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
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
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
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
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
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
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?
Where people come together to
accomplish specific purposes.
Use It If..
- You want diverse views in regards to an issue or decision.
- You have information to share with many people. Consider sending those who
were not able to attend a summary of the information and discussion.
- You are overseeing a project that requires work by a lot of different people
and committees and need time for each of the groups to learn what others are
- You are going to make a certain decision regardless of what input you
- You do not have necessary background information ready. For instance, if the
purpose of the meeting is to review a landowner survey, but the results are not
yet tabulated, postpone the meeting until everything is ready.
Timing is Everything
stategic meetings throughout a project.