How to Plan and Facilitate a Productive Meeting

Dreading your next meeting? Do they have a tendency to spiral out of control? Does it turn into a competing three ring circus that focuses on anything and everything- except the agenda items?  Maybe it's time to overhaul your planning process and get a handle on your circus.

How you structure and run your meetings is key to ensuring participation and productivity.  The more time and effort you put into planning the meeting the better the end result will be. Here are a few things to consider:

Preparation

1) Provide adequate notice.  At a minimum the date and time of the meeting should be shared at least a month in advance if possible - especially if attendees need to make travel arrangements.  If that is not possible, as soon as the date(s) is selected send out a Save the Date.  Details can follow but it is important to get the meeting on the attendees' calendar.  Ensure those who are invited know if their attendance is required or optional.

2) Share a the agenda. Share a concise agenda in advance of the meeting, ideally a week.  If any of the items require preparation let attendees know what is expected well in advance, including when you need their presentation materials or visuals finalized.  If any of the agenda topics are vague or need any context be sure to include. This also helps employees who are hesitant to participate by giving them ample time to reflect on the topics and prepare their thoughts. Participation is key to a productive meeting.

Day of

1) Plan the day with attention to detail. As they say, the devil is in the details. As the one who called the meeting your role is that of host/hostess.

  • Arrival Arriving early allows adequate time to ensure the room is set up correctly and most importantly when the team shows up they are greeted with a smile.
  • Technology Many people find setting up technology to be complicated. If that is the case, ask someone to assist you. If you are meeting offsite many facilities have someone who is happy to do this for you. Having the technology set up in advance of people arriving also allows for the meeting to get off on the right foot.  Nothing makes you feel like your time isn't valued as is the case when the meeting starts late. And who wants to start a meeting on the wrong foot?
  • Comfort Other details to pay attention to include rest rooms, break areas (for calls or smokers), temperature, sound and my favorite...the food. Treat the meeting as if you were entertaining in your home. How do you want your guests to feel? The little things really do make a difference.  For example, who wants a cold meal on a cold day? Make sure to serve something hot.  Also, have water or other beverages readily available.

2) Follow the agenda (unless the unplanned discussion is more valuable).  It is important to follow the agenda to ensure you cover everything you planned and end on time.  That said, on occasion the conversation may take an abrupt turn and generate some value feedback. Sometimes you just have to dance in the moment. 

I was at an onsite manager meeting for one of my clients and the group brought up some specifics about a situation that were unknown to the executive management team. The discussion was lively and everyone was participating, something we are trying to encourage.  Based on the feedback and interest of the team, to stay on track, the president identified this topic as one that needed more discussion -and research. On the spot she asked for volunteers for a task force and gave them an assignment with the expectation they would review and make recommendations at the next meeting.  This is a great way to engage the team and give them some influence in the process while staying on task - and on time.

3) Inject humor where you can. We all love to laugh. Sharing a light moment bonds the team and puts people at ease.

4) Review action items before concluding. Lengthy meetings are very intense and only so much information can be absorbed, especially if you are sharing primarily new information with your team.  Consider wrapping up the meeting by recapping and summarizing the highlights. Also, make sure to thank people for their time and participation. Lastly, review any action items and due dates to ensure employees are clear on expectations going forward. End with a motivational story, compliment or share a win to conclude on a positive note.

5) Send out meeting notes.  It is important to send out meeting notes as much for those in attendance as those who were absent. Ideally provide within 48 hours to assist those with action items and to loop in those unable to attend.

The time you put into planning and facilitating your meeting will invite a high level of participation, leaving participants feeling that it was a productive use of their time.  By taking the lead from inception you will ensure you are the ring master and prevent your meeting from turning into a three ring circus.

What is something that stood out to you about a well run meeting you attended? What tips do you have for getting the most out of a meeting? We'd love to hear from you. Please comment below.

Posted on March 10, 2015 and filed under Leadership.