previous Meeting

The Chair will move for someone to move that they be accepted.

Proposer ………………………………………..

Seconder ………………………………………..

Minutes Accepted ………………… [Signed by Chair]

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3) Action reports

3) Matters Arising (if any)

3.1) Action Reports

The Chair asks each person that was given responsibility for any action

arising from an item which was discussed at the previous meeting to give a

brief summary of their progress. I suggest that discussion of these matters

should be delayed until all the reports are given.

Then, each matter can be discussed with the focus on the topic and not just

the results achieved by the person who had to follow up.

Then, the Chair will ask for members to raise any other matters which were

discussed at the previous meeting where there may have been

developments.

List all the items here with the details of the discussion, including the names of people who spoke linked to a summary of the points they made.

4) Agenda Item #1

The name of the person who submitted each Agenda Item is recorded under

the title of the item.

Then, a summary of their points and contributions from other people are

listed with each person’s name.

Each item should show whether the item was resolved or deferred. Any

action which is decided on by the group should be listed with the details of

the person who is responsible for doing it.

5) Agenda Item #2

5.1) Agenda Item #2 sub-topic

6) Reports from Secretary

7) Reports from Treasurer

Any Reports from other Office Holders follow the two above.

6) Any Other Business

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Items not on the agenda can be raised here. Usually, they will have been

mentioned to either the Chair, Organizer or Secretary before the start of the

meeting to try to ensure that enough time is left for them.

7) Details of Next meeting and any other Notices.

After this, the secretary records the time and date the meeting closed.

…………………………….. Chair

……………………….. (Time and Date)

Copyright © 2009 All Rights Reserved

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Encourage Wide Participation

Apart from the time which people feel is wasted with many meetings, the

main concern which I hear about is the feeling that their input is not valued

or even that they are not able to put their point of view.

It’s natural for some people to try to monopolize any discussion which they

take a part in. This can make other people in the group uncomfortable but

they will often be reluctant to interrupt when someone else is talking.

That’s why you need to politely but firmly end the dominating person’s talk

and ask if anyone else wants to have their say about that point.

Brainstorming

Brainstorming is a method of producing ideas on a given subject without

filtering or criticism. It is a proven way to encourage wide participation and it could also produce some great ideas which a standard form of discussion

about an issue won’t.

It’s usually most successful with a group of no more than ten people who

have a common goal.

Apart from the need to allow each person to express their ideas without

criticism or any kind of negativity, the other important factor is to have a

fairly brief time for this free-thinking generation of ideas.

The maximum time should be about five minutes to force people to push

their ideas out quickly without pre-editing or judging them.

Someone must be writing the ideas onto large sheets of paper or a very large

whiteboard. They need to have a number of pens in an assortment of colors.

Give each idea some space so that additions can be made during this section

and the evaluation which follows.

You may need to stop someone who is taking too much of the time available

because it is important that everyone gets their turn. This makes it more

certain that they will continue to contribute to the evaluation and support

later implementation of the ideas which the group agree to move forward

with.

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The evaluation process needs to be equally constructive and without heat.

Try to have the group pick no more than five suggestions to take further.

The other ideas can be filed for later review, perhaps as idea starters for

more brainstorming sessions.

Then, you can raise the ideas at the next formal meeting while making due

acknowledgement to all those who were involved in the brainstorming

session.

Mind Mapping

This method of expanding and connecting ideas was popularized by Tony

Buzan.

It is useful for groups but is also used by many people for developing their

own ideas and strategies.

You start with a large blank sheet of paper, some colored markers and a core

idea.

Write the idea in the center of the page. Expand on the idea by writing an

extension of the central thought near to the center and connected to it by a

line.

Each idea or phrase which that triggers is added to the sheet.

Each of the subsequent points are connected to the previous entry which

seems most closely related to it.

This sounds tricky but it’s not, because the focus is not how well you draw

the chart, it’s the new ideas which the connections generate from the group.

You can get free mind mapping software for computers using Windows, Linux

and Macintosh OS X from freemind.sourceforge.net/

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“How to Make Meetings More Productive” by Pete Harmon

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Concluding the Meeting

Give people a chance to raise other issues and suggestions late in the

meeting (“Any Other Business?”).

Do a quick check through the agenda and any notes about extra items which

were just introduced at the meeting to ensure that they have been resolved

or that a plan of action has been agreed which will move each item forward.

Give someone the responsibility for the action required on each point and

arrange for them to report by a specified time on their results to all

stakeholders.

Ask for feedback from all those who participated just before the end of the

meeting about what worked, what could be improved and any parts which

could need to be reworked or dropped before the next meeting.

This can be in the form of questions about such areas as:

Usefulness to their needs

Length of meeting

Quality of content

Possible improvements to agenda and other areas

Venue

Timing of Meeting

Length of Meeting

Problems which need addressing

Their ability to participate

Was the membership of the group appropriate?

Was the group supportive?

If you feel that the meeting fully explored the subject, ask if people

genuinely feel there is a need of another meeting or could any follow-up be

done in ways that would have less impact on their working day?

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Also, welcome feedback in following days from everyone that attended,

including suggestions for improvements to meetings, including procedure and

scheduling. Many people will not want to give views or suggestions which

they feel might upset some of those present at the meeting. All constructive

feedback is useful.

Apart from any legal or other formal requirements, try to keep the minutes

just to the essential items:

Items discussed

Main points and the names of those who raised them

Actions decided and names of those who have the responsibility to

follow through on them

Contact person for suggested amendments and items for the next

meeting

The time and location for the next meeting if there is to be one.

Nothing Happens Without ACTION

The last important step is to follow up and ensure that action is taken on the discussion and decisions from your meetings.

Sometimes, there may be items that were finalized in the meeting but which

it may be valuable to refer back to at a specific later date. Put a note about that item in your reminder file.

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“How to Make Meetings More Productive” by Pete Harmon

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Rate the value of the meeting to You

If you invested an hour or more in a meeting and are likely to be taking part

in more with the same group and for the same purpose, you should invest a

few more minutes after that first meeting in evaluating what the benefits of

your involvement for your company and, of course, for yourself.

If you have not been directed to attend a meeting, your first question should

be, “Is my participation at this meeting the best use of my time at this

point?” When the answer is no, try to arrange to miss the meeting.

If you are required to attend, try to get permission to leave when the items

for which you can provide useful input have been dealt with.

When you cannot get out of a meeting where you cannot make anything but

a token contribution to, try to use it as a learning experience.

Watch the interaction of the people in the group and how their meeting is

run. This can be valuable because you have more time to study the body

language, other signals and tactics than you could with a meeting which you

are personally more involved with.

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Being a Good Participant

After you have been to a meeting, you should think about the contribution

you made as well as the benefits, if any, which you believe you will get from

that meeting.

Your contribution can be equally important to the success of a meeting even

if you do not have a title or any defined duties.

You need to be aware of the topics in the agenda.

You can provide visual feedback for other people in the group when they are

talking. You probably don’t like people not listening or reacting when you are talking in a business or social situation. That is how those people probably

feel when they are talking at your meeting but you don’t show any interest or

animation.

Get input from other fields: I’ve found some great suggestions which have improved my working methods by listening carefully to people discussing

ideas which they have tested in other areas of the business and even other

industries.