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Notice that the title of this blog post was not, “How to Run a Meeting.” Anyone can facilitate a meeting, but not everyone has the tools to make it efficient and, therefore, effective. There is no greater waste of time than a meeting that could have been an email. Meetings are a necessary part of almost every workplace. When properly conducted, they can be extremely beneficial for collaboration and team building. However, when added to the calendar without any planning, they can feel arduous and quickly become the bane of your coworkers’ existence. A few minutes of preparation can increase productivity and decrease companywide headaches.
Clearly Define the Goal of the Meeting
We’ve all walked into a meeting without knowing the intent. Did you leave feeling a sense of clarity and accomplishment? Or, did you leave thinking, “Wait. So what was the purpose of that again?" We’ve all likely experienced both. It is critical that the goal of the meeting is clearly defined and, more importantly, stated so that all attendees are aligned on why they were called together. As you set the intention for the meeting, ask yourself if it's necessary to have a discussion in person or if you can get what you need through an email or phone call.
Start each meeting by stating the purpose and what you are collectively trying to accomplish. Include the goal in the meeting invite so attendees can familiarize themselves and prepare if necessary in advance.
Prepare An Agenda
Now that you’ve established the purpose of the meeting, you need a roadmap to guide the discussion and keep dialogue on track, ensuring all key topics are outlined and therefore reviewed. The goal should inform the agenda. Outlining the flow of the meeting in advance keeps the conversation productive. Not only define what needs to be discussed, but how long it needs to be discussed for. Agendas can be as detailed as you’d like, broken out minute by minute if necessary. Assign ownership of specific agenda items so attendees understand their responsibilities. For example, if you are reviewing a design layout with a client, that portion of the meeting should be assigned to the Art Director.
Send out the agenda in advance. Allow attendees to review the talking points, prepare their thoughts and, if necessary, raise any flags prior to the meeting.
Parking Lot and Tables
Conversations are inevitably going to spiral from time to time. A great way to rein attendees back in is to place topics that are important, but not relevant to the current meeting, in a “parking lot” or to “table” the conversation. This simply means the discussion at hand is on hold and will be revisited after the meeting.
Suggest to table a conversation before it gets too out of control. Meeting times are limited so you don’t want to let the dialogue go on for 30 minutes before redirecting. Typically you can sense when a conversation is about to spiral. When there is a pause in conversation, or at an appropriate moment to do so, restate the goal of the meeting, why this particular topic is not conducive to achieving that goal, and note that it can be continued at a later time. Remind everyone where you were in the agenda and pick it up from there.
Send a Meeting Recap
The single most important part of a meeting are the notes. Send a meeting recap with clear next steps and action items. What is the action? Who should complete the action? When does the action need to be completed by? Schedule follow up meetings if necessary.
In summary, the basics and foundation of an effective meeting should:
- Include an agenda and goals
- Stay focused and table irrelevant topics
- Provide a recap summary & action items
Everyone has their own style of meetings and what works for one group may not work for another. But as long as the established goal of the meeting is achieved, and the discussion is transitioned into action items, then we’ve done our job.