Making Meetings Matter

It feels like the traditional work meeting has been blown to smithereens. Will it be via video or in person? Hybrid? How do I know people are paying attention? How do I make this meeting “worth it”?

According to professor Joseph Allen, though, most of the basics of running an effective meeting haven’t changed.

“Seventy to 80% of the things we knew before still apply now,” said Allen, a professor of industrial and organizational psychology at the University of Utah.

Yes, Allen said, there are some unique challenges that have come to the forefront since video conferencing and hybrid meetings. A quick tip he had for online meetings: be mindful of the time you spend looking at the camera. While looking at the camera provides the impression that you’re giving eye contact, too much camera time can come off as if you’re staring.

Hybrid meetings can, in fact, be better than face-to-face only, he said, but the consequences of ineffective meetings can be bigger in hybrid environments.

“It has an upper limit of success that is greater than face-to-face, but it has a bottom that is greater too,” he said.

These modern-day considerations, however, are secondary to running a good meeting in the first place.

The first step, according to him, is to determine if you need a meeting at all. Honestly ask yourself if there’s a purpose to the meeting.

“If the answer is no, stop right there,” he said.

Step 2: If there is a purpose, does that purpose require collaboration?

“If you say no to that one, it’s probably an email,” he said.

Of course, that’s just agenda item A when it comes to running effective meetings. Allen — whose expertise lies in the study of workplace meetings, organizational community engagement and workplace safety — has dedicated his professional life to helping others avoid the dreaded response “should have been an email.”

Among his other tips: make the beginning and end of your meetings especially strong.

“The latter is the most difficult and the least done,” he said of ending the meeting.

In order to stick the landing of your meeting, be sure to end with action items, people assigned to those action items and a plan for following up, he advised.

An author of several books and more than 100 peer-reviewed publications, Allen continues to delve deeply into the rapidly changing work environment and its effect on meetings. He recently wrote two books on virtual and hybrid meetings respectively.

He is offering two online, self-paced effective meetings courses through the Rocky Mountain Center for Occupational & Environmental Health. The center, a joint collaboration between the University of Utah and Weber State University, is offering the courses through December of this year.

The first course, Science of Meeting Effectiveness, will delve into the science and history behind meetings, and why certain methods provide better outcomes. The second course, The Practice of Meeting Effectiveness, will build from that, enabling you to apply best practices to your meetings and experiment using a start-stop-continue framework.

The courses ($125 each or $200 for both) are available on the center’s website. The courses are self-guided with videos and quizzes, but Allen said he’s more than happy to answer any questions participants have.