Don't you just love it when an online meeting request lands in your inbox ESPECIALLY when you are SUPER-busy? That feeling you get when you open it up, see that long attendee list and that aspirational (unrealistic) agenda is unparalleled, and no doubt you accept the invite straight away without apprehension and pre-conceived notions! I personally am a victim of many such "interesting" meetings, where lots of people love to talk for the sake of talking, and very few concrete actions are actually taken away by the end. The main issue I want to discuss is always at the beginning of such meetings, where despite the old saying "start as you mean to go on", we seem to struggle to get started in a timely fashion. With the abundance of issues that seem to crop up all at once, actually starting an online meeting can turn into an ABSOLUTE nightmare!\n\nWe Have Many Problems\n\nI'm sure most of us have been there. Whilst hard at work trying to meet important deadlines, THAT meeting invite arrives in your inbox 📩. It's important enough that you must accept it, but your heart still sinks when you see the packed attendance list and that "optimistic" (i.e. unrealistic) agenda. The meeting if run efficiently would test the patience of a saint 👼, but EVERYONE invited knows how much it is going to drag whilst also making you question why you bother doing the job that you do! I hate meetings like this, but unfortunately they all too common.\n\nLaptop at an online meeting\n\nWhat I hate most about such online meetings is the inevitable mayhem at the start which WILL lead to the cumulative delay of all items of the agenda which was already unrealistic to begin with! I'm talking here about the "technical difficulties" that plague VoIP meetings that no IT department seems willing or able to fix despite being as predictable as a sunrise and as regular as clockwork. We all know these problems are coming, and sadly we are powerless to stop them driving us up the wall!\n\nThe Usual Suspects\n\nIf you have been in many online meetings, I'm sure you will have been (un)fortunate enough to suffer through one or more of the following issues that cause meetings to run far longer than they are supposed to.\n\nPeople on-time being unable to connect due to "technical difficulties". Irrespective of skill-level, time-to-spare etc. people will ALWAYS have difficulties connecting, and it leads to simultaneous out-of-meeting messages, calls and emails to the host which effectively stops the meeting dead. The host becomes a surrogate IT representative, much to the detriment of the meeting and the agenda. Nightmare, especially if you're the host and know nothing little about computers!\n\nPeople unable to hear the audio or see the presentation, leading to a chorus of "can you hear me now?", "can you see the presentation?", "let me know when you can see the presentation", "how about now?" etc. Music to the ears! So frustrating, especially for those who are connected, are fine and have many important things to do outside of the meeting.\n\nPeople joining the call late, announcing themselves over the call and taking the presenter completely out of their stride. This causes an unwelcome pause, adds an extra impromptu introduction and destroys any rhythm or momentum that has been built prior. So annoying!\n\nSomeone didn't get the agenda, and of course had to wait until joining the meeting before making the host, as well as everyone else, aware of this fact. One/more scramble to forward it, again delaying the meeting as attendees fight to perform busywork which really should have been handled prior to the meeting.\n\nLady stressed with all the problems at the start of a meeting\n\nAn accumulation of one or more of these (and other) issues will push back the already optimistic agenda, and delay people from getting back to actually doing required work. It's needless, frustrating and time consuming, especially when we only need apply a few simple steps to manage such inconveniences.\n\nManaging Meeting Mayhem\n\nThe issues that I've outlined will come as no surprise to anyone who has attended a few meetings, yet we continue to be frustrated by this rubbish, why? I'd say the main reason is that we refuse to acknowledge the problems, and thus are unable to properly address them collectively. So let's acknowledge this rubbish NOW!\n\nACKNOWLEDGED, starting a meeting (especially online) is fraught with many problems that make us question our sanity.\n\nCool, I'm sure we all feel so much better now! With that out of the way, let's solve this mess. Firstly, let's start with how meetings are run. You should elect a chairperson who may/may not be the host whose job it is to ensure the meeting runs smoothly. They don't even need to get involved in the discussion, instead they ensure the agenda points are followed and that attendees keep to time. If conversations go off topic, and/or the meeting starts to lack focus, it is the job of the chairperson to bring order back from the chaos.\n\nNow let's address the mayhem. instead of accepting our fate, let's build the mayhem (now teething problems) into our agenda by adding a 10 minute slot at the beginning called "welcome" (let's keep it friendly). If feeling adventurous, we could even start the 10 minutes before the "round time", i.e. if the meeting starts a 10:00am, we commence the "welcome" agenda item at 9:50am, SHARP (I've always wanted to say that). \n\nPeople celebrating meeting issues being resolved\n\nWhilst we are on the agenda, how about we do something radical... and actually be realistic about what we can get through in the allotted time? I know, it's a SHOCKING concept 😱. If you feel it is too much, IT IS! If you are saying "we've got a lot to get through" at the beginning of a meeting, you've already lost! Instead, prioritise the top three or five points, chop out the rest and stick it in "Any Other business". If there isn't time, discuss the point(s) outside the meeting with core members, which may actually make them easier to resolve! Too many cooks spoil the broth!\n\nFor the latecomers, let's set some ground rules in our meeting invite. If you arrive in "welcome", you can announce yourself and have a formal speech during the standard "introductions" agenda point. If you arrive outside of "welcome", keep silent and send any apologies after the meeting so that rhythm and momentum aren't constantly affected. Append these rules to your invite, and to any subsequent meeting amendments. Also, after actually electing a meeting chairperson, attach their role to the invite make it a responsibility of this chairperson to enforce the ground rules. Finally, make it clear that by accepting the invite and attending the meeting, all attendees accept and will abide by these ground rules.\n\nFinally, as host, always attach an agenda to ALL meeting-invite related communications. Even if only a template at the beginning with the intention to update over time, always attach an agenda. This helps inform at all times, focus the conversation in advance, as well as set attendee expectations ahead-of-time. This will make it easier for attendees to engage where they feel they are useful, as well as make the job of the chairperson far easier. Going a step further, you could allow attendees to express an interest in talking during specific agenda points and write their names in the agenda. That way the elected chairperson can ensure that all voices have been heard, and any minute takers can easily consolidate points and actions.\n\nEnjoy Your Meetings\n\nMeetings (especially online) can turn into a circus with a set of familiar issues which arise when starting off. Despite the frustrating nature of these problems, it seems to be cultural norm to accept them in each meeting, rather than call them out so we can actually improve the situation. By acknowledging the flaws, we can implement some relatively easy fixes which enable our meetings to run smoothly, on time and which protect the sanity of all our attendees. That sounds like a win all around to me!\n\nAll the best and take care, Si.