How to run a meeting
Here are 10 tips and tools for running an effective meeting.
Wed, Feb 08, 2012 at 12:43 PM
Photo: Digital Vision/Getty Images
We've all been to a long, boring, unnecessary meeting where participants sit around stifling yawns while the group leader yammers along to a Powerpoint presentation. Meetings waste a lot of time, and when you add up the wages for all those present, they can waste a lot of money, too. That's why managers and group leaders should learn how to run a meeting using these 10 tips and tools for effective collaboration.
What makes a meeting effective? You want to complete what you set out to do in the least amount of time possible, with all participants feeling that the meeting was worthwhile and fair. Here's how to do just that.
Meet only when absolutely necessary. Determine whether your information really requires feedback from others, or if the flow of information is only one-way. Updates or status reports don't require face time; they should be sent in an email instead. Keep in mind that employees and other potential meeting participants have important jobs to do, and interrupting them can disrupt the flow of their entire day. Don't use meetings to try to ramp up motivation or productivity; you'll likely accomplish the opposite instead.
Outline your objectives. Before you drag a group into the conference room, make sure you know your goals. The meeting should help you accomplish something concrete, like coming to a consensus on a project or building a list of ideas. Write down everything you'd like to discuss at the meeting in a concise list of bullet-pointed items.
Invite the right people. The larger your group, the more difficult it will be to focus. Identify the people with the skill-sets and roles that will enable you to accomplish the meeting's objective, but don't exclude people just because you're not sure they'll be able to come up with good ideas - they might just surprise you.
Send out an agenda. Preferably the day before the meeting is scheduled, email participants your agenda and your goals. Everyone should know precisely what you plan to talk about so they can come up with ideas ahead of time and prepare themselves to stay on track.
Set strict starting and ending times. If you say you're going to start your meeting at 10 a.m., start at that precise time, not 10:05. If you're consistently late, meeting participants won't feel an urgent need to show up on time. You should also let everyone know when the meeting will end, and stick to that as best you can. If it looks like you're going to go over, suggest an approximate amount of time - say, 15 minutes - and ask everyone if that's okay.
Get helpers to handle the details. The person running the meeting shouldn't also be keeping track of the time, taking notes or writing topics of discussion on the whiteboard. Assign these tasks to people who might not otherwise have as much to contribute, or perhaps those who have a habit of staring off into space or compulsively checking their phones.
Stay on topic. If the conversation is derailed, you won't be able to accomplish your goals, and your meeting could run late. Have your timekeeper tell you when the allotted time for a certain topic is up, and move on to the next point.
Take note of topics that require further discussion. Sometimes, it becomes clear that a topic that comes up during the meeting could take up the entire allotted time. Be sure to write these topics down before moving on to the next point of discussion so you can explore them fully at a more appropriate time.
Moderate for full and fair participation. Virtually every group has a mix of participants who tend to dominate the discussion, and those who barely participate at all. Prevent excessive talkers from taking over by thanking them for their opinion and moving on to the next person. Ask your quieter group members what they think directly to ensure that you hear from everyone.
Let people argue, but outlaw personal attacks. False consensus can be deadly to creativity. Disagreement can promote the kind of discussion that brings out an unexpected solution. Everyone should have a chance to be heard. However, you should be sure that meeting participants don't feel discouraged from offering their opinion due to unfair criticism or belittling of their ideas.
Close with a plan of action. At the end of the meeting, sum up what you have agreed upon, decide what's next and have your record-keeper write it down. This is especially important if your decisions at the meeting require further action on the part of specific participants. Each person should leave the meeting knowing what is expected of them at that point.
Got other tips for how to run an effective meeting? Leave us a note in the comments below.