Guide to leading effective meetings

Almost every manager in any big organisation will at some point or the other realise that their life revolves around meetings; monthly department meetings, special task force meetings, committee meetings, new projects meetings, group meetings, brainstorming sessions, etc. With each meeting followed by work to prepare for the next meeting!

These meetings are extremely important for the organisations as they help them in planning ahead and taking decisions. As such, each meeting becomes more significant in terms of the outcome and people look forward to having successful meetings.

However, people can easily be disappointed when their expectations from a meeting are not met. What mostly annoys them is:

  • when meetings are rescheduled at the nth hour,

  • when no one in the meeting is ready to concede on any point,

  • when the leader has too many of their own opinions,

  • when the meeting runs in to overtime,

  • when the meeting ends without making any decisions.

But meetings don't necessarily have to be so painful. If you are willing to try, you can make them useful and enjoyable for everyone present. Effective meetings are helpful for everyone concerned to reach their goals.

How do you run effective meetings?

Running effective meetings are only possible when you do your homework. It's always more than just scheduling a date and an agenda for a group of people. It requires involvement before, during and after the meeting. Leading a good meeting is a necessary skill. Think about the dynamics of the meeting, about the participants and what issues should be discussed and which ones should be avoided.

Conducting effective meetings largely depends on your own homework. Follow these steps to make it a success:

  1. Plan ahead for the meeting. Clearly define its agenda and goals.

  2. Set up the meeting. Check that all logistics are in place.

  3. Chair the meeting allowing for equal participation from all members. Keep everyone involved in the decision making process.

  4. Follow up after the meeting on the action points discussed and agreed upon in the meeting.

Planning the meeting

If you plan for the meeting, it will avoid wasting everybody's time. You can start by defining the goals for the meeting. What decisions need to be made in this meeting? What was discussed in the previous meetings? What needs reviewing? Is there some new information that needs to looked at?

You should also choose the meeting participants carefully. There really is no need to increase the headcount unless it's a brainstorming session! If it's a marketing project, you'll just need the CEO and the marketing team as the concerned parties. Keep in mind that if you invite people who don't relate with the agenda of the meeting, they would not come back.

When you are planning for the agenda, discuss it with others to see if they have something to add to it. You might have missed something and teamwork can prove useful here.

Having an accurate agenda always helps. Make sure that all attendees are informed about the agenda of the meeting beforehand so they can prepare themselves.

You should also allocate time to each part of the agenda so everyone knows what will be discussed and for how long. Ensure that you follow the time-lines in the meeting as well so that it does not stretch into over time!

Setting up and running the meeting

You should look to start and end the meeting on time. If you are going to wait for everyone to be present for the meeting, then it will definitely extend beyond the time you planned for. Also once you start with the meeting, sign everyone in. Even though we are not at school, this is important for the meeting minutes.

When you are choosing a place to meet, you should look for a comfortable and convenient space. Depending on your meeting agenda and the number of attendees, you might require a different setting. Choosing the right meeting room is important. It needs to be convenient for everyone attending, especially if it is an external meeting.

You should look to provide time for informal talks before and after the meeting for people to socialise. If it's the first time you are meeting, start with introductions and get everyone introduced, including yourself. Get an agreement on agenda and watch the time. Sometimes rules like no-interrupting etc. can be helpful too when you have some potential 'disrupter' in the house. [Read: How to influence meeting participants in the right way?]

If the meeting needs to be extended beyond the agreed upon time on an issue, ask all members for an agreement. A question such as, "We've already used our allotted time for this issue. Would everyone like to continue on the topic for another ten minutes, or shall we go on to the next item on the agenda?" can be a good way to take the group's pulse on the matter.

Towards the end of the meeting, sum up all the takeaways from the meeting, any decisions you have taken and the conclusion so everybody agrees and knows a clear way forward.

Following up on the meeting

Once you are done with the meeting, you can schedule for the next meeting right there, though you can send out the invitations later.

Follow up on the current meeting and make sure everyone is aware of their responsibilities and tasks. You can make follow-up calls, send out follow-up correspondence and take some follow-up actions. Ask all participants to see how they felt about the meeting and what could have been improved, etc.

Lastly, ensure that everyone present in the meeting receives the minutes of the meeting. Even though they might not be the decisions taken, they can be very valuable to those present. Many organisations require you to keep a detailed record of all the minutes of the meetings.

"Wondering what type of seating plan should you choose for your next meeting?" Read this article.

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