How To Have Way Better Meetings In 2020

Written by Rosie Gailor Monday 20 January 2020
It’s January, you’ve got a cold and a mountain of emails to come back to after the Christmas break. Here are some ways to jump-start your energy, starting with conquering meetings!
team meeting

It’s a truth universally acknowledged that January is everyone’s get-up-and-go month. You’re feeling refreshed after the holiday period, you’ve got your New Year resolutions, and you’re excited by the fresh year ahead of you.

But there’s a problem: someone has, in a flurry of activity, booked in a series of meetings on one ‘urgent’ topic that needs to be discussed or approved. In a burst of enthusiasm, they’ve booked in a set of regular meetings but by the time the first one comes around, people have forgotten what they were all about and the productive spark has been lost. Whether that’s the overly enthusiastic person in your group project, your incessantly organised student union rep, or your first ever manager.

Here, with the help of some meetings gurus, is our guide to how to re-energise the flurry of winter meetings coming your way – whatever their shape and size!

Break The Silence

There’s nothing worse than the hallowed silence that follows the dreaded final line of the meeting: “Does anyone have any questions?”

“Speak up!” says Sophie Phillipson, founder of HelloGrads. “The youngest people in the room are often the most reluctant to contribute but if you engage, the time will whizz past, you’ll get more out of the meeting, and you'll impress your colleagues (or classmates). If you’ve got nothing to add, ask a pertinent question instead.”

Make Sure Everyone's On Message

Really good agendas, briefing packs and joining instructions get everyone set up for a buzzy meeting. Whether you’re the host or not, see if you can kick-off the meeting on a good note. Being a positive energy in the room is infectious – you’ll be surprised at how a can-do attitude spreads among anyone feeling lacklustre.

Don’t be afraid to have a bit of fun with the content, using bright colours and personal details – for instance, if someone has been working particularly hard on the problem you're trying to solve, publicly appreciate their work and let them know it has been critical to the progress so far. Positivity begets positivity! So, if someone’s done some great work on your team project, has made thorough notes for your group presentation, or has had a lightbulb moment, recognise that in your preparation notes.

Lunch And Learns

Lunch and learns are a great, informal way to share information with your team. They’re a more informal way of collaborating – but as they take place over lunch, they are generally not mandatory and so shouldn’t be organised for high-stakes or urgent matters. If you’re looking to brainstorm ideas, spur on creativity, or share information or learnings, this type of meeting is the way to go. Especially during university, when everyone in your group will have different timetables, working over lunch is a practical solution to kill two birds with one stone.

Top tip: remember, it’s always a good idea to check dietary requirements before ordering food!

Use Your Meeting As A Punctuation Mark

“Whilst it can often seem like you are ‘back to back’,” says Kate Turner, director of Motivational Leadership. “Meetings can actually act as excellent punctuation to your day. Plan ahead of time to give yourself small work-orientated goals to achieve before you go into the meeting. Then allocate specific tasks to work on afterwards. This helps to keep the momentum of your day on track and ensure you get the most from the time spent in that group situation.”

Come Prepared

Think of what you’ll need – bring your laptop or a notepad and pen, a cup of tea, water, and any documents that you can refer to. If you’ve been sent an agenda or notes beforehand, give them a read and annotate your thoughts to refer to as the meeting happens.

“Keep [note-taking] in the forefront of your mind throughout,” advises Kate, “this will counteract ‘tune-out’, letting the buzzwords and jargon wash over you and ultimately keep your mind goal-focused.”

Top tip: always go to the loo before the meeting starts, and don’t forget to put your phone on silent. Bring a jacket or a scarf – if you know the boardroom or library is likely to have the aircon on at full whack, come armed with layers!

Artful Note-Taking

To encourage everyone to really pay attention, ask for everyone to take notes which can be sent to you to collate into a master document. This can then be sent around after the meeting and adds a purpose to taking notes that people find engaging or important. The danger with allocating the task to one person is they may miss points that other people are interested in or confused by, which then get lost in the ether. By making this a group task, you encourage people to take their own learnings to be shared with the group. It’s also a good idea to recap the action points at the end of the meeting, so everyone knows exactly what tasks are sitting with who.

The Two-Pizza Rule

“Convince your boss to break boundaries and tell them about Jeff Bezos’s 'two-pizza rule',” says Sophie. “The Amazon CEO thinks meetings should be small enough that all the participants can be fed with two pizzas. If it works, you’ll get more done and be ultra-productive. And, if nothing else, you might get to eat pepperoni at 11am.”

(Even better if that coincides with Domino’s Two for Tuesday, right?)

Have A Bit Of Fun

If you get on well with your team, why not try out a Meetings Bingo game for your next meeting? If you’re in a company-wide town hall or another non-intimate, low-stake meeting, see if you and your team can fill out the bingo card below. Prizes could include having your tea made for the rest of the week, or you get a free pint at Friday night drinks!

Meeting at an awkward time of the day (i.e. over lunch or in the final hour) A company-wide meeting that no-one listens/pays attention to Topic goes off-course and strays away from the purpose of the meeting
Not enough printouts for attendees Double booked room Someone shares screen and is on social media
Someone's phone goes off during meeting Another meeting is booked to answer the questions/problems that arise from this meeting An unmuted mic gives off loads of feedback
The laptop won't share the screen correctly/technical difficulties Someone comes to the meeting late Use of clipart in the slide deck

Look On The Bright Side

“Every company loves a good meeting, and let’s face it, sometimes it can feel like you’re having a meeting for the sake of it,” says Kate. “But meetings don’t need to be the bane of your day. Remember you are working with a group of people for a reason. Keep that reason in mind.”

To see more tips for having productive and helpful meetings, log into ManagementDirect and see the resources we have available to you by searching ‘meetings’ or ‘public speaking’. With thousands of book chapters, webinars, and articles available to you, we’ll help you find what you’re looking for.


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Rosie Gailor

Rosie Gailor

Writer and editor based in London. She graduated with an MSc in creative writing from the University of Edinburgh in 2015. If you offer her a Jaffa Cake, she’ll always say yes.