Posted: Thu 10th Jan 2013
Whether you're meeting in person or holding a virtual meeting, the following ten tips will help you to run a meeting that is focused, well managed and produces clear outcomes.
Don't hold a meeting for the sake of it, but communicate what it is intended to achieve. It's important that your meeting has a clear aim and that you share this with participants ahead of time via an agenda.
An agenda should list a small number of items to be discussed (allowing everyone to prepare and bring along necessary material). Keep these items relevant to all participants and don't try to achieve too much with an overloaded agenda - the best meetings are relatively short and focused. If something is a matter for you and just one other participant, save it for a separate meeting.
Make sure everyone at the meeting has the information they need to take part in discussions and contribute to decisions - and give people enough time to read any supporting materials ahead of the meeting.
If you have several items, allocate them to the relevant people in the meeting to introduce/present before leading a discussion. Include everyone who is present in the meeting if possible. Delegate and include.
And stick to it. People are busy and they don't want to spend their whole day in a meeting; they're also likely to lose concentration and become restless if they're asked to focus for too long (typically, people start losing concentration after about half an hour). If your meeting is likely to be longer, build in a short break and offer tea and coffee. Set an approximate time limit, communicate it, stick to it.
If you've invited someone to a meeting, presumably it's either because:
you value the skills, expertise or products they can offer your business
you have skills, expertise or products you can offer them.
In both cases, it's important to listen, either to their advice (that you're paying for) or to concerns and needs (so you can address or meet them). Don't talk too much - a classic mistake for chairs is to dominate the meeting with their view.
Make notes of key points as the meeting proceeds and summarise what's been said at the end of each item. Then agree an action point and give someone responsibility for carrying out the action - with a deadline.
If you're struggling to reach agreement on an item, you typically have three options:
Put it to a vote
Make an executive decision (if you are in a position to do so)
If the issue is to do with a lack of information, defer further discussion until another meeting, ensuring that one of your action points is for someone to gather and distribute the information needed to make the decision.
In any case, don't allow disagreements to drag out; once contrasting points of view have been expressed, sum them up and take action.
It's common for a meeting agenda to include 'Any other business' as a final item. This is an opportunity for people to raise relevant matters that may not have been part of an agenda. Always ask people if there's anything that's been overlooked that should have been discussed or should be included at a follow-up meeting.
The meeting doesn't finish once you've called time and said goodbye. Follow up with a list of action points, clearly delegated, and distribute these to everyone who was at the meeting. It's important that everyone has the same sense of what was accomplished and what needs to happen next.
If you stick to the tips above, you should find that any meeting you hold runs smoothly and productively. Our tips are not an exhaustive list, however, so we'd love to hear your advice, too. Please add your own tips for running successful meetings below! Photo credit: David Wall
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