Leadership 101

How to run an effective meeting.

Photo by Christina @ wocintechchat.com on Unsplash

Most get no formal training when it comes to meeting preparation and management. That does not mean there isn’t a right way to run one.

Much like Justice Potter Stewart and his definition of obscenity, “I know it when I see it,” we all know a good meeting when we are involved in one. We also know all too well what a lousy meeting looks and feels like — the constant checking of watches or phones.

We question if anyone will know if we get up and sneak out of the back? After all, I need to get back to my real work.

In this article, we lay out five essential steps to transform your conferences from rambling and ineffective to efficient and brief.

Step 1. Before the meeting. The real success of any meeting is the preparation that went into it. If not worth spending time and effort preparing for it, then do not have a meeting in the first place.

Send an e-mail or make a call instead.

If the subject to be covered is not broad enough or does not involve a sufficient number of people, you should also send a memo or make a call.

If you can have a conference call with two or three people and not require them to leave offices or buildings to do so, productivity will improve.

Now that you have decided you do need a meeting, make sure everyone knows what it is about and is prepared to contribute.

Create an agenda. I’ll write another article soon on how to create a compelling agenda.

No, they are not all created equal.

The only thing worse than no agenda is sending one out 10 minutes before the meeting and expecting the attendees to have read it and be prepared. Be sure to send the agenda out as soon as practicable before the meeting. My recommendation is one week ahead of time.

Step 2. Only invite those who have to be there. Many corporations fall into the habit of inviting vast numbers of people to every meeting. These meetings then turn into the “who’s who” of the company. Worse yet, they become mere social gatherings where employees go to talk about their latest outings or gossip about who is getting fired, promoted, or transferred.

Keep the attendees to the absolute core group.

Send out the minutes or a targeted e-mail or memo for information needing further dissemination.

Step 3. Stick to your agenda. Be a stickler about not getting off the topic. Unless there is a life or death issue, do not give in to temptation. Such action sends a clear message to all involved that items to be discussed must get on the agenda promptly. Not doing so is disrespectful and demonstrative of poor planning.

Step 4. Create action items. As you progress through the agenda, make sure you or a recorder note who will be performing what actions and in what timeframe. When executed, each participant will leave the proceedings knowing precisely what is expected and in what period of time. These action items should leave no room for anyone to return to the next gathering unprepared.

Step 5. Adjourn. Adjournment should happen at or before the scheduled time. There should be a continual evaluation of the length of all meetings to ensure they are appropriate.

There is nothing wrong — I encourage it — with shortening scheduled times to meet. If they can be spread out (i.e., go to every other week instead of every week), all the better.

Do not let members linger.

Once adjourned, sidebar conversations can take place in the corridor or offices but not in the conference room. No excuses to let people gossip or idle.

Time to get back to work.

These rules or steps can seem a bit harsh or restrictive at first. They are not.

One of the biggest productivity killers in corporate America today is the meeting.

There are far too many of them.
They go on for far too long.
They accomplish far too little.

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