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How to Hold Effective Meetings at Work

Updated on June 6, 2017
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Sally Hayes is a business communications coach who teaches speaking and leadership skills to adults in the midst of a career change.

Meetings are one of the most common ways people communicate with one another at work. When done right, meetings can reduce misunderstandings, generate new ideas, reinforce common team goals and solve problems. In most organizations, meetings are an important part of the decision-making process. But a smart leader also knows that every time he calls a meeting, his employees are being taken away from the work they’ve been hired to do. When not properly planned and executed, meetings can leave people people frustrated, taken for granted, and overworked.

Participants should leave meetings feeling empowered and inspired, not confused and disillusioned. Here are some tips and suggestions to help you lead effective and enjoyable meetings in the workplace. When planned carefully, meetings end with everyone feeling like something meaningful has been accomplished.

Holding an effective meetings starts with choosing the right space to gather. Make sure to book your meeting room well in advance so that it's available when you need it.
Holding an effective meetings starts with choosing the right space to gather. Make sure to book your meeting room well in advance so that it's available when you need it.

Decide where to hold the meeting. Pick the right meeting location and make sure you have booked it with a reasonable buffer of time before and after the meeting so that you can set-up the room, greet guests and answer their questions afterwards. By creating space before and after the main part of the meeting, you’ll avoid those awkward situations where people show up before you’re ready or the meeting runs overtime and you have to hurry out of the room so the group scheduled after you can start on time.

Understand what type of meeting you’re going to have. Is it going to be a collaborative meeting where everyone will be expected to participate in the discussion, or is it going to be a meeting where you’re doing most of the talking? Generally speaking, there are three main types of meetings based on the flow of information.

  • Information-dissemination meetings: The leader presents facts, explains a new policy direction, or demonstrates a process or procedure. There may be time for participants to ask questions after the main presentation but for the most part, the information flows from the top down.
  • Information-gathering meetings: The leader seeks input and feedback from the participants. For example, sub-committee chairs may be asked to provide their group’s findings. Or perhaps the meeting leader needs ideas to help improve manufacturing or administrative processes and wants to give staff a chance to offer their ideas. In this type meeting, the flow of information is from the group participants up to the leader.
  • Collaborative meetings: Brainstorming sessions, interactive workshops, strategic planning and meetings whose purpose is to generate ideas to solve a problem or develop a plan moving forward call for a mutual flow of information back and forth. In these types of sessions, the meeting leader often serves as a facilitator who keeps things running smoothly and channels the group’s creative energy into useful solutions that serve the entire organization.

Circulate an agenda in advance. By sending an agenda to all of the meeting attendees ahead of time, people can properly prepare for their role. They’ll know what issues are being discussed, which sections they’ll be expected to speak about and who else will be at the meeting. It’s simply unprofessional and ineffective to expect people to show up for a meeting they can’t prepare for. You’re organizing a business meeting, not a surprise party, so be sure to provide clear information.

Invite the right people to the meeting. Have you ever been sitting in a meeting and wondered why on earth you were there? The issues being discussed don’t affect your department, you don’t have the experience or specialized knowledge needed to contribute to the discussion or you have a tight deadline for a departmental project of your own and you just don’t have time to spare. Yes, unfortunately some managers plan meetings with a ‘the more, the merrier’ mindset and instead of inviting just the people who most need to discuss the issues on the agenda, a blanket invite is sent out and people from all corners of the organization are expected to attend.

If you want to plan an effective meeting, be selective when you draft your participant list. One way to decide if someone should attend a meeting is to ask yourself whether or not the person will have to carry out any of the decisions made at the meeting. If the answer is yes, then include that person on the invitee list.

Be respectful of other people's time.

The most effective meeting planners are the one's who value the their participants' time as much as they value their own.
The most effective meeting planners are the one's who value the their participants' time as much as they value their own.

Time lost is never found again.

— Benjamin Franklin

Set the tone for the meeting. Arrive early and have your materials organized before the meeting starts. Set up and test your AV equipment before the participants start arriving. By the time they’re walking through the meeting room doors, you should have had time to do a quick grooming check and then be ready to welcome them with a friendly smile and a congenial greeting. Put your meeting participants at ease and make sure they know their presence is appreciated---when the meeting starts, they’ll be more likely to pay attention and stay engaged with what’s going on.

Choose the right room configuration for the meeting. The type of meeting you’re having (information-giving, information-taking, or problem-solving) will help you decide how to set up the tables and chairs. For example, in an information-giving meeting where one person is doing most---if not all---of the speaking, arranging the tables and chairs classroom style with the participants facing the front would be appropriate. In a meeting that’s more interactive, such as a problem-solving meeting where you want people to be able to speak and listen to each other, then a horseshoe setting (a square or rectangle with seats and chairs on three of the fours sides) would be suitable.

Make sure that you’re properly rested and full of energy. As the meeting leader, you set the tone for how the meeting will be run. If you’re stifling yawns or shuffling around the room like your batteries are dying, then you can’t expect others in the room to stay engaged and interested in what you’re saying.

Provide appropriate refreshments. If you’re having a long meeting that will take up most of the morning or afternoon, whenever possible it’s a good idea to provide some sort of light refreshments such as tea, coffee, fruit and tea biscuits to help tide people over. At the very least, provide water. If you can’t provide refreshments, be sure to take a break during the meeting so people can eat their own snacks or grab something from the coffee kiosk.

Get extra practice on how to run effective meetings by taking courses and training programs. The tips and suggestions featured in this article on how to run an effective meeting were inspired by an organization that has been teaching speaking and leadership skills for almost 100 years: Toastmasters International. At a Toastmasters meeting you not only learn how to calm your fears of speaking to an audience, you also learn how to plan and chair a meeting, manage time effectively, deal with distractions and give meaningful feedback and support to your peers. You even learn how to keep your cool and think on your feet when things don’t go as planned.

By developing your meeting and event planning skills as part of your ongoing commitment to professional development, you’ll be setting yourself up for success as you move forward in your career. Who doesn’t love an employee who can masterfully pull an enjoyable, productive meeting together?

© 2017 Sally Hayes

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