Planning Ahead for Better Meetings
Many people hate to go to meetings. They insist that most of them take too long, lack focus and create more problems than they solve by keeping the participants from crucial tasks.
"Despite the fact that many meetings are poorly run, a good meeting can provide a critical link in the way business is conducted and information is communicated," says Bobbi Linkemer, coauthor of "Get Organized." "Meetings also serve to define responsibilities, motivate, teach and generate decisions."
Meetings often fail because their leaders don't plan ahead, have no clear objective and don't prepare agendas.
The following basic principles can help you learn to conduct meetings that accomplish your objective, make good use of time and encourage active participation.
"The secret of effective meetings is what goes on ahead of time," Ms. Linkemer says. "More often than not, more work is done before the meeting than during it."
Here are seven steps to planning an effective meeting:
Define your objectives
Ask yourself what you hope to accomplish at the meeting.
Select the right participants
Depending on your objectives, you may want to invite people who have a stake in the outcome, have something to contribute or gain from the discussion, will implement the policy decisions that are made or are creative and innovative thinkers.
Decide when to hold the meeting
Select a time when everyone can attend and when you'll have enough time to cover the subject.
Draft an agenda
Include the topics you'll cover and how much time you're allotting to each one. An agenda helps you organize every aspect of your meeting, from topics to speakers to visual aids, and lets people know what to expect.
Choose a site and make physical arrangements
This may be as simple as reserving a conference room or as complex as booking a hotel ballroom.
Notify the participants
You can do this in person, in writing or by e-mail. Decide whether you'll send materials ahead of time or present them when you meet.
Make the final preparations
Double-check all arrangements.
Assuming you've planned well, the following outline will help you conduct a successful meeting.
Start off right
Be in the room and ready to go before the other participants arrive. Announce the meeting's purpose and open the discussion.
Structure the discussion
This means keeping the meeting constantly moving in the direction of your objective. This may include asking questions, balancing the discussion between opposing points of view, using gentle reminders to keep people on track and watching the clock to make sure the meeting finishes on time.
Hold people's attention
Use visual aids, such as a blackboard, a flip chart, an overhead projector, charts, movies, slides, videotapes and transparencies.
Ask for information from others
"The ability to ask the right question at the right time in the right way is one of the most important skills of a meeting leader," Ms. Linkemer says.
Have someone take minutes
Ask the person to write down the topics covered, conclusions reached and decisions made.
Wrap things up
Draw your meeting to a close by assessing whether your objective was achieved. "If it was, summarize it," Ms. Linkemer says. "If you need more information, restate what's needed and who will provide it. Propose a follow-up meeting if the problem wasn't solved or a conclusion wasn't reached."