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How to Plan and Execute an Effective Meeting

Effectively leading a meeting is an art. If Dante worked in today’s business world, he would likely relegate bad meeting facilitators to their own special circle in the Inferno. Luckily, there are methods for leading meetings that engage participants and achieve goals.

Have a Purpose for Every Meeting

When planning an effective meeting, MindTools suggests planners ask themselves, “At the close of the meeting, I want the group to ...” Consider whether the objective is attainable through a group email. If so, shelve the meeting. If not, before scheduling anything, establish a purpose and intended message. Neal Hartman, of MIT’s Sloan School of Management, suggests considering if the meeting is to announce changes in management or shifts in business strategy, or to gain insight from others regarding issues facing the business, since “…meetings with vague purposes, such as “status updates,” are rarely a good use of time.”

  • Make the meeting objective clear before and during the meeting.

Prepare a Business Meeting Agenda

According to MindTools, an agenda is a great tool for keeping meetings “running on target and on time.” Preparing an effective agenda should take into account:

  • Priority topics

  • Desired accomplishments

  • Required participants

  • The presentation sequence of topics

  • Time allotments

  • Date, time and location

Agendas also help meeting facilitators get their thoughts organized before the meeting, as well as delineating any documents required. It also reveals the people best qualified to present certain topics. Use templates for creating meeting agendas for consistency and to make sure you don’t miss a vital aspect. At the meeting ensure every participant has a copy of the agenda, or, even better, project it onto a screen for all to see.

For topic presenters, Forbes suggests holding a “pre-meeting” meeting to ensure they are properly prepared, aware of expectations and understand their place on the agenda.

  • Use agendas not just as a list of topics but also as time guides to keep meetings moving along.

Make an Attendee List and Check It Twice

Effective meetings require the attendance of the right people. Including unnecessary participants will breed disengagement and forgetting to invite a vital player will bring the meeting to a frustrating halt. Neal Hartman sums it up thus: “When people feel that what’s being discussed isn’t relevant to them, or that they lack the skills or expertise to be of assistance, they’ll view their attendance at the meeting as a waste of time.”

  • Use the attendee list to hone the agenda and encourage active participation by others.

Location, Location, Location

Choose the right location and tools for the meeting. First, makes sure the meeting area has good ventilation and light (or else be prepared to deal with yawns and disinterested participants). An action-oriented problem-solving meeting needs a space conducive to people sharing ideas, whereas a brainstorming or creative meeting (which might last a long time) needs a place with drinks and snacks, as well as some creative, inspiration- inspiring props such as Legos, according to

  • Good meeting locations are conducive to achieving goals.

Set Some Ground Rules

Executing an effective meeting requires retaining control, gracefully. Hartman suggests establishing a policy against one person monopolizing the meeting. In other words, don’t let any one person speak for too long. The earlier in the meeting you can keep things moving, the better the flow of the meeting will be.

Another suggestion is banning technology, from laptops to cell phones, to keep participants focused on the meeting. Obviously, suggestions for business meetings vary a bit from tips for client meetings. Nonetheless, most clients will appreciate a well-planned meeting that begins with a few ground rules and a focused dedication on the task at hand.

  • Be graceful when setting rules, taking into account individual needs and meeting agenda.

Manage the Meeting

Take control from the outset. Read all documents ahead of time, summarizing them as needed, so that participants can take in a lot of information during the meeting and provide valuable input, according to Forbes. During the meeting, look for indicators of unrest or trouble, suggests MindTools, from participants’ body language to speakers going on too long on a topic.

Summarize each agenda topic as the discussion wraps up, and move on, noting when a topic requires further discussion at another time. If a particularly recalcitrant colleague refuses to yield the floor, consider one or more of the tactics suggested in the Harvard Business Review:

  • Put aside feelings of frustration and adopt a “mindset of curiosity”

  • Use the agenda to redirect tangents

  • Do not ignore interruptions; instead listen, validate and then redirect

  • Regain control using body language and non-verbal communication

    • Taking a step or two toward the interrupter

    • Hold the gaze of the offending person for a few seconds

    • Keep arms uncrossed and maintain “open” body language

    • Walk slowly to stand behind the individual’s seat and run the meeting from there

Afterward, make a point of speaking with the individual in private about meeting flow. Keep things calm and professional or they may shut down entirely during the next critical meeting.

Combat Boredom & Disengagement

The aptly titled “Don’t Suck at Meetings” infographic created by SalesCrunch shows that in the first 15 minutes of a meeting, people have a 91 percent attention level. This drops to 84 percent between 15 and 30 minutes, and down to 64 percent after 45 minutes. Shorter is better when planning and scheduling a business meeting with a prospective client. SalesCrunch reports the best sales meetings occur when the salesperson talks only 35 percent of the time and listens for 65 percent.

Combat boredom by injecting something fun or unexpected into the meeting. PositiveSharing suggests inserting a quick two-minute creative break of some kind every half-hour, from a seventh inning stand and stretch to a quick rock-paper-scissor tournament. The object is to break things up with “something fun and light-hearted that activates people.” If people are noticeably flagging earlier than the 30-minute mark, take a quick break.

  • Keep meetings short and read attendees’ reactions (or lack thereof).

The Importance of Follow-Up

Successful meetings require a summary memo. Send it out within a day of the meeting giving attendees a chance to review and ask for clarification. This allows facilitators to ascertain outstanding follow-up topics. Any follow-up meetings should use the same tools: agenda, timetable and meeting management.

The Takeaway for Meeting Planners

Great meetings achieve goals efficiently. Nevertheless, sometimes even well-conceived meetings run amok or go on far too long. If nothing else works, consider holding standing only meetings – no chairs or tables makes people want to wrap things up quickly.


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