How to Run Effective Meetings: The 10 Step Guide
Like creating a website, meetings should be a productive tool for your company’s overall success, right? Yet more often than not many people feel that they are a huge waste of their time.
The most common issues include people running late, not knowing who the leader is, an unclear reason for the hosting of the meeting in the first place, and attendants wondering if they could’ve just received this information over email instead. Despite the ‘haters,’ there’s something to be said about the powerful interaction of meeting face-to-face.
The optimal objective should be to still host your meetings when appropriate, while making sure that they do in fact serve the best interests of every participant’s job duties and use of time. In this guide, we’ll show you how to run a meeting that does just this.
Here’s everything you need to note about running effective meetings:
Decide whether or not to host the meeting
Set an agenda in advance
Review your guest list
Start and end on time
Manage the time in between
Take notes throughout
Save time for questions
Conclude with action items
Reevaluate the effectiveness
Follow-up with an email summary
01. Decide whether or not to host the meeting
The type of meeting you’re hosting sets the tone for everything from the agenda to who should be invited. Is this a repetitive weekly or monthly meeting where teammates speak about their current and ongoing projects? Or is it an irregular meeting set to discuss a special project or sensitive information? Whichever is the case, decide if having a meeting is your most effective option.
For repetitive meetings, sometimes it’s not worthwhile to host it. If you’re doing so out of formality, such as the obligatory weekly update meetings, ask yourself if it makes more sense to just send an email with all of the information instead. Then, allow smaller groups to meet to discuss their relevant projects together when appropriate. This will save everyone time and probably result in a sigh of relief for your ex-attendees.
For irregular meetings revolving around specific updates or projects, it will almost certainly make sense that you do in fact hold a meeting. The information you’re sharing is new to all parties involved, and, therefore, probably worth their time and attention to bring them on board and in line with your ideas and game plan.
02. Set an agenda in advance
The golden rule of effective meetings: Don’t waste people’s time.
Now, to ensure that you stick to this, you’ll want to establish an objective such as, “This meeting is being held to discuss plans for the upcoming marketing campaign.” Okay, great! You are hosting a meeting with a true purpose. That’s step one.
Now, write out an agenda beginning with that purpose bolded at the very top. Next, include bulleted points explaining what you’ll discuss in the meeting. This is sort of a sneak peak that gives your attendees a clear idea of what to expect, and also gives them the opportunity to prepare any materials or questions they have ahead of time. You can write your agenda in the form of a handout or email, which you’ll deliver in advance. And by ‘in advance,’ this means more than a day before, not just a few minutes.
When attendees show up to the meeting, have this agenda also visible somewhere in the room for them to easily spot. Both them and you will want to reference it throughout the meeting to stay focused and on track. You can print out a handout again, or put it on a presentation screen or a white board (and also save the environment while you’re at it).
03. Review your guest list
One vital checklist item to do is make sure that every single person will benefit from this meeting is by reviewing your guest list. First, you want to make sure that everyone that should be invited is.
After setting your clear intentions for the agenda, you’ll be able to pinpoint which people at your company are necessary to invite based on their connection to those responsibilities. Without key players in decision-making processes around, you won’t be able to drive effective results from your meeting.
On the other side, the ‘not wasting anyone's time’ side, check that you didn’t invite people that don’t need to be there. For example, did you plan to invite someone to the meeting just out of formality reasons? You’ll actually be doing them a huge favor by opening up that time slot in their day.
04. Start and end on time
Nothing is more unprofessional than coming late to a meeting that you called, that’s a fact. Respect your guests’ time by showing up at least five minutes before the scheduled meeting time. This will set the tone, as well as allow you to start on time if any technicalities come up.
Once the clock strikes meeting hour, start immediately. Another way to emphasize your intent for timeliness is to not wait on guests that are late. By doing so, they will learn that in future meetings with you, tardiness is not acceptable behavior.
Then, only allow the meeting to run until the end time you scheduled. Everyone has other places to be or tasks to do, so don’t allow your meeting to run over and interfere with those priorities. If you didn’t get through all of your material, you can determine if it’s necessary to host another meeting, or if placing this content in the follow-up email is sufficient.
05. Manage the time in between
As the meeting host, it’s your duty to make sure that the agenda is followed and that everything is going according to plan. To ensure that you start and end when you’re supposed to, you’ll need to keep track of your ordered goals and the time.
Here, it’s also super important to make sure that you don’t get off topic. Naturally, this does happen, we are all human of course. Even so, it doesn’t mean that it’s impossible to switch back into the right gear. An easy fix is to save a space on the white board or designate a meeting attendee to mark down these items that are brought up as ‘come back to later’ in order to allow time for the intended discussion points to be addressed first.
06. Take notes throughout
The main point of taking notes during the meeting is to make sure that you address concerns and tasks requested from you afterwards. You should also request that the attendees do the same, and preferably on pen and paper to avoid distractions.
If it’s too much for you to write and host, you can assign an attendee to take minutes (an almost word-for-word written summary of the meeting’s discussion) or condensed notes of the topics covered. After the meeting, you’ll be able to share it with the attendees for them to go over, or extend it to the people that couldn’t make it but need to catch up.
07. Save time for questions
When planning your time for each agenda item of the meeting, also save a space for questions. As you’ll find yourself strictly staying on topic after accounting for the points in this guide (we hope!), a designated question time will make room for some flexibility. In other words, it will allow attendees to have their opinions heard and clarify anything that they didn’t understand. Plus, when you let your attendees know that you have reserved a time for questions, there’s a smaller chance that you’ll be interrupted at other moments during the meeting.
08. Conclude with action items
Again, it’s important to save a space. Your action items define why you held this meeting in the first place. It’s important to keep in mind that effective meetings should always come with intentions in order to drive results. Action items are everything that you want to come out of your meeting, such as deadlines, goals, and highlights, as well as assigned attendees who are relevant to each of those things.
09. Reevaluate the effectiveness
After your meeting, it’s time to reflect. Ask yourself if, in your opinion, the meeting produced the results you intended it to. Do you feel that you were able to get your point across? Do you feel that attendees were engaged and responsive? These are all important components of running effective meetings.
Aside from your own perspective, you can reach out to your guests for theirs. Ask them if they found the meeting to be useful, from the length, to the information presented, to the way it was delivered. Depending on the size of the attendance list, you can either ask individuals face-to-face or create and send out a survey over email.
10. Follow-up with an email summary
Get in the habit of sending a follow-up email within a day of the meeting. If the meeting is held at the end of the day, you can send it out the next morning. If it’s held at the beginning of the day, you should shoot for sending a follow-up that same day.
In this email, include an outline of the action plan once more along with other critical points mentioned during the meeting that you want to reiterate. If you find it necessary, you can also send out minutes. And if there is something you didn’t have time to address but don’t want to host another meeting for, you can throw it in your email too. Lastly, use this as a time to remind people of their responsibilities and tasks related to the meeting.
The results of this final step are what will determine your overall ability to have effective meeting management.
By Jennifer Kaplan
Small Business Expert & Writer