This post by Eugene Feygin recently came my way that contains a consolidated infographic on meetings. The graphic fits with my experience to a great extent. The recommendations for effective meetings are solid: define the objectives (type of meeting), get only the right folks at the meeting ... HAVE AN AGENDA! ... wrap up on time. So good quality recommendations although I can quibble about some things here. Main message I'd echo is plan for your meetings.
Release Notes Conference - A Catalyst for Me
I wrote something like the following in a message to the Release Notes guys - Joe Cieplinski and Charles Perry before I launched Agenda Minder. I thought about rewriting it but settled for editing it. I think it does the job and sums things up for how attending Release Notes was instrumental in me shipping an App. If you are at all interested in something like this, you should go to Release Notes. My first App had just been accepted for release into the Mac App Store when I sent this. What I refer to below is beyond the great set of talks which is what everyone thinks of for conferences. However, Release Notes was set up to make room for connections and conversations between the talks. If you do go, feel free to ask me any questions you have as I'd be happy to chat about how you should ship something.
"...While I had been using (a pretty ugly version of) the app myself for a long time, it wasn’t until I was at release notes that I really decided to polish and ship it. Attending the conference was the catalyst. I’m sure you’ve heard this from other conference goers that getting together with a group of like minded folks to learn about the business of App development is pretty inspirational.
I’m dropping a few names as I am amazed at how short conversations and the number of chats that I had at the conference could make a difference. As someone who hasn’t attended a developer conference and am a novice, this was amazing.
I had a discussion about launching apps with 3 folks (Alex Argo, Gene Goykhman, and Gordon Fontenot) who ultimately convinced me that leaning forward to learn was critical. The operative phrase was "Just Ship It."
I met Curtis Herbert at the reception who talked about developing his app, Slopes, and what I think was near the beginning of his 2.0 business model experiments (turns out he did a great job read about it on his blog).
I got some concrete advice from several Mac programmers. Given my novice status as a programmer, this was invaluable. After lunch one day, Michael Ledford spent some time politely looking at my rudimentary app with me and helping me sort what could be in for a 1.0 launch and what was going to take more time and effort to learn.
I had brief conversations with Chris Liscio and Pieter Omvlee about business models in addition to soaking up all the wonderful talks. I made myself chat at least briefly with most of the speakers. Read these posts by Yono Mitt who also attended the Conference about meeting people.
I got multiple people I could follow on Twitter and RSS to learn more. In short, the connections were amazing. Finally, I met Tim Ritchey at the conference who I contracted to do the design (at Charles recommendation) and Diane Torrance who also attended the conference who I contracted to do Beta testing for the 1.0.
I interact with some of these folks by reading their tweets or web-sites and occasionally I'll favorite or tweet at them. I have emailed a couple of them when I had a question or wanted some advice, like on pricing.
It turns out that chatting with a bunch of folks who have done, are experts at, or trying to do what you're doing, is a really good idea. Release Notes was that for me.
Just saw this video field guide release from David Sparks of MPU fame. Look over --> in the sidebar as David is link #1 of sites I like. Hazel is great and paired with David's ability to show clever power user features of app is an instabuy in my book. I can't wait to watch. I know a fair bit of what Hazel does but there is a bunch in here I hadnt' thought about. If you have any interest in productivity and Hazel, you have to take a look at this one.
If you are running or attending a meeting, preparation is critical to productivity. The Havard Business Review gives some sound advice on meetings with their guide to running meetings (Amy Gallo) which cites the importance of the agenda.
“Always set an agenda out ahead of time – and be clear about the purpose of the meeting.”
It’s hard to imagine more sound advice about meetings. Axtell and Gino agree that designing the meeting and setting an agenda ahead of time is critical. “You should explain what’s going to happen so participants come knowing what they’re going to do,” says Axtell. In her book, Sidetracked, Gino talks about how lacking a clear plan of action is often why groups get derailed in decision-making. “Having a plan gives us the opportunity to clarify our intentions and think through the forces that could make it difficult for us to accomplish our goals,” she says.
Further, HBR gives their advice on preparation of an agenda. Given the number of meetings and types of meetings, this type of agenda is more than is needed. However, it's hard to argue with the advice of getting clear on purpose. Roger Schwarz outlines this nicely:
We’ve all been in meetings where participants are unprepared, people veer off-track, and the topics discussed are a waste of the team’s time. These problems — and others like it — stem from poor agenda design. An effective agenda sets clear expectations for what needs to occur before and during a meeting. It helps team members prepare, allocates time wisely, quickly gets everyone on the same topic, and identifies when the discussion is complete. If problems still occur during the meeting, a well-designed agenda increases the team’s ability to effectively and quickly address them.
My writing is a lot about getting more effective at the things I need to do on a day to day basis. I try to only have a couple of items I focus on over time and approach them simply. I've written about three of the four areas that have been my main focus. I started with note taking which I've improved at sufficiently for my needs. Most have been about filing and finding files. I've tackled email which I've worked to at best a stalemate.
The fourth area I have focused on and a very important element of my productivity needs are effective meetings. I've been a manager for more than 10 years. Meetings are the primary reason I set about to take better notes. Fundamentally, the ability to run effective meetings is a way that teams, and team leaders, can deliver their programs.
Effective meetings have many important elements that need to be in place but there are thing that you can control either as a meeting leader or participant. You can control your preparation and understanding of the objectives of the meeting or your particular topic for the meeting.
My focus on personal preparation is pragmatic and based in training from my early days with the same fortune 50 company that I am with still. In preparation for meetings with my direct supervisor and importantly for my one-on-one meetings with my section manager, I was taught to come to those meetings with a focused set of topics with a brief statement of purpose. So early in my career, I was typing, usually, 3-5 bullet points and the relationship to my project or task objectives. The meeting purpose was usually to inform of progress, ask for any needed help, and get input on my work. This training has served me well as an individual contributor and been something I have coached many others as a manager.
Principally, larger meetings are much the same in that you have a specific purpose and agenda items that should be directed at achieving the project objectives. To over simplify the point, the meeting is only as good as the agenda item topics and their relationship to what needs to be done. If you do no more than take the time to type out or write down what you want to discuss as the meeting in concise statements and think about how that relates to both your personal and team objectives, you will have vastly improved the discussion at the meeting and meeting outcome. Pair that up with effective note-taking and your productivity will improve tremendously. This is in your control whether you simply participate and should be routine if you run the meetings.
I participate and run a large number of meetings. So much so that its often difficult to come out of one meeting and switch gears to the next. I need to be able to prepare for these meetings and importantly remember all the items that relate to that meetings objective. As my hobby is programming, naturally I wrote a program to help with this. I've been using various iterations of the program to help me prepare for meeting. Outside work, I have been polishing this program for release into the Mac App store since I attended an awesome conference, Release Notes, in Oct 2015. Since you've read this far, I would say you have demonstrated interest in the topic of meetings. If you are working on a Mac and interested a personal productivity app for meeting preparation, head over to agendaminder.com and sign up for the mailing list for information about Agenda Minder.