Most people hate meetings, but that's usually because they are perceived as inefficient or pointless. Meetings, when executed properly, can be highly productive, enlightening, worthwhile affairs. The trick is to set one up with a clear agenda, and keep everybody accountable for his or her participation--which is easier said than done.

Thankfully, with a bit of work and a bit of practice, you can improve your efficiency at holding meetings, and repair the damaged reputation they might have earned in your office. With this playbook, you'll be able to create an environment before, during, and after your meeting that allows true progress to be made.

Before the Meeting

Before the meeting, your job should be to create an environment that allows a successful one to take place. That means determining the need for a meeting, assembling the right team for it, and setting the expectations and agenda.

State the Purpose of the Meeting

Before you do any planning, try to summarize the point of the meeting in one sentence. Explain exactly what the intended benefits or goals are in one sentence. If you can't, you probably don't need to have a meeting. If you can only state the goals in very general terms--such as "update on progress," you also probably do not need to have a meeting. Success is defined as achieving a goal, so without a specific goal, your meeting can't be successful.

Find the Relevant Parties to Attend

If you're like most businesses, you have a usual roster of meeting attendees who get lumped into the meeting invite as a routine. This isn't always the most productive system, however. Having an attendee who doesn't need to be there wastes valuable company time, while neglecting the inclusion of a valuable party could jeopardize the completeness of the meeting. Think carefully and critically about exactly who does and who doesn't need to be there. Only include the people who will actively participate in discussion and evaluation.

Set Clear Expectations for Each Party

As an extension of establishing a specific roster of attendees, it's important to set goals for each member of the group. For example, if you're including one of your accountants, what is he or she expected to bring to the meeting? In order for the meeting to be successful, it's important that you clearly explain its general purpose to each individual, as well as the reason why he or she has been included. This will allow your attendees to prepare well in advance and bring exactly what is needed to progress the discussion.

Set an Agenda to Be Followed, With Time Limitations if Necessary

The day before the meeting (or, if under time constraints, a few hours beforehand), send out a reminder email with an agenda attached. This agenda should reiterate the purpose of the meeting, as well as provide a clear set of discussion points or action items to tackle as a group. If you've set the meeting for a specific block of time, it can be valuable to assign a time limit to each segment of the meeting. For example, for an hourlong marketing meeting, you could allocate 15 minutes to go over last year's results, 30 minutes to brainstorm new strategies, and 15 minutes to put together an outline to move forward.

During the Meeting

After the preparatory work is done, you'll need to take efforts to keep the meeting on point and all the members of the team involved. Active management of the meeting, while it is in progress, can keep it from getting off track or dwindling too long on unnecessary points.

Reiterate the Expectations of the Meeting

While it may seem redundant, it's a good idea to start the meeting off with a reiteration of its primary objectives. This is useful for two reasons: First, you explain the purpose of the meeting to anyone who didn't take the time to read your preparatory messages, and second, you open the floor to any questions or concerns about the meeting's topic. Once this is out of the way, you can move the meeting forward.

Follow the Agenda Without Compromising the Overall Goals

You created the agenda for a reason. The meeting leader is responsible for ensuring the execution of the agenda, point by point, and keeping each segment within the determined time constraints. However, following the agenda too strictly can be problematic for the meeting--remember its primary goals, and keep your adherence to the agenda compliant with those goals. For example, if your goal is to allocate a marketing budget for the coming month, and you've run past your 15-minute time limit for planning, it's worth extending that time limit to come to a natural and complete close.

Allow Each Person to Speak

You invited each person because he or she was essential for the meeting. Make sure each person brings something to the table. Hold each person accountable for delivering on the goals and expectations you laid out for him or her, and if the meeting comes to a halt, feel free to select individuals to voice their opinions or drive the meeting forward. The key here is maintaining momentum, and keeping each individual involved in the process is one of the best ways to accomplish that.

Open for Questions

People are going to have questions during your meeting, sooner or later. You might want to dedicate an entire portion of your agenda to questions and answers, or you might want to give opportunities for questions throughout the meeting. Either way, leave time to recap, address concerns, and clarify any points for your attendees.

After the Meeting

Your job as the meeting's organizer doesn't stop when the meeting ends. Some of the most important elements of a successful meeting occur only after it's over--recapping the most important events and holding your attendees accountable for their action items.

Recap Action Items

At the end of the meeting, before the group is dismissed, it's important to address each action item as it pertains to each individual. This will clear up any confusion about who is responsible for what moving forward, and will give your attendees one final chance to jot down their upcoming responsibilities as a result of the meeting.

Send a Group Email With Notes

After the group has left, spend some time formalizing your notes and organizing them in a way that recaps the meeting and covers the major takeaways. Then, email your notes to the group, and ask if there was anything you missed--there's always the possibility that another attendee remembers something you don't.

Include Specific Points and Times for Follow-up

In your recap email, make sure to acknowledge your suggestions for follow-ups, including the due dates for various action items and a time to meet again. This will keep the group accountable, and set a timeline for events moving forward.

It's difficult, but not impossible, to hold a good meeting. It takes time to prepare, effort to maintain, and discipline to follow up properly. Setting goals, establishing a structure, and holding every participant accountable can give you exactly the resources you need to create a clear course for a productive meeting.

Published on: Dec 29, 2014
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