I was highly delighted to read that the new UK Prime Minister David Cameron has banned mobile phones and the like from Cabinet meetings.

Like most people I find a mobile phone a great way to keep in touch but as a facilitator I know what a nuisance they can be in meetings. They distract people, stop people giving their all to the discussion and can throw the agenda right off track. Worse in my opinion is the Crackberry, where the owner can’t resist the temptation to check their email and starts pressing buttons under the table where they think they can’t be seen!

If you were to calculate the cost of a meeting, using the participants hourly rate, then I suspect the cost of most meetings would be frightening. Hence, when a meeting is taking place everyone needs to be concentrating on that, not on waiting for the phone to ring or reading/sending emails!

How to keep peoples’ attention in meetings

So here are a few suggestions for more effective meetings:

  • Only have a meeting when really necessary – technology gives us lots of other options these days such as NetMeeting or conference calls.  They are not the answer in all cases, but if you are meeting just to exchange information rather than work together on someting, why not give it a go?
  • Consider having meetings away from the office, even if it’s just down the road. This makes a physical break with business as usual and signals to attendees that this is something different.
  • Take a leaf out of the Prime Minister’s book and have a no mobiles groundrule – set your stall out from the beginning. Put Crackberry’s in the middle of the meeting table, so that they can’t be surreptitiously used. Also make sure all laptops are closed, exceptions for minute takers and presenters of course!
  • Make sure the meeting has a clear aim and re-state this at the beginning. None of us like to have our time wasted in aimless meetings.
  • Become a stickler for time keeping – start on time, keep to the timimgs for individual items and finish early or on time. Attendees will appreciate that their day will run smoothly and your reputation will be enhanced. One way to help with timings is to have a “Car Park” where issues that are important but not to be covered in the meeting can be recorded.
  • Have regular breaks to keep attendees fresh and to allow them to contact the office. Drag them back in at the end of the break though.
  • If your meeting is one that is held regularly e.g. a monthly strategy review meeting, try and block out the same time each month and stick to it. Everyone will then get used to the fact that you’re not available the 1st Friday in the month for example.
  • The format of your meeting needs to be appropriate to what you want to achieve. There’s no point trying to force a decision on a complex issue in an hour when you know it will take a day to evaluate the options.  Be realistic and if things go off plan stop and decide how to make best use of the rest of the time.
  • Provide information up front so attendees can consider it in their own time, use a summary to highlight the main points and jog the memory. Make it clear you expect attendees to come prepared, having read the information.

What similar techniques have you found effective?

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