How to stay alert during meetings: The cheat sheet

Eyelids drooping; attention wavering; shoulders slumping. We've all been there. Avoid the terrible mid-meeting slump with these top tips from Mike Doyle, De Vere Venues.

It's an unavoidable fact: Meetings are integral to any business. But they can be a huge drain on resources and time. To get the most out of them, here are some great tips on remaining attentive and sharp during those important meetings.

Set an agenda

A common mistake when it comes to meetings is a lack of forward planning - everyone goes into the meeting with different conceptions about the focus of the meeting. This is the first hurdle and often the primary reason any meeting won't achieve its aims.

Even extremely important meetings can suffer because participants become distracted due to lack of focus. Participants can start thinking about other tasks than those at hand- and once they start daydreaming they are as good as gone. So how do you avoid this possible hurdle?

Creating a meeting agenda is an excellent way of bringing structure and focus into a meeting. Splitting a meeting up into sections by time can be a very good way of ensuring a meeting flows by focusing on different problems within allotted times.

This allows the participants to break down a problematic task into several steps that are dependent upon one another to solve the problem.

Organising the agenda before the meeting is particularly important. By collaborating prior to a meeting you can set out discussion points that are important to all meeting delegates and allow the meeting delegates time to prepare. This method also allows delegates to build their own mental structure of the meeting.

Set timings carefully

While we've already mentioned the importance of splitting meetings into smaller sections, it is equally important to be realistic with the way in which timings are set. Time limits can have some major disadvantages and can effect concentration as much as having no plan at all.

When your delegates are worrying about how much time is left to discuss their important point they may stop listening, trying instead to bring the agenda back to their point. Allow enough time to discuss each point and ask for feedback from delegates over certain meeting keystones.

How to set time limits:

  • Order your agenda according to importance!
  • Control the meeting. If you are discussing a product or project you are less likely to start adding additional features and ideas.
  • Avoid procrastination - focus on very specific tasks within a specific time limiting the chance for losing focus.
  • Take in a notepad and paper. Turn your phone and laptop off. If you are distracted by emails and calls, it can throw everyone off the task at hand.

Tools that are often so integral to the mobile business (laptops, mobile phones) are often prime examples of distractions that can leave delegates missing extremely important points.

You want delegates to enable a 'tunnelling mode' when going into meetings whereby there are as few distractions as possible.

Tunnel vision is typically used when working on your own - you shut out external influences. You can't do that during a meeting but by physically removing your laptop or putting your phone on silent (and then into a bag) you limit distractions allowing you to concentrate on the task.

Organise the meeting early on in the day

The time of day greatly affects productivity. Most people are at their most attentive during the earlier part of the day. Having important meetings at the end of the day means that delegates are contending with stresses and workloads accumulated during the working day leaving them fatigued.

By contrast a morning meeting means delegates are likely to be wide eyed and have a slightly fresher disposition.

Give the meeting a concentration buffer

Give yourself time to get into a state of concentration - it can take up to 15 minutes to get into the proper frame of mind. It also allows delegates time to get seated and more comfortable - if meeting clients then it is great to get better acquainted and have a quick catch up before the main action starts! It is also essential to give yourself time to set up the meeting room is you are using any audiovisual equipment.

Control your environment

Make sure you are in the right environment - coffee shop meetings sound like a great idea but sometimes lead to very distracting environments. If you have no control over who is walking in and out of your meeting space then these external distractions are going to cause havoc with your delegates.

If you have organised an external meeting room for the sole purpose of ensuring a quiet and controlled environment then make sure you do your background research first. Is the meeting room in a glass room? Is it sound-proofed? Is it near a public walk way?

If you find that your internal meeting rooms are often subject to intrusions from other staff members then perhaps think about moving the meeting to a more secure area.

Seating arrangement

Distractions are your enemy. Make sure your delegates have been assigned appropriate seating. By placing your most important audience members (and those who might be a little bit more prone to distractions) away from doors, phones and windows can help limit distractions.

However a surprising tip might be to place those people so that they are directly facing these distractions - that way they are able to anticipate the distraction allowing them to assess the sounds rather than breaking concentration outright.

Don't underestimate the importance of water

Dehydration is another enemy of concentration. Dehydration is known to effect mental performance with mild dehydration impairing alertness and concentration whilst causing irritability, tiredness and light-headiness. Staying hydrated is important to any business so supplying ample drinking water is important.

Give them some stationary (let them do doodles…)

Our last tip is a bit of a controversial one - let delegates doodle!  Surprisingly people who doodle are said to be more attentive than those who don't. This surprising insight comes curtsey of Jackie Andrade, a cognitive psychologist at the University of Plymouth.

Andrade conducted an experiment to see whether volunteers who were listening in to a mundane conversation could remember more information when drawing simple shapes compared with those who were instructed not to draw. On average doodles recalled 29% more information than those who did not doodle! Doodling is said to allow people the opportunity to keep on track with a boring (!) task rather than become distracted and entering the daydream state.

By making sure you stay alert, that your environments are free from distraction and that your audience are at their most attentive you can ensure that you get the very most out of any meeting.

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