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Make meetings meaningful

By Brian McNeill

Meetings can be important and useful, or they can be a waste of time. How many of us have sat in a meeting and thought, "Is this meeting ever going to start?" or worse, "Is this meeting ever going to end?"

The typical American professional attends more than 60 meetings per month, and about half of that time is wasted.

Seventy-three percent of professionals do unrelated work during meetings – perhaps because they are not truly needed in them. (MCI white paper Meetings in America: A study of trends, costs and attitudes toward business travel, teleconferencing, and their impact on productivity (Greenwich, CT: INFOCOMM, 1998.)

There are a lot of elements that go into building an effective meeting. When working with youth programs, it’s important to train young people to run meetings effectively.

But when adults model bad meeting behavior, it trickles down to the young people in the room. If we are to model effective, productive and good meetings to young people, there needs to be a change in the way we conduct meetings. Here are some ideas and ways of making meetings more productive:

Interrupt meetings regularly. At a minimum, there should be a five-minute break every hour. But if you really want to change it up, try a 2 minute stand up break every half an hour. This will keep the meeting engaging and maybe even fun.

Try removing chairs or the table. Having people stand during the meeting will keep them engaged in the conversation and inspire creativity. You might not have people stand the whole meeting but when it is needed have them stand for a while to get ideas flowing.

Start with a positive. For example: Name one thing you've accomplished since the last meeting that you are proud of. Name a person who has helped you since the last meeting. Mention one thing you’re looking forward to in the coming week/month.

Keep time but be creative with it. Try starting the meeting on a minute verses the hour or half hour. For example, start at 5:08 or 5:05. This can provide a cushion for those who may be late and it is a new way to remember what time it starts.

Changing things up takes practice and a willingness to try something new. Adults can easily get into a set meeting routine, which often times will be replicated by the youth who attend them.

Yes, adding these things to a meeting will take a little time out of the schedule, but I think we all would agree the problem with bad meetings is not how much time we spend in them – it’s the quality of our time. It’s whether we spend the time being energized, creative and having fun – or whether we spend it wishing we could be back at our desks doing some real work.

How can you make meetings more meaningful and productive when youth are in the same room? How would you involve the youth to make the meetings more meaningful to them? As an adult, how do you model productive meetings to young people?

-- Brian McNeill, Extension educator

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  1. Great tips Brian! I have recently been at a meeting where we were involved in "walk & talks", I appreciated the break to get up & move, but still felt productive. I am guilty of being on my technology when at meetings with youth (and adults). It is something I am trying to change to ensure I am more engaged in the meeting. A strategy I use when youth and adults are in a meeting together is to ensure that youth have a voice, whether it is calling on them or utilizing various facilitation methods (post its) to get their voice heard.

    1. Karyn,

      Thanks for your thoughts and comments. You bring up a whole other idea of the use of technology and the pros and cons of it during meetings. Yes, technology can be a distraction and I have noticed many people using it as a distraction. On the other hand how can we use technology as a benefit in a meeting knowing that people will have it with them? Great food for thought. Thanks Karyn.

  2. In the role of Program Coordinator, meetings are very common. Whether it’s a club meeting, project meeting, committee meeting, Ambassador meeting, staff meeting or the like, it’s an event that continually pops up on our calendars. Sometimes we are the organizers, sometimes we are the facilitators and sometimes we are participants. I appreciate the insight given in this blog post. Outside of just having a clear purpose, there are so many other elements that go into making a meeting successful and I am eager to incorporate some of the ideas listed to ensure productivity is at its highest potential. If we let ourselves fall into a monotonous routine, we may be missing out on a lot of ideas and creativity and not even know it!

    When youth are involved in meetings, I believe it’s important to stay on task and stick to the agenda as much as possible. Chances are they are involved in the meeting due to their interests or expertise, and it’s important to be respectful of their time as they are busy people! It’s also important to really listen to what they have to say and validate their thoughts and ideas. There is no such thing as a bad idea or a bad question, and we have to make sure we are allowing our youth to have a voice and are helping them to be confident in expressing their thoughts and ideas.

    1. Janelle, Thanks for your thoughts and insights. I appreciate you taking the time to share your thoughts and practice. I would agree when you are involved with meetings we need to stay on task for proper mentoring as well as schedules. Youth are busy and we need to value their time when they are involved in meetings. Thanks again Janelle.

  3. Thank you, Brian, for the insights you've shared about successful meetings. We so often are a part of meetings that I think it becomes easy to fall into a typical routine and that routine is not always the one that leads to the most success. I want to add that at times of year like this when we have special holidays I like to plan something small to honor the season and/or occasion. For example, you could bring in a homemade treat to share or you could bring in a quick and fun holiday-themed game, give a holiday thank you card, do resolutions for the new year together around programming. I would suggest knowing your group as there may be alternative beliefs and differences in what or how people celebrate the season so some additional considerations may need to be made.

    1. Kyra,

      Thank you for responding to this post. I like your ideas of mixing it up a bit especially with the holidays. Also a wonderful idea to know your group and expose them to new holiday traditions. Thanks again for sharing your thoughts.

  4. Fantastic topic, Brian!I'll take a crack at a question, however, I'm more excited to hear other peoples responses.
    How can you make meetings more meaningful and productive when youth are in the same room? I'm a strong believer that if you have a effective plan designed a meeting can go 'off-script' and still be effective. To me, the plan is super-important. Adult volunteers play a huge role here. Unless necessary, adult input / involvement during the actual meeting should be limited to providing guidance and coaching to youth, not directly involvement in determining decisions.

    1. Mark, Thanks for your reply and I would agree it is always great to hear from other people. Adult and youth involvement it great and another way we can model to young people how to work together and build agendas correctly. Thanks for your insight!

    2. Great question Mark! I'll give a shot at it. The most successful meetings that involve youth and adults seem to have a few similar traits:
      The youth feel comfortable with the adults
      The youth outnumber the adults
      The adults allow the youth to speak more the adults
      The meeting has shared and known purpose

      So part of the preparation for the meeting or design of the meeting may be preparing the adults and youth for the meeting, forming common expectations.

  5. Great information Brian. The statistics you found are very eye opening! You bring up a good point mentioning how adult behavior trickles down to young people. I have attended 4-H club meetings where the 4-H youth were suppose to be running the meeting but the adults were definitely in charge. I witnessed adults telling the kids what to do and yelling at them during the meeting. And we wonder why meetings are ineffective or lacking youth involvement!
    Your ideas to make meetings more meaningful are very good and should be used to train our adult volunteers who work with 4-H youth. It only takes one discouraging experience at a 4-H meeting to make a young person not want to return to a meeting experience. Incorporating your ideas I believe could change that.
    The ideas you mentioned are also good ideas to bring to our meetings as Extension professionals. I really like the mini breaks idea and will plan on trying that one soon.

    1. Mike, thanks for taking time and reviewing this post. I would agree and share many examples of adult led meetings when youth are to be in charge. We are doing them such a discredit when we do for them and not let (with guidance) youth experience what it is like to put together an agenda and lead the meeting. I am glad you are going to try some ideas out. Let me know how it goes for you!


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