Now more than ever, business meetings need to be clear, concise and efficient if they’re going to be effective.
We’ve all been in bad business meetings. Time goes by slowly with seemingly little advantage to anyone, except perhaps the egos of determined presenters. The whole process can feel like an exercise in futility.
At their best, meetings enable staff to share ideas, develop strategies and ensure everyone involved has the necessary tools to ensure a business can run smoothly. Well-run and well-structured meetings clarify business aims and act as a rallying call to those involved, providing the impetus for a company’s direction of travel.
At their worst, meetings are an unnecessary drain of staff’s time and company money, sowing confusion rather than clarity, causing rifts in business relationships, and creating additional work with no tangible benefit.
The new normal
Even before the coronavirus pandemic shifted all business meetings online, we were all used to virtual meetings and participants who weren’t in the room. What’s clear is that even after the pandemic is in history’s rear-view mirror, business practices won’t return to how they were pre-Covid, and online meetings will be far more common that face-to-face. Everyone agrees this is potentially good for business efficiency, as well as positive for the environment, with less people travelling miles to physically sit with colleagues and clients.
Drawbacks of online meetings
If the pandemic has accentuated the advantages of online meetings, it has also underlined the frustrations and limitations, most of which stem from technological issues. Many of us have experienced the embarrassment of having to ask your boss or a client to constantly repeat themselves because of a poor connection or bad sound quality, not to mention absurdly amplified background noise that makes it impossible to hear that key statistic from the CFO, or the irritation and anxiety caused by the persistent crackle and fuzz of substandard audio.
EPOS, provider of high-end audio solutions, recently conducted a survey that found the average worker loses 29 minutes of productivity a week due to poor sound quality, with 36 per cent saying it reduces their efficiency, and 27 per cent reported wasting time due to audio-related misunderstandings. Given 71 per cent of workers use headsets or headphones for work, that’s a big problem, especially in an increasingly precarious business environment where fine margins could determine a company’s survival.
If these scenarios are all too familiar it could be time to ditch the dodgy ear buds and invest in a product that does the job right. That means acquiring Unified Communications (UC) certified headsets and headphones, which are optimized for use with computer hardware and software. Most also come with noise cancelling technology, reducing ambient noise and boosting the reproduction of speech. Equally important is a high-quality microphone, so listeners can understand you clearly.
A good headset (such as EPOS’s ADAPT and IMPACT lines) will also be compatible with UC conferencing platforms that use HD video and audio, like Microsoft Teams, Zoom, GoTo Meeting, BlueJeans or Amazon Connect (to name a few). Make sure conferencing software includes cloud services, capacity for dozens of on-screen participants and robust security features. After that, what conferencing platforms you choose is really about cost and which format best suits your organization – and, of course, adequate internet bandwidth, without which none of the above makes a great deal of difference.
With online meetings becoming the norm, we can expect conferencing technologies to continue to evolve at a rapid pace – ‘necessity is the mother of invention’ as the saying goes. We’re likely to see the increasing integration of AI in conferencing software, whether to provide transcribing services, make use of machine learning to assess meeting goals, or to improve usability. We will also see more seamless integration of presentational graphics like graphs and charts with live images, that better to reflect some aspects of traditional face-to-face meetings. And who knows, people may finally master the mute button!
Remember the fundamentals
Online or otherwise, the fundamentals of an effective meeting remain the same. Firstly, it should have a clear, well-defined agenda. If the aims are too broad or vague, people will be inclined to wander off topic, and this in turn might cause others to lose focus.
Prior to the meeting, provide the participants with a bullet-point-style summary of the issues to be covered, and decide on a dedicated moderator. Set a time limit for the meeting as a whole, and be prepared to break this down further into smaller blocks for the different subjects under discussion – this will help concentrate the minds of those participating, as well as enable them to organise their own work flows more effectively.
After the meeting, the moderator should make a summary available of what has been concluded – the action items established, who is responsible for fulfilling them and so on. Get the summary out to the relevant members of staff and seek confirmation that the conclusions are understood. People make all kinds of promises in meetings and this is the most effective way to ensure they are followed through.