Running Effective Meetings

Many people are hired, promoted, or elected into leadership positions without receiving any formal training or education on how to run an effective meeting. But the higher you go in an organization the more meetings you are responsible for! 

Photo by Anneaux Memoire, Wikimedia Commons, GNU Free Documentation License

There are a lot of good reasons for meetings, including providing an opportunity to:

  • Share ideas, information and preferences.
  • Participate in the decision-making process and provide input into decisions.
  • Be identified as able and willing to “champion” initiatives once decisions are made.
  • Come together as part of a larger whole within the organization.

But time, today more than ever, is a critical resource; so it makes sense to become a master of effective meetings rather than suffer through bad ones.

What Makes a Meeting Effective?

According to one survey of 635 executives[1], there are some distinct characteristics that describe good meetings. The following 7 were identified by respondents as the qualities they most want to see in meetings.

  • Active participation (88%)
  • Meeting purpose defined in advance (66%)
  • Each item on the agenda addressed (62%)
  • Follow-up actions and responsibility assigned (59%)
  • Discussions recorded (47%)
  • All (and only) essential personnel invited (46%)
  • Agenda published in advance (36%)

Unfortunately, respondents in the same survey of executives indicated that most meetings:

  • Drift from the subject (83%)
  • Show poor preparation (77%)
  • Are of questionable effectiveness (74%)
  • Suffer from lack of listening (68%)
  • Suffer from verbose participants (62%)
  • Run too long (60%)
  • Lack participation (51%)

Effective meetings don’t just happen. They require deliberate planning and must be conducted effectively and efficiently. The person responsible for making that happen is the person who called the meeting (e.g. project manager, chairperson, manager, CEO, etc.). If that person is you, there are a number of things you can do to ensure that your meetings offer a positive forum for exchange of ideas and information, rather than a dreaded workplace evil.

Before the Meeting

Preparation is one of the most important contributing factors to an effective meeting. Prepare your materials, your thoughts and even the physical (or virtual) space in advance of your meeting for optimal results. Take the time to provide meeting participants with the information they need to plan for and participate in the meeting. For example, think about who needs to attend the meeting. If you are unsure about certain people, speak to them in advance and let them determine whether they wish to participate. Once you know who to invite, develop and share the following in advance of your meeting:

  • The purpose of the meeting.
  • Objectives for the meeting.
  • A written agenda.

Make sure the space where you plan to hold you meeting is appropriate for the style and duration of the meeting and can comfortably accommodate all participants. Here are a few things to keep in mind when selecting your meeting room:

  • Participants must be able to easily see one another.
  • The room should be a comfortable temperature.
  • Make sure there is adequate space for day-planners, notebooks, or laptops.
  • Participants should be able to easily hear the discussion. 

During the Meeting

Having taken the time to prepare for your meeting, there are also a number of things you can do during the meeting to increase its effectiveness. Some of the most basic include:

  • Start on time.
  • Review meeting logistics.
  • Stick to the agenda.
  • Develop action steps, assign responsibility.
  • Summarize and document meeting outcomes.
  • Finish on time (and make it clear that you’re finished).

Other important elements of successful meetings include how and how much people interact and participate, as well as the quality of the meeting output and whether it supports follow through.

Group Dynamics: One of the most important elements in assuring an effective meeting is handling group dynamics well. Participation is desired, but not one-sided participation. Be prepared to balance participation between quiet, vocally dominant and negative participants. Be sure to allow sufficient time for process and group development and redirect any unproductive behavior or commentary. Finally, avoid a rapid-fire process that may move the meeting along more quickly, but leave some people wondering 'what happened?” when the meeting is over.

Record Keeping: There are a number of ways to ensure that meeting discussions are captured, from making an audio recording of the entire meeting, to assigning yourself or someone else to take general meeting notes. Be sure that any note-taker understands what information must be captured (e.g. the gist of discussions, exact wording of proposals or motions and the names of those putting them forward, names of those responsible for future actions, etc.). Decide on your approach and what you want to record before the meeting and then let everyone know when the meeting starts that notes or audio file will be distributed after the meeting. There is no point in having everyone present try to capture the discussion when they should be participating in it.

After the Meeting

Write up minutes or meeting notes as soon as possible after the meeting. Distribute written notes or audio files to all participants and other interested parties, drawing attention to any action items which need follow through. Finally, ask meeting participants whether they found the meeting effective and how you can further improve future meetings.


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[1] Smart, B.D. Achieving Effective Meetings – Not Easy But Possible.

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