Editor’s note: Jean Kelley is managing director of Jean Kelley Leadership Alliance, an executive training firm.
Any meeting you conduct at work is a reflection of you. What kind of image are you portraying? Professional, on-target and efficient? Or unprepared, unproductive and ineffective?
Unfortunately, few people receive formal training on how to conduct a great meeting and this lack of training is apparent in corporate conference rooms across the country. Between meetings that ramble on with no agenda and no action steps to participants feeling bored and questioning why the meeting is even taking place, it’s no wonder that so many people dread going to meetings.
To conduct a meeting that boosts your credibility and helps you achieve the company’s goals, keep these top 10 meeting tips in mind.
1. Know if you really need a formal meeting at all. Before sending the meeting invites, define why you’re having the meeting. Is it really necessary? Is there another way to accomplish the result? If you have a small department or group of attendees, perhaps a “stand up” meeting will suffice. In this case, you simply get everyone to gather in the hall, say what they need to know and then everyone disbands within five minutes. It’s a quick, painless and highly effective way to get a message out.
2. Set expectations prior to the meeting. If a meeting is indeed necessary, create the agenda and send it out prior to the meeting so people are clear on what’s going to be covered. If multiple topics are on the agenda, include a time allotment for each item. Also list a meeting adjournment time – and stick with it. The more detailed you are, the more professional you look.
3. Facilitate well during the meeting. The facilitator’s job is to keep the meeting running smoothly, to make sure everyone gets a say and to lead people through areas of conflict. Realize that no meeting runs itself. You need to lead people through each segment of the agenda and work for a resolution to each area of discussion.
4. Beware of Parkinson’s Law. As you facilitate, keep Parkinson’s Law in mind: “Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” The same is true for meetings. If you’ve set an hour for the meeting, chances are the meeting will drag on to fill that time slot. To keep this from happening, announce at the outset, “If we get through this agenda before the adjournment time, we all get to leave early.” Make that the goal, not the posted adjournment time.
5. Allow conflict. If the goal of your meeting is to solve a problem, then conflict is inevitable. Welcome it. A good facilitator will recognize when emotions get too high and will step in to keep the meeting on track. But don’t strive to avoid conflict. Nothing gets solved without first having a conflict of ideas.
6. Assign action steps. In a perfect world, people would 100-percent self-manage. We don’t live in a perfect world. That’s why the meeting leader needs to wrap up the meeting by summarizing the key points and then assigning the action steps. Decide who is going to do what and by when. Also determine how everyone will follow up on the action steps. Who is holding people accountable for doing what needs to get done? The more follow-up and accountability you have, the more likely you are to accomplish the stated goals.
7. Delegate the meeting responsibility. Just because you’re a department or company leader doesn’t mean you have to lead every meeting. Delegate some meetings to others so they can gain experience in this critical skill. If you don’t feel comfortable delegating the entire meeting, delegate a part of the meeting that’s focused on a specific topic. Give everyone a turn to develop their meeting prowess.
8. Know when to lead and when to participate. When you do delegate a meeting or when you’re attending someone else’s meeting, resist the urge to take over the meeting. Of course you can be an active participant and state your opinions but let the other person do their job and have the spotlight as the leader. They may not run the meeting exactly like you would but it’s their meeting. Let their own leadership style shine.
9. Always let people out early. Remember when you were a kid and the teacher let you out of class a minute or two early? Chances are you liked that teacher and didn’t mind going back to his or her class. Adults are the same way. As soon as you start going over the stated adjournment time, people disengage and tune out. Instead, let them out a few minutes early. If you’ve followed all the other points mentioned thus far, an early adjournment should be possible. If your meeting topic still has loose ends, address those key items with the needed parties privately. Keeping everyone in the meeting to address final points that don’t pertain to the group as a whole leaves people frustrated and bored – not the kind of last impression you want.
10. Have fun! Meetings have a reputation for being boring and uninspiring, so give people a chance to leave with something other than the agenda. For example, if the meeting takes place around a holiday, put out some holiday candies or small decorations that people can take. Do what you can to make a dull meeting memorable and fun.
Get things done
Meetings don’t have to be something people dread. When you implement these 10 tips for your future meetings, you’ll gain a reputation for being an effective meeting facilitator. And rather than being viewed as time wasters, your meetings will actually get things done.