There may be times in your career when you need to lead a meeting. How can you make sure your meetings are good and productive? There are plenty of bad meetings — often because people don’t plan them well or don’t keep track of time. With a little effort, you can make sure people actually like your meetings! Below are ten useful tips to lead meetings in a well-structured and practical way:
- Enthusiasm From Start To Finish
Start your meetings with a smile and plenty of enthusiasm. End them the same way. This makes a big difference. At the start, thank everyone for coming and say you are looking forward to a productive meeting. At the end, thank everyone for their input. Say that you think the meeting was worthwhile and that you believe it will lead to good results.
Avoid stress at the beginning of a meeting. Never have ‘back-to-back’ meetings — meaning that as soon as one finishes, you’re due to start the next. This always leads to stress. Make sure you have enough time in between meetings to prepare.
- Prepare Well
Prepare well for every meeting. Think carefully about why you’re having the meeting and what you want it to achieve. Think about how you’re going to manage the meeting. Ask everyone else involved to prepare for it as well. For example, you could ask them to send suggestions in advance. Also, you could send everyone the agenda (meeting plan) and ask them to prepare their questions and comments. Good preparation leads to meetings that are constructive, productive and enjoyable.
Often it is good to have a clear list of items that need to be covered during the meeting. As the leader, you can prepare this before the meeting. It will stop things from being forgotten and make sure there is some structure to the discussion.
- Have an Agenda
An agenda (a plan) gives your meeting a structure. It should include two things:
- The purpose of the meeting.
- The three main points to be discussed.
You can add some time for ‘any other business’ at the end if you want. Send the agenda in advance to everyone who’s going to be at the meeting. If you want their input, ask for it. Start the meeting by reading out the agenda to remind people of the structure. This will set the purpose of the meeting and helps the conversation flow in the right direction.
- Keep Track of the Time
Be clear about when the meeting will start and end. Since you’re leading the meeting, it’s your job to make sure you get through all the items on the agenda and finish on time. It may be helpful to decide in advance how much time you’re going to spend on each item. There is nothing more frustrating for a group of people than waiting around for their meeting leader to begin the meeting. Many people do not have time to waste.
Run every meeting in a calm and organised way. Halfway through the meeting, check where you are on the agenda and speed things up if you have to. Never be afraid to end a meeting early! If you’ve worked through the agenda and there’s no more to be said, end the meeting! Nobody will be upset about getting out of a meeting early.
- Keep Everyone Involved
Make sure everyone feels involved in the meeting. Below are four ideas to try to achieve this:
- Let Everybody Have Their Say
Give everyone in the meeting at least one minute to speak about their ideas, comments or opinions. Give them the time to think and don’t rush them.
- Group Discussions
If you’re running quite a large meeting, you may want to set time aside for ‘breakout’ group discussions. In a ‘breakout’ everyone breaks up into small groups, perhaps made up of just two or three people. Each group discusses at least one of the items on the meeting agenda. When you start the meeting again and everyone is back together, each group presents their ideas and conclusions to the whole room. You could also give time for feedback to each group.
- Thinking Time
Some people need time to think about the issues being discussed. Give everyone two minutes to think about the items on the agenda. Once the two minutes are done, invite them to share their views with everyone else.
- Ask Questions
When you’re leading a meeting, you may have so much to think about that you forget to include others. Remember to ask people questions and listen to their responses. Ask, listen, and make notes about what people say. Do not be afraid to get them involved!
- Agree on Action Points
Before you end a meeting, summarise what was discussed and make a note of decisions that were made. Make sure everyone understands what they are supposed to do after the meeting. You can also send a written list of ‘action points’ after the meeting, including who has agreed to do what and when.
Sometimes, you might have to arrange a meeting at short notice, meaning you won’t be able to prepare as much as you’d like. You can still tell everyone the purpose of the meeting, what you’re trying to achieve and how long it will last. This at least gives the meeting some structure.
- Different Types of People
Often meetings will include people with different personalities. If you are leading the meeting, you have to manage these personalities in a way that creates a safe space for everyone to share openly.
Some people like to talk a lot, and can control the conversation if they’re not managed properly. For example, some people are not scared to say what they want; these people will appear to be confident and will want to prove their point. They can be over-emotional and sensitive and often think out loud. They definitely do not need any encouragement from the meeting leader to speak. It is important to notice these types of people and to make sure they do not take over the conversation.
Other people prefer to keep their thoughts and feelings to themselves, and appear to be shy. They avoid eye contact and are less emotional when speaking. These people might avoid conflict with the rest of the group, lack confidence and sometimes struggle to express their thoughts and feelings. As the meeting leader, you should make an effort to ask these types of people for their opinions. You should also encourage them to join the larger conversations.
- Always Review Decisions
Meetings often involve conversations about a lot of decisions, and it is important to remember that not everyone in the meeting may have the correct information. They may also not have the authority to make decisions or comment on specific topics. As the meeting leader, it is important to know which people have this responsibility.
Before ending each meeting, ask, ‘What did we decide on today?’, ‘Did we make any changes?’ and ‘What do you want to work on next time?’ ‘Do we have the authority to make these decisions?’. This will allow everyone to refresh what was discussed and make sure they are certain about what will happen next.
- Avoid Side Discussions
By creating basic rules before the meeting begins, you will avoid people getting distracted during the meeting. While it can be hard to concentrate for a long time, there are a few things the meeting leader can do to make sure people keep their concentration.
For example, it can be tempting to work on other things or to look at social media during a meeting. Consider asking people in the meeting to write down their notes with a paper and pen instead of on a laptop. If side discussions happen, bring everyone’s focus back to the main point. If you can see people are losing concentration, make time for a short break.
As the meeting leader, it is one of your jobs to help your audience stay engaged. You can do this by using images or slides on a computer screen instead of just speaking. You could even show a short video. At the same time, keep the discussion short and focused, and ask questions to keep your audience interested. This will all help to avoid side discussions and a loss of focus.
- End With Clear Objectives and a Realistic Timeline
The end of the meeting is as important as the start. As the meeting leader, you have the responsibility to make sure all the topics were covered within the time given.
Before closing the meeting, open up the discussion to any further points. Feedback is an important part of good communication. As the meeting leader, you want people to feel safe and comfortable enough to share their opinions. Why not ask them how they think you could improve? They may have good feedback for you and some great ideas for leading meetings in future.
As the meeting comes to an end, make sure you have covered the following:
What is going to get done and how will it be done?
Who is going to complete specific actions?
What is the exact timeline; when are the deadlines?
As the meeting leader, be sure to discuss the future plan of action. You can also discuss a follow-up meeting if needed.
If you put these ten ideas into practice, you’ll become known as someone who runs enjoyable, interesting and effective meetings. These ideas should not take up a lot of your time, in fact, they should save you time. They will make your working day a little easier and less frustrating.
Topic: Cool Confidence, Communication Power, The Leader In You