Tips for effective meetings
Schedule and run efficient meetings with these simple tips.
Meetings. The very word conjures Dilbert comic strips, snarky notes on appointment calendars, and frustrated sighs as workers gather around the conference table like buffalo at a watering hole. Often, there is no agenda, no goal, no central question to be answered. Just a round of talking heads rattling off updates to a project manager, who may ask a question or two.
Meetings can be problematic not just because they are improperly planned, but also because they are improperly attended. But here’s a twist: The bad reputation that meetings have are an opportunity for you to advance your career through differentiation. Simply put, planning and facilitating crisp and effective meetings will help establish you as an effective leader or manager.
Here are a few tips to plan and host an effective meeting. You’ll find extra content and resources online.
1. Plan for crisply segmented meetings.
First, invite only the people who need to be there and provide them with an agenda at least several days in advance. State the purpose of the meeting at the top of the agenda, and identify who will keep time and who will take notes. As facilitator, you need to focus on accomplishing the objective of the meeting, so have others help with the logistics.
The agenda also needs clear outcomes that are stated in actionable terms. These outcomes are written directly below the stated purpose, for example:
Purpose: Select a boiler manufacturer for new hospital.
Action item: Project team will determine the boiler manufacturer short-list.
Each outcome will have a designated time period for discussion, and it will identify the person who will lead the discussion. How much time should a discussion have? Try this rule of thumb: Guesstimate how much discussion time a group needs, add about 3 minutes for final decisions, and then cut that total by 30%. So if you think finalizing the short list will take about 20 minutes, add 3 minutes, then cut 23 minutes by 30% and allot 17 minutes.
When segmenting meetings, eschew 5-minute intervals. Shorter, choppy time frames set a tone of planning and urgency while still providing time for substantive deliberation. They also alert participants to come prepared.
2. Delegate and empower.
As mentioned earlier, each meeting should have at least three roles: the facilitator, a timekeeper, and a note-taker. Make assignments in advance when planning the agenda, rotating the roles if possible. Timekeepers move meetings along; they’re vital to staying on track. Have them call out “2 minutes” when the allotted time segment is closing. This way, you, the facilitator, can call for a final word, last question, or confirming consensus vote or decision.
The note-taker role involves more than recording action items and important decisions; the note-taker is best suited to wrap up the meeting by reading these items aloud, obtaining confirmation, and e-mailing the notes to all while sitting at the table as the meeting closes. Notes are not transcriptions of everything said, but just the most important points, decisions, and action items. This sounds like a lot, so provide the note-taker with a template that has the agenda built into it as well as the e-mail addresses of the participants.
Being mindful of the behavior patterns of participants is important. Plan in advance how you will deal with people you will need to interrupt, and how you will do so. Facilitators are obligated to interrupt others respectfully when a discussion is getting off task. You also need to engender participation from people who may be shy or have other difficulties communicating. Diplomatically informing such people ahead of time that you will be calling upon them will allow them to prepare what they will say.
Holding crisp, decisive meetings will make you a hero. And you should expect your effective meetings will pressure others to follow your lead.
- If technology resources—such as teleconference call-ins, projectors, or Internet connections— are part of the meeting, set the meeting start time to occur after the setup is done.
- Always start on time. If people come in late, they’ll interrupt the meeting and get embarrassed. After a few times, people will know you are serious about start times.
- If a discussion begins to go off topic, or there are too many questions to resolve, move the topic to a “parking lot”—the designated term for placing a sentence about that topic on a computer, whiteboard, or post-it note. You can get to it if there is time remaining in the meeting, or the applicable participants can have a conversation after the meeting.
Setting Purpose and Outcomes Agenda Layouts
Smith is the department chair of the Curriculum, Language, and Literacy program at Concordia University Chicago. She has more than 12 years of experience in adult teaching and training and has published feature articles on mentoring and training in Consulting-Specifying Engineer. Smith also provides research and training services to firms in the buildings industry on a variety of career skills topics ranging from networking to public presentations.