How to Change Your Next Business Meeting in a Big Way

By Robert Half July 31, 2018 at 7:00am

What word comes to mind when you think of a business meeting? Invigorating? Strategic? Time-wasting?

One common complaint about meetings in the workplace is that they sap precious minutes from the day. An Accountemps survey shows both workers and finance leaders feel the same way, with workers finding a quarter of the meetings they attend to be a waste of time, and executives calling 21 percent of them unproductive. What can you do about this?

Whether you’re leading or joining a meeting, the key is to go in with a plan rather than simply showing up and “winging it.” Here are 10 pointers to change your next business meeting and those to follow, whether you're the leader or attendee.

For those running business meetings

It’s less important to stand out than to accomplish your goals and enable others to share and connect without wasting their time. You never want to hold a meeting for a meeting’s sake when a group email or quick watercooler chat may do the trick.

Here are a few ideas to encourage more engaging and effective meetings:

1. Keep them brief and to the point

Whether you’re having a phone meeting with a client or leading a quarterly management meeting, make sure you have a clear purpose and that you stick to an agenda. Also consider dialing back the frequency of standing meetings. Take a look at invite lists and remove those who are included out of habit rather than relevance.

2. Experiment with non-traditional meeting formats

Hold standup meetings to encourage brevity. Introduce walking meetings to get participants away from old meeting venues and habits.

While you're at it? Consider throwing in a bit of finance and accounting humor to keep the audience engaged.

3. Give everyone a chance to contribute

Send an agenda or short description ahead of time so all the participants know the purpose of the meeting and what will be covered so they can do their homework ahead of time.

4. Be a good leader

If you’ve worked on building your leadership skills, you may be aware of how important it is to know when to lead and when to sit down, act with integrity and get feedback from others. Good leaders inspire, motivate employees and coworkers to achieve better results, delegate effectively and communicate clearly. They also offer leadership training to boost their teams.

5. Follow up with results from the meeting

Whether you have notes from the meeting, action items or a strategic plan to share, it’s a good idea to follow up with an email. Clarify details as needed and include any ideas sparked by the business meeting.

For business meeting participants

If you’ve been invited to a business meeting, you have an opportunity to contribute and shine. While you may find that the biggest problems with meetings have more to do with the organization of them than anything else, you can contribute to their success.

How can you do your best?

1. Respond promptly and show up on time

It's not only courteous to respond to an invitation, but it also helps the meeting organizer know whether you got it and that the scheduled time will work. When the time comes for the meeting, make sure you arrive when expected so no one has to wait and you don’t miss important information.

2. Review the agenda beforehand

This will help you anticipate the course of the discussion for the business meeting. Do some research and try to go in with answers rather than simply asking questions. If the organizer has not provided an agenda, ask about discussion topics before the meeting starts.

3. Be strategic about speaking up

Make sure you know what you’re talking about before you speak. If you’re not the project lead or an expert in the matter at hand, it often makes sense to let others ask questions first. The answers may clear up matters for you and can inform any comments you’ll make. Analyzing protocol at prior meetings will help you understand your organizational culture and what your role should be in the discussion during subsequent meetings.

One way to make a good impression at a business meeting is to make sure you’ve developed and polished your soft skills.

4. Be brief with your message

Whether you are a presenter or simply an attendee at the business meeting, practice ahead of time to express your ideas as succinctly as possible. Your colleagues are more likely to hear your message if it’s short. If you want to show your presentation skills, keep the number of slides you present to a minimum. You no doubt have a lot of accounting and finance expertise, but make what you present easy to understand — especially if there are non-finance people in the room.

5. Turn off your phone and pay attention

Put your cell phone on vibrate and follow best practices for the use of email during a meeting. Take notes to record action items to review later and jog your memory. Be sure to look up from your notes periodically so you don’t appear disengaged.

With these tips, you’ll not only make a good impression on others at the business meeting, you’ll be in an excellent position to benefit from what you’ve learned — whether you’re the attendee or the organizer.

Bonus: What about remote meetings?

The Accountemps survey shows remote meetings are even more challenging than face-to-face ones. Finance leaders report that 20 percent of their meetings are conducted through online meeting platforms. But nearly half of them (47 percent) say their staff is less engaged when meetings aren’t held on-site.

Keep reading for career and management advice in the accounting and finance field.

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