We all attend a variety of meetings, which when chaired and conducted well, can help us to achieve our goals (with the support of others) in a more timely way. By introducing some relatively simple changes to the way we plan, structure and manage meetings, significant productivity gains and business benefits can be achieved, regardless of company size.
If you have the responsibility for planning, chairing, conducting or managing successful meetings, these practical tips will help you:
- Set a specific meeting outcome
Ensuring you as the chair, and the meeting participants have a clear outcome for the meeting will bring clarity, purpose and a measure of success to the participants and avoid wasted time.
Try our meeting preparation checklist.
For example, you may set an outcome such as ‘to gain an agreement on the key problems with our current invoicing system and produce a list of recommended solutions’.
You will then be able to write your agenda, select the key participants that really need to attend the meeting for each specific agenda item; plan the time needed and establish the most appropriate working methods that will help you achieve the meeting outcome.
- Circulate an agenda in advance of the meeting
Circulating a timed agenda and any supporting relevant documents well in advance of the meeting will enable each meeting participant to prepare and fully contribute to each agenda item. This will result in a more focused discussion and decision making process.
Avoiding the use of ‘any other business’ as an agenda item helps to retain the focus of the meeting and helps you to conduct the meeting in the most effective manner.
- Check the meeting room in advance
Regardless of who has arranged the meeting environment and logistics, it is always advisable to arrive 15 minutes ahead of the meeting start time to ensure the meeting room, layout, catering, lighting and temperature are all conducive to an effective meeting.
Simple things like ensuring any refreshments you wish to provide arrive 10 – 15 minutes before the scheduled start time of the meeting, will help to ensure the meeting starts on time and you avoid the clattering of coffee cups!
- Manage the time and maintain the scheduled meeting timings
Being disciplined to start the meeting on time regardless of attendance will help you conduct the meeting, run to time and encourage meeting participants to arrive promptly at future meetings.
Keeping track of the time during the meeting (or delegating the task to another participant) and ensuring your meeting finishes on time will add to the meeting efficiency and encourage future attendance of the meetings you conduct.
- Assign roles and responsibilities
Dependent upon the size, style and the desired outcome of meeting, it can be helpful to the chairperson conducting the meeting to enlist some advanced support. A minute keeper can record attendance, the key discussion topics, decisions made and the agreed action points with the support of the chairperson.
A facilitator can be brought in to increase the meeting effectiveness by identifying the best methods of group working to achieve the desired outcomes whilst retaining neutrality on the meeting content and bringing out the best from the meeting participants. They can help establish an acceptable meeting code for all participants at the first or a set of regular meetings such as a project team.
- Use the timed agenda to guide the meeting
A timed agenda will enable you as the chair to keep the meeting discussion structured; participants’ contributions focused and highlight closure to each item. If you find yourself needing more time, you and the participants can decide if you wish to allocate more time to the topic, schedule additional time outside the meeting, or move to the next agenda item.
Having a flipchart “car park” for example, can enable you to quickly “park” any comments that are important but not relevant to the specific agenda item, enabling the group to remain focused.
- Encourage and manage meeting participant contributions
Encouraging and stimulating meeting participant discussion is critical to the successful implementation of any decision taken. This can mean ensuring that everyone has had the opportunity to be heard by drawing out the quieter, more reflective participants; whilst managing and minimising the louder, more vocal participants and constructively resolving any conflict that arises within the meeting.
Allowing time at the beginning of a meeting for participants to get to know each other is vital. This can be achieved through simple personal introductions or running a light-hearted ice breaker exercise, dependent upon the meeting formality.
See tips on maintaining energy levels during meetings to improve participation.
- Summarise key decisions and actions agreed
Periodically summarising what has been discussed so far around a specific agenda item will help clarify and focus the meeting participants, enabling them to make a clear decision and move on. If the action points have been captured during the meeting, time can be allocated at the end of the meeting to summarise the agreed decisions/actions back to the meeting participants.
The process of then identifying those who will take responsibility for achieving each of the action items within an agreed timeframe will then become easier for self selection and may encourage more of a team spirit.
- Review the effectiveness of the meeting
Asking meeting participants to review the meeting effectiveness and how effective you have been at chairing the meeting can enhance future meetings as well as give you some great personal feedback and insights. Simply reviewing and asking ‘what did we do that worked well’ and ‘what could we do differently next time’ can draw out some helpful insights and learning.
- Follow up and review the agreed action points
The follow up to the meeting is just as important as the meeting itself. It is vital to ensure that the agreed action points are completed within the agreed time and prior to the next meeting.
The first point of any regular meeting that you chair should be to ask those responsible to report back on their progress from the previous meeting, stimulating action, responsibility and commitment, and encouraging resolution of challenges in achievement of the action points prior to the next scheduled meeting.
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