The 4 Worst Ways to Start a Meeting (And How to Do it Better)

Ask a group of people what their top nightmares are. The results will probably include realizing you’re naked in public, being chased by someone, or having your teeth fall out. But mention the words ‘work meeting’ and everyone will suddenly realize that running away from a monster is not so bad after all.

We are not doing meetings the right way if 66% of people admit to having made excuses to avoid them. The results from a quick online search about the topic illustrate how the world feels about business reunions. American economist Thomas Sowell summed it up perfectly when he said “people who enjoy meetings should not be in charge of anything.”

Meetings are delicate beings. Start one the wrong way and you will cast a shadow for its entire duration. Remote working has not made it easier either. Company communication has translated into using things like a virtual phone number and video calls. For some of us, this has meant learning a whole new language.

Exploit your time well and you will be strengthening your team’s sense of collective identity and their commitment to the business. A study revealed that employee satisfaction with work-life balance can rise from 62% to 92%. This can be achieved if businesses work on their meeting strategies. You can start today by identifying the four most common mistakes.

Not being on time 

Nothing says “I don’t value your time” like being late to your own meeting. 49% of people find that arriving late or leaving early is the most annoying thing about meetings. If someone is taking time out of their busy schedule to listen to you talk, make it worth the investment.

55% Taking phone calls or making texts, 50% People who interrupt others, 49% People who don't listen to others, 49% Arriving late or leaving early, 46% People who talk about nothing for a long time, 24% People eating, 21% People who don't contribute and 9% Taking notes on laptop.
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We all know what waiting feels like. Tension fills the room as the clock ticks. People desperately over-drink coffee and fiddle with whatever stationary they can get their hands on. The spokesperson finally appears and just as everyone sighs in relief, some element of the tech fails to work.  

IT failures cause the initial energy to dissipate. By the time the leader gives his speech, the attendees will already feel defeated. Unfortunately, these glitches are not uncommon. Over 80% of companies experience connectivity problems. This can be very severe as businesses are increasingly dependent on technology. 

Impunctuality is also a massive issue with telephony systems, with 95% of online meetings starting late. We all know that the “your meeting should start in a few seconds” message dancing on your screen is lying. The key is to remember that in business, every minute counts

We want to avoid putting frustrating thoughts like “I could have finished that last draft or called that client” in people’s minds. The solution? Be on time. Or even better, turn up a few minutes before the meeting so you can calmly set things up. You can warm your attendees up with some tea and coffee (in the case of a physical meeting), so you are covered in case of an issue.

An alternative solution for video conferencing lateness is to purposely schedule the meeting five minutes earlier. This will allow people to make themselves a cup of coffee and gradually join the call in time for the meeting.

Not involving others 

Let’s be honest. If people wanted to attend a good monologue they would get tickets to watch Macbeth. One of the most common mistakes when planning a meeting is to focus only on the information you want to deliver. It’s not a surprise that 90% of people daydream during meetings and 73% use that time to catch up on other work.

The graph shows that almost 70% of people think that the amount of time they spend in meetings is unacceptable, around 25% of people thought it was acceptable and only 12% of people thought it was effective.
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This is why an engaging start is crucial to grab everyone’s attention. A never-ending speech is not the way to go. With the average meeting lasting an hour, speeches sometimes feel like driving through Seattle’s Highway 99 tunnel. Everyone is just waiting for the light at the end, to run away

Keeping people engaged can be even harder when they have the possibility to mute themselves and turn their camera off. For all we know, they could be watching Friends for the millionth time. Remote working is, inevitably, our future. After the COVID-19 pandemic struck, the number of Americans working from home increased from 5% to 60%. 

Luckily, we don’t need to rely solely on PBX systems for business calls anymore. Though they can be great for quick calls, we now have a wide range of modernized software to communicate with our colleagues. If these tools are used in the right way, they can mimic the natural flow of an in-person meeting. 

Video calls make awkward silences even more awkward (if that’s even possible). So make sure your attendees have their webcams and mics on to get them conversation-ready. Avoid asking generic questions like “is that clear for everyone?”. 

Instead, ask people to raise their hand, virtually or physically. You can also address individuals directly by asking them questions like “How would you solve this issue?” or “Do you have any suggestions?”

Don’t monopolize the conversation. Make space for interaction. Ask questions, encourage participants to give their opinions and suggestions. If you do these things, you will give your attendees a sense of purpose. 

Not getting to the point

Time is a person’s most precious possession. We are always complaining about not having enough of it. So when we learn that a survey of 2,000 employees found that workers spend 23 days a year in meetings, we can begin to understand the value of what we hold in our hands.

The charts show that 39% spend 16 to 30 minutes in interviews and 41% of people spend 31 to 60 minutes.The other graph reveals that on average, general employees have 8 meetings per week, whilst directors average 17 meetings per week.
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The first step is to ask yourself if there is another communication method you could use to deliver that information more effectively. After evaluating other alternatives, like emailing or completing online training, start planning.

Getting to the point doesn’t mean there is no time for social chit-chat. Allow initial conversations to flow naturally but stick to the agreed start time. This is especially important, as introverts tend to drift off when the conversation focuses on a specific topic (we all know how excited some people can get about football). 

First impressions can be a curse or a blessing. If you start a meeting with an extensive speech, it will not matter how much you try to engage people at the end, you will have already lost the crowd. 

The first thing you need to do is remind everyone why they are there. Be specific. You could say something like ‘I have invited the sales team to discuss the new chatbot marketing strategy.’ By giving people clear objectives and targets, you will help them stay focused.

Keep up the pace during the rest of the presentation or people will start to find the patterns on the wall fascinating. Note down a few questions you can ask attendees about each topic. If you are discussing serious issues, like a VoIP phishing threat, make sure you are also setting out targets to get people brainstorming and note-making. 

Not making the meeting engaging 

Boring meetings can be hilarious when turned into viral memes or a relatable Buzzfeed article. But when it comes to the actual meeting, having fun is not on the agenda. This doesn’t mean that every meeting must feel like a party, but there are many ways to make them engaging

Two employees high five after a very useful meeting.
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Whether it’s fun and relaxed or serious and creatively challenging. The crucial aim is to stimulate. This way, we will move away from the 56% of meetings that are unproductive. As with everything in life, to achieve great results we must connect with our audience.

There are several ways to do this. Visual tools are of great help when delivering important information. An elegant presentation is a smart choice as it can be projected in a room or viewed through screen-sharing. Make sure to include less text and more images. Try implementing a graph or a SWOT analysis to grab people’s attention.

Another method used among many businesses is to rotate meeting roles among participants. By implementing these duties, you will be promoting independence and responsibility during the meeting. Some of these roles include a note-taker, a time-keeper, a mediator, and a focus guardian. 

Or, you can empower everyone to contribute their own ideas by using a tool to take collaborative meeting notes. Hive Notes is a great tool for this. It lets you share a note with all meeting participants, who can then edit the note in real time, assign actionable next steps, and revisit the note after the meeting ends. It’s a great way to get everyone involved.

Meeting note in Hive Notes

This means that someone is recording points moving forward and decisions reached, which can be shared among attendees whilst someone else is keeping an eye on the clock. At the same time, one of the participants ensures that items are discussed in an orderly manner whilst another warns the group when the conversation drifts off-topic.

Fresh business communications approaches like this can create powerful synergies that help companies move forward. Not only does this give attendees a sense of purpose as they focus on their role, but it also perfects the meeting mechanism to work like clockwork.

Achieve better meetings with ease

If you watch out for these common mistakes, your employees’ negative opinions on meetings will start to change. Next time you are organizing a meeting, be critical and selective with your agenda and other people’s time. Communicate effectively, listen to the group and get ready for a transformative experience.

About the Author

Marjorie Hajim is the SEO Manager for EMEA at RingCentral, a leading cloud communications company that provides VoIP, video conferencing, and virtual phone numbers. She develops and executes strategies for short-term and long-term SEO growth. In her spare time, she loves reading books at coffee shops and playing with her dogs.

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