Planning. Planning, planning, planning. Did I mention planning? It may seem a little on the nose, but good meetings don’t just happen by chance; they are the result of extensive thought and forward planning. Planning eliminates the potential risk of unexpected variables which can result in organised bedlam, so everyone needs to be involved in this phase - both stakeholders and attendees. I swear by the use of the 5W’s when it comes to planning a meeting. Who, what, where, when, why.
Who are you planning on inviting to the meeting? This is important when considering what type of atmosphere you aim to achieve; too many people may lead to a somewhat chaotic ambience, whereas too few may eliminate the reason for conducting the meeting. Think about who you want to invite and why it is important to have them there. Also, don’t forget who is holding the meeting. It is vital that the chair and their needs are also considered.
What is your objective for the meeting? Basically, what’s the point?! Why you’re holding the meeting needs to take centre stage when planning ahead. Consider what the expected outcomes and objectives are, because these areas need to be decided upon before setting the agenda. Having a conversation, whether it’s face to face, or through online resources, with all stakeholders involved will aid in forming a good basis for the meeting.
"Good meetings don’t just happen by chance; they are the result of extensive thought and forward planning."
Where is a factor that can sometimes be forgotten in the initial stages of meeting planning and it should be one of the first elements considered. Do you need to book a space in advance? How many people need to be there? How should the room be arranged in order to best facilitate the agenda and good conversation. Planning ahead will eliminate the risk of mess-ups on the day which can be hugely stressful for the organiser of the meeting.
When. I think the reason for this one is pretty obvious! You can’t organise a meeting without knowing when it will be held. Otherwise people can’t put it in their calendar, and you may end up with no attendees. Communicate the logistics ahead of time to all stakeholders and attendees. Also consider variables such as the time of day – is this a lunch meeting? Is it held after work hours? Will there be food or refreshments provided? Will bringing a sandwich be considered a faux pas if no one else is eating?
Why is an integral factor for devising your meeting objectives and what your hopes are for the outcomes. The reason why you’re holding a meeting is also the reason that you’re taking the time out of your busy schedule, as well as everyone else’s after all.
Starting and ending on time. Everyone is likely to be taking time out of a busy schedule in order to attend – you don’t want the attendees to be clock watching instead of listening! Start promptly and wrap up within a reasonable time. Doing so avoids people having to sneak out during important wrap up points in order to attend a prior arrangement. This also leads to the issue of whether people have to leave early/arrive late, as this should be communicated to the chair beforehand in order to not disrupt the flow of the meeting.
Agenda. Review the agenda at the start of the meeting so that everyone in attendance is clear on the objectives. Consider starting with the shorter/less significant issues so that the majority of the time can be allocated to the more important objectives. Also, when a decision and action point are reached, don’t ruminate, move on!
Hijacking. The chair is the person in charge. I’m sure we’ve all attended a meeting or been on a conference call where there’s one dominant personality that somewhat takes over. A hierarchy of responsibility needs to be established early on in the meeting in these circumstances. Using polite but authoritative language, positioning the chair in the appropriate place, and allowing the chair to control the agenda are methods of controlling the room. Otherwise the likelihood of meeting the agenda points within the parameters of a set time scale is highly unlikely. Keep to a strict one-at-a-time method of sharing information, and the chair should respectfully refer back to it when necessary.
Multitasking. Allocate, delegate. The chair should not be overloaded with tasks such as handing out agendas, attempting to keep minutes, timekeeping, etc. The key for a successful chair is to focus attention solely on the objective at hand. Stick to the agenda and allow others to help. Allocate tasks before the meeting (again this ties in with planning). Also, nobody has all the knowledge of the universe – know when to ask for help if you’re feeling a little out of your depth.
Minutes. Having only briefly touched on keeping minutes, I think it’s important to stress the importance of them. They act as a measure of accountability – a measuring stick for progress. Keeping accurate minutes can reduce the risk of confusion after a meeting, as well as help clear up misunderstandings. Delegate this responsibility to someone in advance of the meeting. Also, they can be used as an accountability tool for roles and responsibilities, making the shirking of which a little more difficult!
Disseminate. Send the achieved decisions and action points to all stakeholders and attendees as soon as possible, including the names of all in attendance. Doing this as soon as possible keeps the action points fresh in everyone’s mind, when productivity and enthusiasm are at their highest. We’re only human after all – it’s only natural to forget when we all have so much going on!
Good luck and get planning!
This post is part of our #masterfulmeetings series of articles. Click here to subscribe to our mailing list and we'll let you know when a new post is published in the series.