Decentralized teams and remote work have become even more commonplace in the world of product management since the days of the pandemic. For many product teams, virtual meetings are often the only way to connect, build relationships, share critical information, seek help, or effectively plan.
But those meetings can leave teammates feeling even less connected. After enduring thousands of meetings with varying levels of effectiveness and facilitating hundreds more, I’ve noticed common mistakes that prevent product teams from holding effective, value-filled meetings.
Here are simple tips which are applicable to everyone, regardless of seniority and useful for all meeting sizes (though you might find they are more effective in smaller groups).
We’ve all been there. You leave a meeting and instantly forget what the point of it even was. This situation can result in team members feeling a meeting was ineffective at best—and at worst can lead to people leaving with more confusion and less shared understanding than when the meeting began.
An easy fix? Either clearly state the goals of the meeting at the beginning or have them typed out and share your screen. Check in with the group throughout to ensure you’re all still working toward those shared goals. At the end of the meeting, summarize the goals and outcomes to ensure shared understanding.
The purpose of this meeting is to discuss the product opportunity backlog evaluation criteria. By the end of this meeting, we will have a shared understanding of how to evaluate incoming ideas in the opportunity backlog against our defined rubric. As an outcome of this meeting, we will assign out completing the evaluation of all existing ideas in the opportunity backlog by next Friday.
Sharing your screen gives the audience a focal point and helps funnel attention. You don’t need a slide deck to do this: Promote collective understanding with something as simple as sharing your notepad while actively taking notes, actively whiteboarding in FigJam, or running through the Jira backlog. You can make this a team norm and switch note-takers each meeting to ensure that everyone gets a turn to help drive the discussion. It’s less effort for participants to point at sections on the screen to drive the conversation versus having to create mental images.
I’ve seen hourlong meetings turn into quick 15-minute syncs using this tip. Annotating images with numbers and arrows helps to focus group discussions and give an easy reference for follow-up conversations. This can be done before the meeting or live during the meeting depending on the situation. During meetings like design reviews, being able to easily focus people’s attention on a specific portion of the image reduces confusion and visual searching which allows people to quickly orient themselves.
Humans are visual creatures. There are plenty of tools—both web-based and local—to annotate images. My favorite is Markup Hero.
Lists with concise bullets are much easier to understand and digest than paragraphs or long sentences. This applies to slides, documentation, or anything else you share. Keep it concise, and remember there is no such thing as too many lists. An added benefit is how easily lists can be consumed into product documentation, business requirements, design feedback, and more!
The value of my meetings has increased dramatically since identifying and incorporating these tips. Even when the meeting focus shifts, the prepared materials were a key to unlocking that valuable discussion.
Effective meetings can also have other positive effects on a team. I’ve noticed a strong correlation between the effectiveness of meetings and the effectiveness of the team in general. I’ve also seen other downstream effects, including increased team morale, deeper relationships, and increased trust.
Give these tips a try! I hope they lead to effective and engaging meetings that drive clarity.