How to Run an Effective Meeting

In modern business, companies depend on meetings more and more.  However, meetings can consume a great deal of time and energy in terms of planning, execution and follow up.  For this reason, be sure to consider if a meeting is truly needed to achieve the desired result.  The following list outlines the key steps to running an effective meeting.

1.  Plan Ahead – Identify who will be required, and who will be optional.  Make sure that you invite appropriate people to the meeting who can make the necessary decisions.  If you do require a decision to be made but do not invite decision makers, your meeting will have a little value.  Identify if the meeting needs to be in person, or can be done effectively over telephone. 

2.  Establish an Agenda – Often overlooked, spend a few minutes creating an agenda.  The agenda does not need to be overly detailed, but enough to outline major discussion points, key topics and desired outcomes.  We recommend 15 minutes for every hour of meeting duration.  For more critical meetings and special discussions, more time may be required.

3.  Identify the Meeting Time and Place – People are busy.  If you seek healthy attendance to your meeting, be sure to identify a time that is most convenient for them, even if it is a couple weeks away.  If the only available time is over lunch, have a meal brought in.  Be considerate of time zones, as best as possible.  If you are planning a meeting with short notice (same day, or even the next day), personally contact all attendees about the need and make them aware of your request.

4.  Send The Agenda Ahead of Time – The agenda is extremely important in terms of structuring the discussion.  For this reason, you should send the agenda out ahead of time, even if just a few hours prior, so that attendees can prepare any information as best as possible.  When people are unable to prepare, it will generally result in more action items and follow up on your part.

5.  Start on Time, End on Time – Be prompt, be prepared, and request others do the same.  Starting on time ensures you have sufficient time to have the discussion you seek.  Have two minutes of casual conversation to relax the mood and encourage a healthy conversation.  Stick to the allotted time, and be respectful of others schedules should you start to spill past the allotted timeslot.

6.  Review the Agenda and Expectations – Again, highlight the agenda so that all participants clearly understand the objective, as well as your desired expectations.  What do you need to get out of the meeting?  For longer meetings (for example, a day-long strategy discussion), identify break times, meal plans and restroom locations.  Also, when appropriate, do not be afraid to ask people to put laptops down and mobile phones away.  Multitasking is not only distracting but also disrespectful. 

7.  Stay on Task, Deviate When Appropriate – When gathered with several people, there will be a tendency to jump off task and go down tangents.  Keep in mind that the time you are investing into the meeting demands the discussion be productive.  Depending on the discussion and the audience, it may be worth working through these outlying discussions if they are related.  When discussion deviates too far off topic, request the topic be tabled for a separate discussion, or at the end of the meeting if time is available.  Encourage others to participate.  Ask questions, particularly of those who may be less vocal to solicit their thoughts.  They were invited for a reason!

8.  Control Conflict – While conflict can promote healthy discussion, it can also be unproductive and damaging to the discussion.  In the event there is heated conflict, recall that you are the meeting organizer.  Once the discussion heats up and it becomes unproductive, politely request the topic be set aside and suggest the group move on.  Create an action item to identify the topic must be revisited.  If appropriate, request the group take a break for purposes of calming down tempers. 

9.  Review Key Points and Actions at End – At the end of the meeting, summarize the discussion, the key points, and the actions.  Be sure to highlight any agreements made as well as additional follow on topics that were deferred.  Review all action items, their owners, and the requested due dates.  The action items are perhaps the most important aspect of the meetings, so be sure to make these items clear and well understood. 

10.  Minutes and Follow Up – After the meeting, be sure to type up all notes and minutes and distribute to all attendees, including any participants who could not take part.  Include the main agreements and action items and expected completion dates.  Follow up with attendees (either as a group or on an independent basis) to ensure follow through on action items. 

 

Additional Resources:

Run Effective Meetings with the 3Ws  (Blog Post)

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