Home Youth Leaders Articles for Youth Leaders The One Rule You Have to Follow for Better Meetings

The One Rule You Have to Follow for Better Meetings

We all know the experience of sitting in a meeting that seems like it’s never, ever going to end.

Doesn’t matter if it’s 30 minutes or two hours. A bad meeting can torpedo your whole day.

And if you’re working with volunteers, it makes it way less likely they’ll come back for another meeting.

The problem is that meetings are important. The information you have to share is important.

And that’s why we’ve got to do everything we can to make sure meetings don’t suck.

In charge of a meeting? Follow this one rule to make your meetings way better.

The first time I ever ran a volunteer meeting, it was obvious I had no idea what I was doing. My agenda was thrown together at the last minute, my content was obviously unplanned, and then I gave pinkeye to my entire volunteer team.

No part of that is made up.

And while I don’t consider myself the master of meetings, I have learned a few things along the way, including the one crucial rule you should follow every time you plan a meeting:

If you’re in charge of the meeting, spend at least as much time planning it as it’s scheduled to last.

Now, there are obviously going to be times when it’s appropriate to spend way more time in planning than in delivery; but for my money, it’s never appropriate to spend less time planning a meeting than actually delivering it.

If it’s a 20-minute gathering, spend at least 20 minutes thinking about what you’re going to say.

A two-hour training event should take you at least two hours of dedicated planning.

Even if you already know what you’re going to say. Even if you’re just going through the same agenda that you did last year at this time.

And listen, I know that the last thing the average youth worker needs is another block of committed time on her plate, but your volunteers are busy people too …

… and if it’s not worth you spending an hour to plan the meeting and craft the message, then it might not be worth the hour that they’re going to give up to attend.

Here’s the kicker. If you decide it’s not worth your time to plan the thing, then maybe the best course of action might be to skip the meeting altogether.

No one ever complained about not having another meeting.

Why more planning should mean shorter meetings.
Here’s how you’re going to recover the time that went into planning those meetings:

You’re going to have shorter meetings, and the catch is that you can’t have shorter meetings if you don’t plan them well.

An unplanned meeting quickly devolves into rambling. People ask questions about ideas that weren’t fully explained. Answering those questions becomes its own agenda item.

But if you can plan a concise explanation, anticipate people’s questions and answer them along the way, you could easily buy yourself half of a meeting.

And no one ever complained about a meeting that was only half the length it used to be.

Here’s why this matters for your ministry:
Volunteers have busy schedules, and they’re not going to alter their schedules or sacrifice their own family time to be at your meetings if they learn that your meetings are a waste of their time.

After my first disastrous meeting, it took me a full year before I could find a quorum of leaders to attend a second one. They were all putting me off with excuses that seemed paper-thin; all because I’d provided such a negative experience at that one meeting.

That wasn’t their fault. That was mine.

I wasted their time because I decided that my meeting wasn’t important enough to first invest my own time. It’s the kind of mistake I hope I never make twice.

Are you great at meetings? What’s your secret?  

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Aaron Helman is on a mission to help end the epidemic of youth worker burnout. He writes at Smarter Youth Ministry to help youth workers with their biggest frustrations—things like leading volunteers, managing money, and communicating effectively. He is also the youth minister at Firehouse Youth Ministries in South Bend, Indiana.