It’s clear that meetings are a regular part of your professional life. But just because they’re inevitable doesn’t mean they need to be inevitably awful. With some thoughtful planning, a meeting can be a positive, productive event.
To get yourself on the road to running an effective meeting, consider the principles outlined in Mary Ellen Guffey and Dana Loewy’s Essentials of Business Communication, Ninth Edition, summarized below.
Before the Meeting
- Establish your purpose for calling the meeting. Are you hoping for a fruitful discussion of an issue or initiative, or will a simple message to relevant individuals adequately communicate your point? If the latter, perhaps it would be more effective to simply call people or send out a memo, rather than add another meeting to everyone’s schedule. To further promote active participation and engagement, consider asking your invitees to share what they hope to achieve through the meeting.
- Determine a meeting time and location. As early as it’s feasible, reserve or request all needed resources such as the meeting room, phone line, or web conferencing service.
- Craft your agenda. Include the following information: date, time, and location; a list of topics and presenters, along with allotted time for each; and, details about any necessary preparation you wish attendees to complete beforehand. As you plan, be mindful of the sequencing of presentation or discussion. Address topics that can be resolved quickly at the beginning of the meeting; save charged topics for later, so that debate over those matters doesn’t influence the tone of the whole meeting. Send this completed agenda, along with any other related materials, to attendees approximately two days ahead of time.
- Identify who needs to attend. Reflect on your purpose and base your attendee list on that. If you hope to arrive at a decision on a particular matter, the attendee list should be limited to those who have the authority to make the decision or the responsibility of carrying it out. On the other hand, if you’re presenting information that applies to a wide audience, or you’re seeking a broad range of opinions on a certain topic, you may want to invite a greater number of individuals who will benefit from the information or who can contribute constructively and creatively to the discussion.
- Arrange the materials and location. Take care of administrative details such as the room setup, phone lines, projectors, refreshments, and so on. Also consider seating arrangements; where you choose to sit can indicate the level of leadership you are planning to take.
During the Meeting
- Start well. It’s better to start on time – even if some people are missing – than risk wasting time and frustrating the rest of the attendees. Do allow a few minutes’ worth of time for introductions (if necessary); a brief statement of your goals for the meeting and the problems you hope to address or resolve; a quick summary of any potential solutions; and an overview of your agenda. Also address any ground rules, which could include your guidelines for participation as well as your expectations for behavior (e.g., shutting off cell phones). (If your group is more formal, you may follow Robert’s Rules of Order or another established set of meeting procedures.) It also helps to elect or assign a “recorder” who will take notes on a board or flipchart at the front of the room, or in an electronic document that can be distributed via e-mail after the meeting.
- Keep the discussion moving. As the meeting’s leader, it’s your responsibility to facilitate the flow of the meeting. This includes ensuring that all attendees have a fair opportunity to speak. If you find that the discussion veers off course, create a “parking lot list” of topics that can be addressed at a time following the meeting.
- Address conflict. If individuals strongly disagree on a certain point, don’t ignore the conflict or let it fester, as that causes its own problems. Be sure each person feels heard by giving them the opportunity to express their opinion as others listen; and, invite the two in conflict to question each other’s position. As leader, then summarize these positions, and also solicit other attendees’ feedback. Afterward, attempt to reach a consensus that satisfies the group as a whole.
- Handle challenges wisely and with foresight. Set the ground rules by letting the group know that interruptions will not be tolerated. You can also discourage negative situations in several other ways, such as: interrupting those who dominate the discussion, and then redirecting the conversation to others; deliberately crafting the seating arrangement to keep challenging attendees away from other “power seats” (such as the head of a table); and eliciting feedback from the more reticent members of the group.
- End well. As you see the stated ending time approaching (or the discussion waning), summarize what was accomplished during your time together, and ensure that all attendees leave with a clear (and similar) understanding of the decisions made at the meeting. Establish deadlines for any follow-up activities, and make sure all those activities are covered by people who will complete them. If another meeting is required, establish that time while all attendees are still in the room. Finally, leave the meeting room in an acceptable, neat state.
After the Meeting
- Send out minutes in a timely fashion. These notes will remind people of what was discussed and will also alert them to any actionable items that came about as a result of the meeting.
- Follow up. Ensure that any tasks or activities that were planned during the meeting are completed by the established deadline. (pp. 348-354)
Reference: Guffey, M. E. and Loewy, D. 2013. Essentials of Business Communication, Ninth Edition. Mason, OH: South-Western, Cengage Learning.
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