Meeting Management – How to Meet

Richard H. Ryder, 2017

In part one of this meeting management article I described the steps one should take before holding a meeting, which included the following: have a clear understanding of what one hopes to accomplish, why a meeting is necessary, when to hold a meeting, where to hold a meeting, and who should attend.  If you have not read part one you may do so via the following link: Meeting Management – Part 1. This second installment will discuss how to hold an effective meeting.

Agenda

The first step is to create a concise, clear, and specific agenda to send to all participants prior to the meeting.  This sets the stage for the meeting and, if done correctly, sets realistic expectations.  This step should not be taken lightly.  Participants need to know why they are taking time out of their busy schedules and why they should attend.  During the meeting the agenda will help you stay on track and ensure that you accomplish your goals.

Here are the key details of the agenda, some of which seem obvious but are often left out:

  • Date (including the day)
  • Location
  • Start and end time
  • Attendees
  • Pre-meeting action items – what to read or bring
  • Agenda items/topics, including a brief description, name of the person running the topic discussion, start and end time for the discussion

Often, I attend meetings without an agenda. Then, not surprised, I observe a meeting that wanders through topics that may or may not be pertinent to the perceived goal.  Without a clear understanding of desired topics or time frames, participants perceive a green light to add topics to the discussion or wander off into the purgatory of meaningless digression.  Nothing kills a meeting better than not having an advertised agenda with time frames.  The agenda topic identifies the focus of the discussion; the timeframe reflects the relative amount of time allocated to the respective discussion.

Click HERE for a meeting agenda example.

Roles

It is the responsibility of the meeting facilitator to keep the participants focused and on topic, and within the allotted time frame; it is the responsibility of the participants to concisely stay on topic.

Out of respect to the attendees it is the responsibility of the facilitator to start on time and end on time; likewise, the participants should appear on time, then remain focused on the agenda to ensure the meeting ends on schedule.  Not starting and ending on time is disrespectful to fellow participants and disruptive to the flow of the meeting.  Being late and hijacking the meeting in meaningless directions are actions that are disrespectful, unproductive, and avoidable.  The facilitator must set expectations at the very beginning of each meeting that he/she will follow time frames for the benefit of all.  He/she needs to state very clearly that, although not an enviable responsibility, they may need to cut off discussion or redirect discussion back to the topic to ensure attainment of meeting goals.  Participants need to respect the facilitator’s request and behave accordingly.

All participants should prepare accordingly to avoid spending time at the meeting going over material that could have been reviewed ahead of time.  The meeting is not the place to read material for the first time, but rather to discuss the merits of a given item or items.  An exception may be sensitive material that is not appropriate for the public domain or late breaking items where pre-distribution is not possible.

Participants should come to the meeting with all applicable documents and tools for taking notes.  With few exceptions, participants should be accountable enough to adhere to these simple requirements.

Not all meetings require a scribe, but having one helps to record the discussion for future reference.  If effective notes are not taken, by either the facilitator of the scribe, events are left to the memory of those who attended and is fodder for the dissemination of miss-information.

Presentation Material

There will be times when a flip chart, white board, or projection will enhance the conversation and help focus the meeting.  The facilitator should determine the need for these tools ahead of time.  Likewise, it is always advisable for facilitators to arrive well in advance of the meeting to ensure there are no presentation related problems.  Also, an early arrival provides an opportunity to greet attendees and introduce oneself to unknown participants. If electronic media is required, the facilitator should familiarize himself/herself with the correct operating procedures or find someone to assume that role.

Wrap-up and Next Meeting Date

Facilitators should devote the last five to ten minutes to summarizing what was accomplished during the meeting and what remains for a follow-up session.  This helps ensure there are no misunderstandings prior to adjournment.  If a second meeting is necessary the best time to schedule it is now, while all attendees are in the room.

After the meeting, as soon as possible, the facilitator or scribe should create and distribute meeting minutes to all attendees.  This is important for three reasons.  First, to create an accurate audit trail of the meeting proceedings. Second, if there are any errors or omissions they can be corrected to everyone’s satisfaction.  This is important, since meeting minutes are often referenced in the future for clarity of what was discussed and agreed to; as such, accuracy is paramount. Third, the distribution of meeting minutes brings formal closure to the meeting.

Click HERE for a meeting minutes example.

Remote Meetings

For a variety of reasons, as delineated in part one of this Meeting Management series, a meeting may need to occur remotely, via a conference call, social media, or an online meeting application.  As such, facilitators and participants must be extra cautious about following good meeting management protocol.

Since the benefit of eye to eye contact, facial expressions, and body language is missing, control of the meeting, staying on topic, and good behavior can be easily and subconsciously compromised.  Participants must speak slowly and clearly, properly enunciating each word. Participants must also refrain from hiding behind the perceived protection of a remote location and work hard at choosing words that will not inflame the discussion of sensitive or emotional topics.  Where video is involved, participants should dress appropriately in accordance with the level of professionalism under which the meeting is being held.  In summary, use common sense and behave as if all participants are in the same room.

Summary

Meetings certainly have their place within any organization, but they should be used judiciously.  During those times when a meeting makes sense, applying sound meeting management skills will help ensure your meetings are effective and productive. Well organized meetings can save time in the long run, since all stakeholders are together for a common purpose. In my experience, most attendees do not mind attending a meeting that is well planned, effectively managed, and productive.  Consider all this the next time you consider calling a meeting.

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