How to Plan and Run Effective Meetings

Throughout your career you have probably lost count of the number of meetings you have attended. Team meetings, department meetings, focus groups, workshops, you name it. Do you find yourself dreading your next meeting and see it as a waste of time? Well, you are not alone.

It never seizes to amaze me how many meetings take place without any real purpose. Improving meetings is not about ordering bagels and coffee (sorry!), it is about making every minute count. As the saying goes, time is money. Productive and valuable meetings require a clear goal and a strong leader. Here is a simple structure and some tips on how you can plan and run successful meetings (mainly aimed at internal meetings).

What makes a meeting effective?

Well, not meeting at all. Start by asking if the same information could be shared in any other. If it is a one way transfer of information and not information sharing, chances are that an email will suffice. If you want to ensure your message was received and read you can then schedule a meeting to go through any questions.

Meetings are in fact very important. Properly run meetings are crucial for management and communication. They can increase motivation, productivity, solve problems and generate new ideas and initiatives. There are 3 key elements to effective meetings:

1- Determine the meeting’s objective and prepare.
2- Conduct and manage the meeting.
3- Leave the participants feeling something has been accomplished.

Objectives & Preparation

i) A meeting must serve a useful purpose and achieve your desired outcome. You may want to make a decision, generate ideas, communicate something, make plans, all of which are valid meeting objectives. The main thing is to be clear on the objective of the meeting.

TipTo determine the aim of the meeting, complete the following sentence beforehand:
“At the end of the meeting, I want the attendees to….”

ii) Think about who needs to be present based on the content and the objectives. If there are critical staff members missing consider postponing the meeting.

iii) Time is a precious resource. To make sure you stick to the subject and cover only what is necessary, create an agenda. The agenda should be circulated prior to the meeting giving people a chance come up with questions on the matter or suggest additional topics.

TipWhen you send out the agenda copy and paste it to the main body of the text as many people are unlikely to open an attachment.

Conducting the Meeting

i) Control is key. Do this by sticking to the agenda, managing different personalities in the room and focusing on the desired outcome. State the agenda and length of the meeting at the start.

TipIf you want to keep a meeting short make everyone stand. This is a strong indicator that it will not take long. It also keeps people alert as they are less liking to slouch and snooze in their seats.

ii) Take notes or meeting minutes. Try taking notes yourself. The effect is twofold. Firstly people will appreciate you are not making them do it and secondly it shows you are recording agreed actions and there’s no escaping them. Once you have done it a few times then you may wish to pass this on to someone else.

TipThe minutes are useful to share information between different teams internally and can be a simple and effective way of building more of a team spirit and allowing the employees to feel they are part of the bigger picture which can boost morale.

iii) Encourage all members to be succinct and stay on topic. Don’t be afraid to interrupt if people get off track. If you are discussing ideas ensure everyone is participating. If a decision needs to be made request that facts not opinions are presented. The bottom line is to keep it short and sweet.

Tip If you want to increase involvement and participation, assign a topic for discussion to individual team members. Let them know how long they have to present and enforce it by cutting them off if they run over.

iv) Time keeping is crucial. If the meeting is scheduled for 8am that does not mean 8:05am. Do not wait for late comers (unless of course you have invited the CEO!).

Tip Consider having a clock on the wall. Google for example often use a giant timer which counts down the minutes left for a particular topic or speaker. It may be a little over the top and you may prefer a more subtle tool, but do consider some form of timer as it exerts pressure to keep meetings on schedule.

Follow up

Many people leave meetings feeling it was a waste of time as there were no clear plans or actions. To avoid this, document and agree on next steps at the meeting. The meeting minutes are a useful written record of what transpired in the meeting as well as agreed actions by specific individuals. Send this round as soon as possible following the meeting in order to maintain momentum.

TipDo not be afraid to ask feedback. Find out what people think worked well, what can be improved, etc. Take the feedback seriously and act on it, particularly if there appears to be a consensus such as “the meetings are too long”.

This is not exactly revolutionary or mind breaking material but you would be surprised how many people don’t follow these simple steps! Do you think you run effective meetings? What methods work for you?

Free online Agenda Templates and Meeting Minutes Templates to help you get started.
Photos provided by Flickr users: lumaxart, agirregabiria, Cayusa, geirarne

1,030 Responses to “How to Plan and Run Effective Meetings”

  1. Jemima says:

    Some fantastic tips here. I particularly like the idea of making everyone stand! Those countdown clocks are great for speakers at a conference, and it's often pleasant when they finish early leaving more time for questions at the end, which is a good point. Meetings shouldn't have to fill the whole slot the meeting room is booked for – it's always a treat when you're done after 20 mins.

    • Many thanks for your comments Jemima. I am delighted you found these tips useful. You are absolutely right, people tend to think that if they book a meeting for an hour they have to use it. Wouldn't it be great if all our meetings were shorter leaving us free time for other tasks?

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  4. Ovel Inad says:

    Great discussion. And I REALLY like that you practice what you preach. That’s when you can tell a post has come together.
    And I’m also fascinated by how fresh you made the routine [admit it: what you just shared has been regurgitated millions of time. ;-)].
    Ben Johnson said people don’t need taught as much as they need reminding.
    Good work.

    • Ana says:

      Thanks for your comments. I really appreciate it. You are absolutely right, a great deal has been written about the topic so I am pleased you like my approach. I am a firm believer in Einstein’s theory to “Make everything as simple as possible, but not simpler”. Have you had a chance to read the other posts? I look forward to hearing your thoughts on them too.

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      Thanks Esteban. It’s great to hear you like the post and found it useful. Have you had a chance to read any of the other articles on here?

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