Everyone has meetings – how to manage them effectively
Let’s just look the monster in the eye, the meeting monster. On a regular day you probably face this monster probably 50% of your time during work hours. There you are, sitting behind your computer looking at the tiny camera thing on top of your screen. Staring at your co-workers, customers and boss. Are they in their Peejays today, what is that book in the closet behind this guy. While you got your phone out to look at Insta during the meeting you are wondering if this is the most exciting thing to do during your day…
Meetings are important, and especially for product managers. Communication is probably 50% of the job for the product manager. You are communicating about your vision, a product launch, an update on development, customer successes, case studies, or doing a demo. Aligning with others is an essential part of your job. Something that is not easily swappable by an AI driven app (yet). So better to make the most out of it….
Meeting Rule Number 1 – be prepared
Never go into a meeting unprepared.
You probably sat in too many meetings where you thought during or after the meeting why on earth you were part of this. What happened to that precious piece of your life – gone, forever. You also probably were part of meetings where something techy / nerdy was being discussed and you had no idea what you are looking at, and was not able to contribute.
Two examples of stepping into meetings not being prepared. The first meeting you should probably have skipped in the first place. The second meeting was more useful when you had thoroughly prepared.
The long preparation
On Fridays I typically look ahead at the week that is ahead of me. Most meetings don’t show up out of the blue, they are planned in advance. Once I know what lies ahead of me, I either do my preparation that same day, or I block some time in my calendar so that I have time to prepare. I read the reports and presentations shared, and make up my mind on the subject. Often I put my thoughts in a presentation as i’m a visually oriented guy.
The short preparation
You will end up in a situation one day where you are expected to participate in a meeting in the next couple of hours and did not prepare well. 20 to 30 minutes is typically all you need in order to prepare properly for a meeting, especially if the subject is dear to you. Those 20 minutes you will typically find here and there to scan through the agenda and the items that you need to engage on.
Meeting Rule Number 2 – allow others to prepare
When you are the meeting host ensure that you allow others to prepare. Really, it will make your meetings much more exciting if you give your participants at least 3 days to prepare for your session. I always ask my meeting members if they prepared for the topics we are going to discuss. The first couple of times they feel they can get away with it, but after having said that they did not prepare it becomes a bit awkward.
So send the agenda and everything you would like your meeting members to talk about in advance. No surprises during the session, unless you are introducing a new strategy, a new direction, or have something to
Meeting Rule Number 3 – the fewer the better
Sessions with a lot of people are called a townhall, not a meeting. It means someone is standing on a pedestal and is communicating to a large group of people – 1 to many. Townhalls are not meetings. Meetings are interactive sessions with a few selected, handpicked, individuals who come together to solve world peace, invent greatness, or sometimes even work towards the launch of a new product, or discuss progress on items.
The reason you’ve allowed your meeting members to prepare is that you want them to contribute. This can only happen when there are not too many people in the meeting. So figure out who should be a contributor. Consider the relevant departments that make sense, influencers in the company, people with great ideas, challengers. Five is OK, six is borderline, more becomes a party.
Meeting Rule Number 4 – Start on Time, end on Time
It’s OK to start 2 minutes after the meeting starting time. Not everyone always is able to make it. Waiting for 5 minutes typically is almost 10% of your total meeting time. And, if you allow slackers once, they will take the advantage the next time as well.
If you don’t want your meeting to start late, you should also not allow the meeting to run over. Best is to schedule 25 or 50 minutes for a meeting instead of 30 and 60. This allows everyone to take a small break before the next session. When you are coming to the inconvenient conclusion that your meeting is going to run late, intervene. Figure out a way to end it, while for example still finding some time to find a new slot to reschedule. There is nothing more unsatisfying than ending a meeting unfinished.
Meeting Rule Number 5 – Use post-its
The best way to get the most out of your audience is by engaging them and asking them to contribute. When you want to solve a problem use post-its to gather ideas. When people need to put their thinking cap on they become active and start collaborating. Even those who are partly listening and partly doing other stuff become engaged. Nowadays there are great virtual brainstorming boards like Miro that allow you to do all of this remotely.
Meeting Rule Number 6 – Action owners and clear next steps
A great meeting finishes on time with everyone leaving the meeting room with loads of energy…. and….. a clear set of defined deliverables. Make notes during the meeting, or ask someone to make notes on your behalf. Identify action owners for each of the tasks that need a follow up.
Besides writing the minutes of the meeting, I typically create an action list that I add on top of the minutes, and add it also in the follow up email that I send after the meeting.
All action items should have an owner, a clear deliverable, as well as a date when the action is either executed, or when the action holder is providing an update. Discussing progress on open action items should be a standard item in every meeting agenda that you send out.
Meeting Rule Number 7 – Decide what to do about the camera
Camera on, camera off ? It’s great to look people in the eye, but at the same time the camera is also a great distractor as you start observing the other persons meeting space, look for strange behavior or out of place things. Looking at people online typically wears you out as well. Listening to people allows you to focus, but also to start doing other stuff. So what to do? The camera policy differs from company to company. I have worked in companies that never have their camera on, and companies who always have their camera on.
My preference… well it lies somewhere in the middle. So, just make a policy out of it, and discuss what works best for you.
Meeting Rule Number 8 – ask for feedback
Always ask for feedback at the end of the session. Did people get out of the session what they expected, did the session deliver the value that was required, was this time spent well? You will hear great things that allow you to plan for the next session.
Meeting Rule Number 9 – give back time
When all agenda items are covered it’s time to end the meeting. Give back time to everyone, allowing them to spend their sacred time in a useful manner. There are always people who want to fill up the remainder of the meeting time with unrelated topics. The question to ask if that is the best time spent for everyone.
Meeting Rule Number 10 – consider the opportunity cost
I was camping, but was required to join an early morning call as the business owner to help prioritize an IT development. So I opened the laptop in front of the tent and poored myself a coffee. Once in the call I noticed there were 26 people attending the session. Everyone joined the call for about an hour, and during the entire session only 3 people spoke. There was no contribution from my side required as well as the prioritization was done in advance already.
If we just assume a cost of $100 per hour for every employee, this 1-hour meeting costed the company $2600 USD, and time everyone could have spend being more productive for the organization. An email would have sufficed as well.
Consider the opportunity cost for every meeting. Resources are scarce and you are utilizing time that people are not able to spend on other things.
I’ve worked in product management most of my professional life. I enjoy all aspects of the product management role, except for anything related to administration. Coming up with new ideas, building great products, and working towards adoption and satisfied users drives me. Always looking forward!