Let’s face it, meetings can be like death and taxes – nobody likes them but there’s just no avoiding them. Unless you’re a lumberjack, fisherman, or hermit who works out of your home, it’s extremely unlikely you’re not going to find yourself in a meeting several times throughout the work week.
But they don’t all have to be seemingly endless. In fact, if you are the one running the meeting, there are a few critical strategies that will help keep your meetings focussed and on time. If you can do this, you will not only make your workplace more productive, there’s an excellent chance your coworkers will erect a statue in your honor. So here are five tips to running an effective meeting.
- Have a Clear Objective – The most important thing you can do to keep your meeting running smoothly and effectively is to make the meeting’s purpose crystal clear. The easiest way to have a meeting go sideways is to have everyone arrive with a different idea of what people should be talking about. Circulate an agenda in advance with itemized topics for discussion. This will give your meeting a roadmap that should keep everyone moving in the same direction.
- Invite Only Relevant Stakeholders – If you accomplish point number one and have a clear objective for the meeting, it becomes much easier to identify who does and does not need to attend. Perhaps the meeting is about deciding on a new marketing slogan, or maybe it’s about choosing a site for next year’s conference. Whatever the topic, be sure to invite only the people who need to be there to speak on that topic and reach that decision. One of the biggest mistakes people make is inviting too many people and by doing this they allow the meeting to get sidetracked. Which reminds me…
- Never Let the Meeting Get Sidetracked – Again, this is why you have a clear meeting goal and itemized agenda. Inevitably, somebody is going to start a conversation that is not directly relevant to that meeting’s central purpose. This is where you, as the meeting chair, need to pipe in and suggest that they take that conversation “off-line”, which is to say outside of this current meeting. Similarly, if two people start brainstorming about a fresh new idea, as great as the idea may be and you don’t want to step on it, you should gently suggest that they pick up the conversation after the meeting. This goes for anything that arises that is not on the agenda.
- Make Sure Your Meeting Comes in on Time – If you tell somebody you need an hour of their time for an important meeting, make sure that you don’t take two or 2 ½ hours. That’s why I strongly suggest having a timeframe not only for the meeting as a whole, but also for each individual agenda item. That way, if somebody is talking for too long, you can say something like “we only have five more minutes for this conversation so is there anybody else who hasn’t voiced their opinion yet?”
- Hammer Home the Action Items – The last thing you should do as part of your meeting is to go over all of the action items that arose and make sure each person who is supposed to carry out a task is 100% clear on what that task is and by when it needs to be completed. The meeting will have been a waste of time if there was lots of discussion but, in the end, nobody actually took any action as a result of it. By being perfectly clear about who needs to do want and when, all of the great ideas and suggestions that came out of the meeting will be fully realized.