by Steve Adubato, PhD

We are in the midst of an information and communication explosion. There are more ways than ever to share information and communicate with others. Yet, this doesn’t mean there have been dramatic or significant improvements in communication effectiveness.

Just by having technology accessible in business doesn’t ensure that it will be used as it was intended. Many organizations have their top leaders spending countless hours travelling to and from meetings, only to later complain about their lack of productivity and a wasting of valuable time.

With so many business professionals spread out in multiple locations, consider the following tips and tools that will help you become a more efficient and effective communicator while sharing important information:

--Stop conducting meetings just to have a meeting. Go back and ask the question; “Why are we holding this meeting in the first place, and is there another way to accomplish our goals?” Many meetings don’t need to be held and, in turn, many of the precious hours spent in transit getting to and from these meetings could be avoided. Could the information be shared in a conference call or video conference or even via e-mail if the purpose is to transfer information? What is the ultimate value of having everyone sitting around the same table and incurring all the costs associated with this effort? These are just some of the tough and very basic questions that must be asked.

--Do you have the right technology in place to replace face-to-face meetings? Skype is a terrific tool to communicate and interact one-on-one, but it’s not the right technology for a group of six to ten professionals. The key here is to use Skype for more intimate communication while investing in video-conferencing equipment that is consistent with the needs of your organization. If you say you can’t afford it, the question is, can you really afford to have so many of your top people traveling from place to place (often in traffic) just to get to a meeting? How to you calculate all of that lost productivity?

--Do you really need to SEE each other in order to communicate? Sometimes, there is no need to Skype or video conference. I have been involved in teleconferences that have been extremely productive as long as the meeting facilitator is focused on an agenda, gets participants engaged and moves toward concrete meeting goals. Teleconferencing is particularly effective with business professionals who have history together.

--Set specific time limits. The more participants know exactly how long a meeting will take (as opposed to being open-ended) the greater the chance that they will invest the energy and commitment necessary to be engaged in a meaningful way. Further, whatever time limit you set, make sure you keep to it.

--One of the biggest reasons business professionals complain about meetings is that they are unproductive. They often ask themselves; “Why do I have to be at this meeting?” So, before you decide to hold a meeting, ask yourself who needs to be in this meeting and who doesn’t? Don’t invite certain people who would be more productive doing other things, but make sure they receive a summary of what was discussed and agreed to in the meeting so they can stay in the loop.

--Finally, regardless of the meeting format you establish, ensure that every meeting ends with specific action items that include who will be responsible for what, and when those action items are expected to be completed. Deadlines are essential. Accountability is crucial. Without these important pieces of information, future meetings will suffer and everyone involved will become frustrated.