In a lot of organizations, leaders run meetings so ineffectively that participants actually dread going into them. It’s unfortunate, because meetings present excellent opportunities for staff, board members, and other members of the organization to take collective action on important issues.
Running an effective meeting is a key leadership skill that pays huge dividends. A good facilitator always involves the participants, encouraging shy participants to speak and bridling the ones that tend to “foam at the mouth.” An effective leader uses the meetings to motivate and encourage others to take risks and action, while discussing issues and clarifying roles and decisions.
Here are some creative and common sense ways to ensure your meetings are as productive as possible.
1. Start on time. This may seem obvious but think about how many meetings you’ve attended that didn’t start on time. It’s important to respect other people’s time, whether they are staff members, board members, volunteers or anyone else who has set aside time to accommodate the meeting.
2. Make sure participants are clear about the meeting’s purpose. If people know why they are attending a meeting, they will show up prepared.
3. Check in with participants prior to the meeting to make sure that anyone who will be presenting is prepared and ready.
4. Set an agenda. Send a memo to participants that specifies the purpose of the meeting (as discussed above) and provides an outline (agenda) of how that purpose will be achieved – the order of discussion items, presentations, etc.
5. Stick to the agenda. Again, this seems obvious but it can be a challenge if others want to take over the meeting with their own agenda. There is nothing more frustrating than attending a meeting that’s unfocused.
6. Be prepared. Have all your materials ready, including handouts, dry erase board and pens, paper, etc.
7. Keep things moving and lead the meeting with a firm touch. Don’t lose your sense of humor, but be ready to guide the discussion back to the agenda if things get off track.
8. Provide light, healthy refreshments. This is more important than you might think. Always provide food, but keep it light (croissants and tea for a morning meeting; fresh fruit and cold bottled water in the afternoon). Heavy foods like chips and donuts make people full and sluggish.
9. Identify action items before the meeting ends and confirm the date of the next meeting. Make sure that someone is taking minutes so that follow-up is possible.
10. End on time – see #1. Respect the fact that participants are busy and have other commitments. If necessary, table items for a future meeting. If there is a crisis, as you approach the scheduled end time (as printed on your agenda) check in and ask if anyone is willing or able to stay longer.