We've all experienced it: walking out of a meeting feeling like nothing was accomplished. Time is money, and there's nothing more frustrating than sitting through a poorly-run meeting while thinking about all of the other tasks you could have accomplished in the same amount of time.
The reality is that, like it or not, meetings are an integral part of the business world, in virtually every industry and profession, and, done correctly, can be incredibly productive and useful. The issue is that many people don't know how to run an effective meeting, which means that a lot of the time, meetings aren't being used to their full potential.
While holding a meeting doesn't necessarily seem like something that requires a lot of skill, there's actually an art to running a meeting, and having those skills will serve you well for the rest of your career. And the best part? It's not that complicated - there are a few key things you can do to make meetings run more smoothly, and to ensure that the next time you're leading a meeting, it'll be a success.
How to Run an Effective Meeting
Here are some of our top tips for leading effective meetings.
Designate a Meeting Leader
A lot of poorly-run meetings result from a lack of leadership. It's important to designate a person to lead the discussion - often, this will be the most senior person in the room, or the person who called the meeting, but not always. No matter who it is, it's essential to have one point person who can help direct the conversation and keep things on track. Leading the meeting doesn't mean dominating the discussion; rather, it entails setting expectations, paying attention to the flow of the conversation, keeping people on-topic and on-schedule, asking follow-up questions where necessary, and defining next steps at the end of the meeting.
State the Purpose
It should go without saying, but every meeting called should have a clear purpose, whether it's a regularly-scheduled update meeting or a meeting to discuss a specific project or issue. This purpose should be stated upfront and ideally communicated to the meeting participants ahead of time, so they have time to prepare. If you can't answer the question, "Why is this meeting being held?" then you should reconsider if it's worth having.
Put Together an Agenda
Even the most casual of meetings should have some kind of an agenda. In some regularly-occurring meetings, the agenda might be unspoken or informal (for example, in a weekly team check-in, everyone might know that they will each be expected to deliver an update on projects and accomplishments). In most cases, though, you'll want to have a clear list of items that need to be covered. This not only prevents things from falling through the cracks, but gives you a framework to structure the meeting around. Depending on the formality and importance of the meeting, you may want to circulate the agenda beforehand, so people can take notes and gather relevant information to make best use of the meeting time.
Carefully Consider the Attendees
Before sending out a meeting invitation, take a moment to think clearly about who should be participating in the meeting, and why. The meeting topic should be relevant to every person in the room (and that relevance should be made clear - if you're including someone who isn't directly involved in the project being discussed, let them know why you're asking them to participate so they understand their role). People are busy, so don't just invite the entire team if the meeting will only be valuable to half of them - if you respect people's time and are thoughtful about the number of meeting invitations you're sending out, people will tend to be more fully engaged in the meetings that they do participate in. Your team will appreciate it!
Identify a Note-Taker
Almost all meetings will require notes to be taken. In some meetings, like regular team check-ins, individuals will usually take their own notes on the things that are most pertinent to them. But in project-focused meetings, it can be helpful to nominate someone as the designated note-taker for the group (ideally, someone who can type quickly and is a good multi-tasker). This frees up other people to concentrate fully on the discussion at hand, and gives you a good record of information to refer to down the line. Google Docs are great for this - that way the notes are immediately shareable, and other team members can add in additional thoughts or missing pieces of information as applicable.
Change Up the Routine
Recurring meetings, like weekly check-ins, can get stale after a while if they follow the same format week after week. While you can maintain a general, loose structure, allow some flexibility so things don't get boring. Change the order in which people deliver their updates, for example, or take a week to do a deep-dive on a specific issue or topic that is relevant to the whole team. Or, if you have to stick to a set structure, changing the location of your meeting can help keep things fresh and new - try a different conference room, or, if the weather's nice, sit outside.
Although it's important to try to stay on-topic and on-schedule out of respect for people's time, don't be too rigid about this. If the conversation diverts in a new, unexpected direction, let it unfold (as long as it's still productive). If you are approaching the end of the meeting but the discussion is still going strong, don't cut things short - if possible, extend the meeting to allow the conversation to wrap up more naturally (or, if people have conflicts, schedule a followup meeting).
Allow Time for Brainstorming
The value of a meeting is that it brings people together to discuss things in-depth, and brainstorming is an essential piece of that. When appropriate, give the group the time and freedom to share individual perspectives and bounce thoughts off of one another - some of the best ideas are generated through collective thinking.
Let Other People Talk
Give people a chance to express themselves. While some meetings, by nature, will involve more sharing on the behalf of the meeting leader and won't necessarily lend themselves well to group discussion, oftentimes, leaders overlook opportunities to get group input. Opening up the meeting towards the end for insights and feedback is a great way to show that you value the opinions of your team.
End the Meeting with Action Items
Wrapping up the meeting effectively is an important aspect of leading meetings. At the end of the meeting, try to summarize the takeaways and establish next steps for the group. If individuals have specific tasks they'll need to complete, reiterate what it is that they're expected to do, and the timeframe they have to complete it. Make sure these action items are included in the meeting notes, and are followed up on the next time the group comes together.
Get Input From Your Team
Finally, why not ask your team how they think your meetings could improve? They might have some ideas that could shape how you lead meetings, and honoring their preferences could result in increased productivity and motivation - making your meetings more effective than ever!
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