How to Run Effective Meetings: Strategy, Tactics, and the Almighty Agenda
“With great power comes great responsibility.”
These words ring true whether you’re fighting crime or... running a meeting.
But whether the power of a meeting is used for good or bad varies. Unfortunately, for most companies, it’s bad.
In a survey of 182 senior managers, 71% said their meetings are unproductive and 62% said: “meetings miss opportunities to bring the team closer together.”
The implications of this are serious. In one study, poorly run meetings were associated with reduced market share and innovation and a higher rate of employee turnover.
Fortunately, with a thoughtful approach, meetings that stimulate creativity and inspire action aren’t so hard to come by. To that end, we’re going to walk through:
- What you need to create a strategy that’s conducive to more effective meetings.
- The steps you need to take to lead a successful business meeting.
- How to continue to improve your ability to get more out of your meetings.
The Ingredients of an Effective Meeting Strategy
You may be a natural born leader, but if no one in the room, video conference, or on the call knows why they’re there, your meeting will fail.
The success of any business meeting is as much about what you do before the meeting as it is about what you do once it has started.
That’s why you need an effective meeting strategy before you send out any invites.
The Logistics: Effective Meeting Guidelines
Think of your meeting guidelines as the rules of the game—these are the guidelines you must follow if you hope to run an effective meeting.
1. Establishing an Objective and Purpose
Take the time to define what results you hope to achieve in the meeting. A few examples of meeting objectives include:
- To get progress reports on projects.
- To make a decision.
- To solicit ideas from your team.
It’s up to you to define the exact details of your objective—these are just a few examples. The important thing is that the objective is clearly defined, documented, and communicated.
This way, participants will be better prepared to contribute, which makes it easier for you to keep the meeting on track. Plus, when the meeting’s over, you’ll know if it was successful based on whether or not you’ve accomplished the stated objective.
For more advice on the right (and wrong) way to state the purpose of meeting, check out this short video.
2. Creating and Circulating the Meeting Agenda
Your agenda is the roadmap to your meeting’s objective. Again, the exact details of what to include may vary, but the goal of the agenda is to lay out:
- The objective of the meeting.
- What topics should be covered, in what order, and for how long.
- Who will be included in the meeting.
- Where and when the meeting will be.
Given that different teams have different types of meetings, agenda formats can vary. You can create consistency by setting up shareable meeting note templates to serve as your agenda’s starting point for each meeting.
Circulate the agenda to meeting participants as soon as you can. But don’t just send the agenda and be done with it. Lay out what (if anything) everyone needs to do to be prepared for the meeting.
Solicit feedback and find out if any topic is missing. This will give your participants more ownership of the meeting (a good thing) and it’ll reveal challenges that must be addressed.
At this point, you can also share the agenda with anyone who can’t make the meeting so they can be kept in the loop.
3. Nailing the Logistics
Well-run meetings start on time. That means any equipment you need is set up, seating is figured out, and anyone who needs to call in can do so easily.
The last thing you want is a room full of impatient people watching over your shoulder as you try to figure out how to share your screen.
Create your own meeting logistics checklist so you don’t miss anything. Make sure to include variables such as:
- Catering or refreshments.
- Any materials needed for the meeting.
- Technology set-up requirements.
- Seating arrangements and room setup.
How much time you allocate for any given meeting is also a important factor. Many meetings are scheduled to be longer than they actually need to be, leading to meeting burnout and a feeling of time being wasted.
If you want to try to take a long meeting and trim it down, here's a quick video on cutting your meeting time in half.
Ground Rules of Meeting Participation
Jeff Bezos made it a rule at Amazon that everyone is only allowed to use narrative memos as documentation for meetings as opposed to any type of PowerPoint-style presentation.
You don’t have to copy Bezos, but it is up to you to form ground rules or “meeting etiquette” that gels with your company’s unique culture, style, and communication preferences.
Think about how you’d like people to behave in your meetings. Then, create rules that govern:
- When people can or can’t speak.
- Use of technology such as laptops, cellphones, etc.
- Eating or drinking during the meeting.
- How to ensure virtual employees or contractors are included.
- Anything else that’s expected of meeting participants.
The key to keeping the number of meetings under control is asking yourself one question:
Is this meeting really necessary?
Research from MIT showed that the average employee spends nearly six hours per week in meetings. For senior managers, that number balloons to 23. And 25 to 50 percent of the time, those meetings are ineffective.
The cost to employers is huge. But you can fight back by avoiding the default habit of calling a meeting.
Consider alternatives. Maybe you can accomplish what you need to with two, short one-on-one meetings with a couple of key people rather than calling an all-hands meeting.
Regardless, the important thing is to get in the habit of only calling a meeting when it’s the only way to accomplish your goal.
Running a Successful Meeting
With an effective meeting strategy in place, running a successful meeting is as simple as sticking to your plan.
If you haven’t run many meetings, it’ll take some practice. But follow these steps, and you’ll quickly get comfortable.
Kicking off the Meeting
The meeting kickoff sets the tone for your discussion. In it, make sure to reiterate:
- The objective of your meeting.
- Ground rules specific to the type of meeting you’re running.
- A brief overview of the discussion topic or topics.
Once you’ve reviewed these things, get the meeting started. Avoid slowing the momentum by recapping for latecomers. They can catch up with their agenda.
Stick to the Agenda
As the meeting gets going, people will get off topic. As the leader, you must head distractions off before they derail the meeting.
It’s also up to you to make sure the group gets to discuss all the topics they need to.
If needed, use the agenda as your tool to guide the discussion back to the appropriate topic or on to the next subject. And don’t be afraid to interrupt.
Know Your Role as Discussion Leader
As the discussion leader, your job is more than just making sure every agenda item has been hit.
For example, if people aren’t contributing or they’re getting talked over, it’s up to you to help give them a voice. Solicit contributions, come back to people who’ve been interrupted, and tell others to avoid interrupting speakers.
This can be especially critical for remote workers who call in. As discussion leader, you chose every participant for a reason, so you need their contributions whether they’re on the phone or in the room.
After the Meeting: Connect, Share, and Improve
The end of a meeting means a decision was made, a conclusion was reached, or ideas were generated. In any case, those decisions, conclusions, or ideas must inform your next steps.
Otherwise, your meeting may as well have not happened.
To avoid this, connect the information generated in the meeting to the tools where the work is being done, such as a CRM or project management software.
Also, while running an effective meeting requires that you be selective about who to include, others in your company will benefit from the information discussed in your meeting.
You could recap your meeting in an email. Or, even better, share your meeting notes and recap in a company chat.
Finally, don’t stop improving. Solicit feedback from meeting participants; find out what they thought was most valuable or needed improvement.
In addition to sparking new ideas, soliciting feedback will make your meetings more collaborative, effective, and (dare we say it?) fun.