How to run effective meetings

Part 1: Preparation for the meeting

Have you ever been stuck in meetings where you wondered what was going on? Or why you were even there in the first place? Unfortunately, this happened to me! It’s frustrating and makes these meetings appear as a waste of my time.

Companies can help their employees become more productive when setting up and running meetings. In fact, I’ve seen a number of organisations, mainly in the education sector, issue guidelines to their employees. For these teams, it has made them more productive and efficient. Given the limited resources we have, that’s a great achievement and in my view, we all should thrive towards more effective meeting cultures.

What’s the purpose?

As much as we all hear ourselves talk, is this meeting really necessary or could it be solved with an email or a phone call? If a meeting is required, what is it about? Are you giving information, are you leading a discussion, are you brainstorming to generate new ideas, are you solving a problem, are you handling a crisis situation?

Check out this decision making questionnaire from HBR if you’re unsure a meeting is really needed.

What’s the desired outcome?

Once you know why the meeting is being held, what do you want to get out of it? Are you looking for a decision, a discussion, some information, solutions?

Define the outcome in the invite and when starting the meeting. Be sure to know when the outcome has been achieved. It’s easy when you’re looking at a decision or an approval. When looking for information or solutions to a problem, decide what will be required or acceptable for you. You’ll need to be clear about this or otherwise, the meeting will not be very fruitful.

What’s the agenda?

When looking at the agenda, you should start with the highest priority first and finished with the least important and urgent item last. Prioritising the agenda items by 1) urgent and important, 2) urgent but not important, 3) important or urgent and 4) not important and not urgent. This will ensure that the highest priority topic will be discussed while you can most likely live with a trivial topic being postponed, if required.

Include time to recap the meeting’s decisions and actions at the end of the meeting. You want to have time built in for everyone to voice their (dis)agreement and be clear of any actions.

Who to invite?

Prior to inviting the entire department, ask yourself who is really required to attend the meeting. Who will be a decision maker, who will carry out the actions, who will need to be informed?

When dealing with multiple departments and external customers and/or suppliers, can you request a representative rather than the entire teams? Remember the more people you’ll invite the less will be done.

You may find some team members can simply be informed about the meeting results afterwards.

When to have it?

Companies are often located in different parts of the city, country or even across continents and scheduling across different time zones can be painful. Just ask me about finding meeting times when my teams where based in Australia, Dubai, London and the US! Check out this great tool which shows you the local times for all your different cities and countries.

If the meeting is going to take place in person, will you need to consider travel time or will you leave this up to the individuals? Keep in mind how horrible Dubai traffic can be at specific times of the day.

How much time will be needed?

Our calendars are often pre-set with meetings to last 1 hour. But, do you really require this little or this much time? Review your agenda and determine how long your meeting will need to me. When running the meeting, remember to keep to time.

If you haven’t done this yet, change the standard time for meetings in your calendar to 15 or 30 minutes. Filling an hour just for the sake of it is just wasted time!

Where will it take place?

If you’re having the meeting in person, what venue will be required? Is your office big enough to hold it or do you require a meeting room? Who will book this meeting room?

Besides the location, do you require any additional equipment like a projector, flip chart, handouts, a space for a product demo or a sound/video system?

Inform reception about any external visitors. How will they be shown the meeting room?

Do you require drinks or snacks for the meeting? Who will arrange these items?

Who will facilitate it?

Assigning a facilitator will support the guided running of the meeting and adhering to ground rules like sticking to time. The moderator will bring attendees back to the topic, if needed, which can be challenging especially when meeting virtually.

Another positive for having a facilitator is their role as an independent observer, although in many cases, the facilitator is part of the team.

I hope you’ve learnt a few new trick for running more productive meetings in this post. The series “How to run effective meetings” will continue with the actual running of the meeting next week and will conclude with following up on the action items.

What approaches do you use when setting up meetings in your company? What has helped you making the most of out your meetings? Please share what has worked for you and leave a comment below. I’m looking forward to reading your notes.

Until next time,

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