At the end of a big presentation or conference, it would be unusual to see the speaker or host pick up their belongings, put on their coat and leave, without any sort of closing speech. Generally, they would take a few minutes to deliver a summary, thanking the audience for their attendance and participation, and leaving them with a final thought.
In theory, all business meetings should close in a similar way, with some sort of post-meeting wrap up before attendees leave the room. This can go a long way to ensuring the meeting achieves its overall objectives, and that everyone is clear of the key outcomes and action points. It can also be an effective way of establishing a positive meeting culture within an organisation, helping contributors to feel that their time has been spent productively, and their input noted and appreciated.
But all too often business meetings become a necessary evil, overrunning and with no obviously set objectives. Attendees begin to zone out as the meeting drags on, focusing more on the ‘other’ work they should be doing, and once the final agenda point is covered they rush to leave the room before any sort of final wrap-up has taken place. This is a shame, and a missed opportunity, as the ‘close’ can make such a difference to the way individuals feel about meetings.
If this sounds familiar, here are five steps we recommend taking to end a meeting, to remove the drudgery and help make them as productive as possible.They may even encourage some individuals to look forward to their next meeting!
1. Aim to finish the agenda, 10 minutes ahead of schedule
Too many meetings drag on past their allotted time, draining the cognitive ability of attendees and seriously hampering productivity. It’s little wonder that according to research, employees feel they waste 31 hours a month in unproductive meetings. There is much advantage to be gained from finishing a meeting agenda early, at least 10 minutes ahead of schedule. To ensure you stay on track, it can help to map out approximate timings for each agenda point, and set an alarm for 10 minutes before the meeting is due to end. These remaining 10 minutes can end up being extremely valuable, and make the difference between a meeting with purpose, and one without.
2. Confirm ‘what happened’
Use some of these remaining 10 minutes for a brief recap of the key points that have been discussed within the meeting. To aid this, it can be helpful to have jotted them down on a whiteboard or flipchart, or within a project collaboration tool, so that nothing is forgotten. Open the question to attendees too, asking them what they believe are the most important things that have happened within the meeting. Their perspective may be different, particularly if the meeting relates to a sensitive or tricky matter, and it’s important to capture these impressions and make sure that everyone is aligned on all of the key talking points.
This can also be an opportunity to agree whether parts of the discussion are ‘off the record’, and not ready for external dissemination. It’s a good chance for everyone to be agreed on anything that’s off limits.
3. Agree action points and deadlines
It’s critical that every attendee leaves the meeting with a clear understanding of their action points, and the associated timeline for delivery. This will hopefully ensure that by the next meeting, change will have occurred, and discussion will be positive and fresh. Speaking from experience, there is nothing worse than a regular meeting that goes over the same, un-actioned points and decisions, week after week!
If there’s time within the meeting, it can be a good idea to capture action items there and then, and the associated owner for each, within a project collaboration tool such as Podio. This also reduces the need for email-based follow-up.
It can also help to remind everyone of the bigger picture, so that they understand what their individual actions are working towards.
4. Gather feedback and reflect
If your meetings tend to end with people running out the door, it’s important to build into your meeting culture a final minute of reflection and feedback. Did individuals enjoy the meeting and find it productive? Could more have been achieved in a different way? Did the environment work well for them? Did they feel listened to and appreciated? Do they have any concerns they would like to air, or discuss further outside of the meeting? Was the coffee good enough?!
These are some of the questions that might be worth asking while the meeting is still foremost in everyone’s minds. Overall, you want to get an understanding of what could be improved for next time. It’s best to avoid too much debate or discussion on the subject and keep this section brief, but it’s only through such feedback that meetings can improve in their effectiveness.
5. End on a positive
Take note of something that went particularly well within the meeting, whether it was the contribution of a particular individual, the development of an idea, the efficiency of conversation, a teamwork mentality, etc, and keep that front of mind for dropping into your final closing summary. Make sure everyone feels good about the contribution they’ve made, and let everyone know that you are happy with how the meeting has gone.
Do you have something to add? Is there something you have learnt through experience to always do at the end of a meeting, to ensure a positive outcome? Please let us know below…