How to Conduct Effective Meetings
Running an effective meeting is crucial to the function of any company or organization. It presents an opportunity to organize, share information, collaborate with diverse team members, and tackle objectives efficiently. Being prepared, taking leadership when needed, and delegating effectively are important elements of effective meetings. Additionally, when conducting meetings, be sure to leverage team energy and engagement as much as possible.
Conducting a Meeting
Be prepared.Make sure that you have the agenda on hand, a sense of what key points need to be emphasized, and a grasp on the outcomes that need to be reinforced before the meeting ends.
- Show up on time. Workplace perception matters. If you show up to meetings 15 minutes early, people will assume that you lack productivity or are using the meeting to take time away from other tasks.
- Have a copy of the agenda on hand. While most things are digital these days, sometimes the best thing to do is print off a copy of the agenda so you can take quick notes as needed.
Lead the meeting.This means taking steps to ensure all agenda business is resolved and all voices are heard. Below are suggestions to assist with this:
- Do roll call. Meetings are a means of efficiently disseminating information to a group and also permitting discussion to ensure all persons understand their role in the expected outcomes.Doing roll call ensures that you know who is not in the meeting so they can be approached later and filled in. It also demonstrates that you are serious about the information in the meeting.
- Review the agenda. This helps participants focus their attention and understand what will be required of them. Many people attend meetings one after the other and providing an advance organizer can be helpful to focus.
Confirm an action plan.An action plan is an ending summary that confirms what actions must follow the meeting. It also presents a plan for going forward that impacts all meeting members. Below are some suggestions for creating an action plan:
- Ensure every objective has a “point person”: The point person is not expected to complete the objective personally; instead, they function as a project manager who connects the people who need to be involved and makes the necessary resources available.
- Assign progress reports: These can be formal or informal, but the idea is that the person on point knows to check in after a certain period of time to confirm progress on deliverables.
Stay on topic.After each agenda item and its corresponding discussion, briefly summarize outcomes per the group discussion, ask for questions and move on.
Schedule the next meeting.By scheduling a meeting while you have everyone present, it ensures that they can respond immediately with schedule conflicts. Additionally, it also means that your meeting will be scheduled as far in advance as possible, preventing conflicts with other meetings.
- Collect agenda items via email. When the meeting ends, indicate that you will use the current agenda as a draft for the next meeting and encourage meeting attendees to send agenda items to you that are pertinent to existing objectives.
Preparing for a Meeting
Decide who the chairperson is going to be.This role typically falls to managers; however, a great way to create leadership opportunities for up and coming team members is assigning them to the role of chairing departmental meetings.
Ask the speakers to participate.Speakers are typically the point personnel for individual objectives. They have been organizing people and resources to get the job done and can describe the process and outcomes most effectively. They can also voice concerns over unanticipated difficulties and the need for more resources.
Coordinate schedules.Schedule meetings to accommodate availability and realistic limitations. For example, while everyone may be available late-afternoon on a Friday, it may not be the best time to discuss challenging issues.
- If not everyone can make the meeting, assess who the key players are for the project, ensuring the meeting matches their respective schedules.
- Delegate note-taking and ensure the meeting details are disseminated to those who could not attend.
Prepare an agenda.An agenda should, at minimum, set a topic list, delegate presentation duties, and set the time devoted to each agenda item. Below are some helpful suggestions for crafting a meeting agenda:
- Ask for suggestions. Email is a good source for this, because you can get requests in writing. Accept agenda suggestions up to two days before the meeting.
- Summarize all agenda requests into an a table with columns for topic, speaker, and time allotted. If certain requests are afield of the general theme, contact the person and suggest the request be turned into a separate memo, or discussed at a future meeting.
- Be realistic. Don’t try to cram 30 minutes worth of description and discussion into 15 minutes. Instead, over schedule time for meetings and end early if necessary.
Set time frames.As part of your agenda, include how long the meeting will last as well as indicators for how long individuals speakers will talk, and how long there will be general discussion following each agenda point.
- This gives participants a sense of timing when they contribute and can reducing rambling or extraneous discussion points.
- A good rule of thumb is to budget at least 10 minutes after each talking point for discussion.
Circulate the agenda.The day before the meeting, circulate the meeting agenda. This ensures everyone has a copy, and is prepared for what to expect from the meeting itself. This also gives them the opportunity to approach you if there is incorrect information in the agenda.
Send out reminders.If this is a new or infrequent meeting, send out a reminder one hour before the meeting to remind everyone to attend.
Being an Effective Chairperson
Be a leader.Take responsibility for communication in the meeting. Ensure it meets all agenda objectives. Delegate relevant leadership responsibilities to speakers who have a role in the meeting. Demonstrate participation in all stages of the discussion.
Indicate progress and the lack of progress.If this meeting addresses an ongoing series of objectives, mention where progress has occurred and who was responsible for it.
- If there are objectives that had not progressed since the last meeting, address why.
- If this is due to lack of time or resources, talk to the point person about how to address this, potentially outside the meeting itself.
Refocus discussion that has wandered off the point.There are times when enthusiasm or frustration can push discussions off course. Stay attentive and be sure to bring off-point discussion back into line with the goals of the agenda.Below are some suggested approaches:
- Frame the meeting as a "fact gathering mission": When we do this, it implies that everyone needs to be heard in order to accumulate as much information as possible. This can encourage meeting monopolizers to wait their turn.
- Try Cyberstorming: Cyberstorming uses electronic chat or forum structure to share ideas and can be harnessed for the purpose of informal meetings. Since everything that is entered can be seen by all other team members, it removes the competition regarding who gets heard.
- Neutralize rambling: If someone is rambling, say "That's a good point, Bob, and I'm glad you brought it up. Let's talk about that later, ok." Many times people don't realize that they are rambling, but if the point is important enough to them, they will come to you independently to talk at greater length.
- Control tangents: Sometimes the problem is not that an individual goes on too long but that they attempt to re-focus the discussion on extraneous point outside the agenda. When this happens, acknowledge what is being said and offer to add the discussion points to the next meeting agenda, but remain firm that the meeting has to move on to the stated objectives.
- Have a one-on-one. Have a conversation with the monopolizer about what happened. Do this privately. Be sure to take a tone of concern, rather than annoyance. Be sure to focus on what you observed and offer opportunity for the other person to explain their response. Offer to help this person prevent monopolizing in the future.
Transition between points effectively.Be assertive when maintaining time constraints. This doesn’t mean be rude; however, it does mean letting people know that the meeting is moving on and that they can continue their current discussion with relevant parties after the meeting.
- Don't steam roll: Although it is important to keep the meeting on track, it can be counterproductive to more too quickly between agenda items. Before moving on, always ask for questions or concerns. Make sure that the team is on board and ready to move ahead with you, rather than being left behind.
Highlight important points.Key objectives need to be emphasized, and their relationship to less critical objectives emphasizes.
- Help members of the meeting understand the scope of the project and how each individual part is an important piece in a much more important whole.
Assist with note taking if necessary.There is usually someone tasked with note taking in each meeting; however, if they become overwhelmed, it is the job of the leader to step in and task him or herself.
Clarify any misunderstanding.At the end of each point, the meeting leader offers a summary that attendees can take away from the meeting. These end cap summaries also present an opportunity for people to chime in when they are unclear on something.
- As the meeting leader, be prepared to explain detailed ideas for team members to understand.
Offer a comprehensive summary at the end of meetings.Decisive leadership avoids stagnation and vacillation, keeping workers on task and motivated, while also behaving responsively to change and new information. Below are the features of decisive leadership:
- Clarity of purpose: Ensures alignment of all decisions with organizational goals and ethics.
- Engagement: Allows leaders to live by example, embodying engagement with company values that allows for effective, efficient decision making.
- Transparency: Does not permit self-interest. Instead, demonstrates how decisions for the good of the company help everyone flourish.
- Creating a culture of honest failure: Honest failures are learning points that act as springboards to better decision making. Decisive leadership embraces those times when mistakes are made.
- Open and effective communication: Alignment with company values ensures that, where communicating upward into senior management or down the hierarchy to managed employees, there is no inconsistency or contradiction.
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To conduct an effective meeting, make sure you show up to the meeting with an agenda and some key points that need to be discussed. Then, review the agenda with everyone at the meeting so you're all on the same page. When you're finished, come up with an action plan by giving each person at the meeting and objective or goal so everyone knows what they should be focused on following the meeting. Before everyone leaves, schedule the next meeting so you can deal with any scheduling conflicts right away.
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