What We've Found
Say the word "meetings" and most people groan. With good reason: too often the meetings we attend are unfocused, unproductive, and uninspiring. They do not have to be that way. Having a good agenda (and following it), keeping track of the time, and minimizing tangents and sidebar conversations can all help. For a project team or task force who meet regularly, the best way to keep them involved is not to waste their time. Make the meetings interesting: vary formats, invite guest speakers, accomplish real work, serve refreshments, and have some fun.
Just the Facts
A meeting occurs at a set time and place, there is a defined group of participants, and an agenda, which addresses the goals and purpose.
Meetings can last all day, over a meal, or for a shorter amount of time. Ninety minutes is considered the maximum amount of time for a meeting to last without including breaks in the agenda. If the purpose of a meeting is to get work done, participants need to know how final decisions will be made: by consensus, group vote, or a single person.
If the purpose of the meeting is to share information, participants should be sent supporting materials prior to the meeting for review.
Meetings should take place in comfortable, accessible rooms or facilities, depending upon the size of the group. While schedules are difficult to coordinate, meeting dates that are chosen well in advance and at convenient times for participants will be better attended.
While meetings will differ based on purposes, keep in mind these roles:
Facilitator - Guides discussion and covers the agenda; may or may not be the organizer of the meeting.
Presenter - Shares facts and information relevant to the group; may not be a regular member of the group.
Recorder - Documents ideas, decisions, and actions; may summarize key points for meeting minutes to distribute afterwards.
Timekeeper - Enforces time limits to keep the agenda on track; may or may not be performed by facilitator.
How To Do It
1. Write an agenda
Create an agenda by basing it on a project work plan or notes and recommendations from a previous meeting, by asking participants to submit agenda items in advance, or by setting the agenda cooperatively with participants at the beginning of the meeting. When developing an agenda, be sure to have the meeting's purpose clearly defined. Every agenda item should support the purpose. That will make it easier to steer tangent conversations back on-topic.2. Arrange the room
Arrive early to the meeting. Consider rearranging the chairs so they are in a circle or, if using tables, place the tables in a triangle formation. Give everyone the opportunity to see everyone else's face. Bring to the meeting any necessary supplies such as extra copies of the agenda, maps, surveys
, or worksheets; a flip chart
with markers; extra notepads and pens for participants; refreshments; and a projector or other audiovisual equipment.3. Be (or find) a good facilitator
Don't compete with group members. Give their ideas precedence over yours. Listen
to everyone. Paraphrase but don't judge. Don't put anyone on the defensive. Control the dominant people without alienating them. Keep notes on flip charts or a board that everyone can see. When time for an agenda item has run out, ask the group to decide if discussion should continue and other items dropped or if the discussion should be postponed. Realize that your interest and alertness are contagious.4. Open the meeting
It may be necessary to spend the first few minutes of the meeting warming up: allow participants to share with others what issues they are putting aside in order to focus on the meeting or do a quick icebreaker
like answering the question: "What words would be on a bumper sticker that tells the world how your week has gone?" Next, review the agenda. Does everyone agree to its items and their importance? Add or delete and modify time allotments as appropriate. This step helps people know exactly what work needs to be done. Be careful of not allowing discussions about an issue to erupt when the question is just the placement of the issue on the agenda.5. Wrap it up
At the end of the meeting, review any decisions made and/or any tasks assigned. Make sure every participant knows what is to be accomplished, by whom, and by what date. This information should be included in meeting minutes. This is also a good time to determine the date for the next meeting. Or, if it a regularly scheduled event, like the third Wednesday of each month, remind participants of the date. Then get initial thoughts about the next meeting's agenda: should a guest presenter be invited? Are there topics from this meeting that need further discussion at the next? Is the information that is necessary for the next meeting going to be available ahead of time?