Start with an agenda/End with an action plan.
Every meeting should be administered according to an agenda. The agenda puts forth the reason for the meeting and lists what needs to be accomplished over the course of the meeting. Ideally, the agenda should be given to attendees prior to the meeting so they can come prepared – both mentally and with whatever resources they need in order to contribute to the topics to be covered. As each topic is addressed, tasks necessary to follow up on the agenda items must be assigned. These assignments form the action plan which is designed to ensure the meeting accomplishes the stated purpose(s). The action plan needs to include the tasks along with the names of those responsible for each task. It should also include a due date for each task.
Start on time/Stay on topic.
Always begin (and end) your meeting on time. If people are late, do not allow their entrance to interrupt the meeting in progress. Do not recap what has already been discussed. Do not acknowledge their tardiness in front of the group. If you consistently begin on time and show by your actions that latecomers are not given any preferential treatment you will discover that attendees will soon be present and ready to begin at the stated start time. (How to handle chronic latecomers, as well as how to handle the tardiness of superiors to your meetings will be discussed in another paper.) Once the meeting has begun, use the agenda to move through the topics to be discussed. Do not allow participants to hijack the meeting by initiating new topics or use existing topics as a springboard to a different issue. When you chair a meeting, you will find it necessary to interrupt participants who get off topic. You must do this! Inform them they can bring up their issue at the conclusion of the meeting if time allows or that you will put the topic on the agenda for the next meeting. Then redirect the conversation back to the topic at hand.
Not everyone needs to attend every meeting. When you prepare the agenda, carefully think through each item and make a list of who needs to weigh in on a decision on that topic or who may have the resources you are going to need. You then use this list when determining who to invite to the meeting. Keep in mind what kind of decision you hope to arrive at and what tasks you will assign for follow up on each topic. This will help you as you decide who needs an invitation to attend. For instance, someone who may need to be present as an idea is finalized doesn’t necessarily have to be present during the incubation period of the idea. Limiting the number of attendees at a meeting will not only help to keep the meeting moving and short, but will also dramatically decrease the feelings people have of wasting time in a meeting.
Be aware of the surroundings.
Not every meeting should take place around a table. In fact, not every meeting should take place in a room with chairs. When setting up for your meeting, consider what kind of interaction you believe will help drive the meeting and make certain the surroundings provide the necessary atmosphere to enable that kind of interaction. A planning meeting where participants will be expected to type/write will require a table. A short meeting in which decisions will be made quickly without a great deal of discussion may best be handled in a standing only environment. Other issues related to surroundings would include the availability of necessary supplies/equipment and heating/cooling issues.
Make certain all participants are engaged.
Do not allow one or two attendees to dominate the meeting. If you notice there are participants who are not engaging in the discussion it is your responsibility to draw them in. There are many ways to do this including calling on them by name and asking for their thoughts or conducting the discussion in a fashion which requires each participant to speak when it is their turn. Spectators in meetings are much more likely to feel they are wasting their time than those who are actively engaged. And by receiving input from all participants rather than a select few you are much more likely to hear better ideas. If there are those in the meeting who attempt to do all the speaking, politely, but firmly let them know you’d like to hear from the others. If they don’t get the hint, go back to tip #3, make note of their behavior and don’t invite them to future meetings.
Give value to each meeting and to each participant.
One of the worst things you can do subsequent to a meeting is to not follow through. That’s why you develop the action plan prior to adjournment. If participants see their ideas and input evolve into to some form of action, they understand the time they invested in the meeting has value. It may also be a worthwhile investment on your part to touch base with a participant who shared ideas in the meeting which were not implemented. By letting them know they were heard they will be more apt to contribute again in future meetings. When participants believe a meeting has value and is not a waste of their time, they will be more likely to attend, be on time, come prepared and offer valuable contributions.