When members of a company gather at a meeting, their purpose is to conduct business - to collect information and discuss issues and to make decisions on how these issues will be resolved or addressed. The methods businesses choose to carry out these functions will frequently depend on the type and size of the meeting. Careful planning and preparation are essential to conducting effective meetings, regardless of type or size. Below are a few ideas and tips to help you prepare for a successful meeting.
Before the Meeting
First, determine if the meeting is truly necessary. Identify what you want to accomplish and how the results will be measured. If you can address the issues through informal communications such as e-mail, or a lunch date, do so.
Identify who needs to be present. The decision about who is to attend depends on what you want to accomplish in the meeting. Send out a copy of the proposed agenda along with the meeting notice. Groups can be very useful in the decision making process at large meetings and for generating new ideas from participants. When planning your meeting think about dividing your members into small groups, i.e. four to eight people, for a short time to discuss assigned issues.
The length and time of the meeting should always be considered. If participants are traveling a long distance, it may be necessary to schedule the meeting to allow for travel to and from the meeting. Allow for a break or two during your session. A session break can enhance a meeting and gives members an opportunity to meet on an informal basis and discuss issues that they may not want to discuss with the entire group. Usually the human body starts to get restless after 90 minutes of sitting. If it's not possible or practical to take a break, at least ask everyone to stand up for a minute or so.
Create an outline and an agenda. Always prepare an outline in advance of your meeting. Incorporate key issues, topics and expectations of the meeting in your outline. The agenda will help your meeting remain focused, and diminishes the possibility of items of business being overlooked or forgotten. Schedule the most critical items early in the agenda. Those invited to the meeting should receive a tentative agenda a few days in advance. A well-planned agenda will keep you and your staff on track. Bring extra copies of the agenda to your meeting.
Audiovisual equipment can only enhance your presentation and simplify information that is being presented. The type of audiovisual equipment required to make presentations needs to be considered in advance and, once again, the size of room and number of people attending the meeting are essential in planning. Check all equipment, and make sure computers are compatible with your equipment (projectors, Internet access) etc.
Other issues to consider for a productive meeting might include, proper lighting, size of the room, acoustics, telephone access, temperature, ventilation, comfort and position of seating, writing materials, restrooms, coat racks, parking, name tags, refreshments, extension cords and location of electrical outlets.
Select the location. Physical location and surroundings are very important to a productive meeting. The number of people attending the meeting will have to be taken into consideration. If you are meeting with clients, a conference room may be the best place to conduct your meeting. If you are meeting with your staff to brainstorm and share ideas, think about having your meeting at an off-site location. If you are looking for an informal location, try an outdoor courtyard.
During the Meeting
Be on time and take notes. Unless you have a compelling reason, don't state the meeting late. When other attendees arrive and notice that the meeting has not started yet, there is little incentive to be on time in the future. You may want to consider using a tape recorder to record the entire meeting, this makes it much easier to summarize after the meeting has taken place.
If you are responsible for the meeting preparation, arrive early and coordinate the set up. If food and beverages are to be served, ensure that all communications are well planned and addressed. Always have water and both regular and decaf coffee available to meeting members.
Gather input and keep focused. As the facilitator, you are responsible for leading the group and promoting participation. At meetings, reaching decisions can be complex and challenging. It is important that participants who wish to speak and express their views have an opportunity to do so. It also is important to proceed carefully, listen to concerns and opinions, and consider alternatives. Well managed meetings allow all participants to be part of the decision making process. Conflict can arise in meeting discussions and many assume that conflict is negative but it can be positive if it leads to innovation, positive change or agreement when discussing an issue.
Agree to Action. If the purpose of the meeting is to resolve an issue, when a decision is make, reinforce the decision by identifying who is responsible for the follow up and identify all deadlines attached to the decision.
Leave 5-10 minutes at the end of the meeting to evaluate the meeting; don't skip this portion of the meeting. Evaluate every meeting to ensure that objectives have been met. Always end meetings on time and attempt to end on a positive note. At the end of a meeting, review assignments, and set the time for the next meeting and ask each person if they can make it or not (to get their commitment). Clarify that meeting minutes and/or actions will be reported back to members in at most a week (this helps to keep momentum going).
After the meeting
Follow up, follow up, follow up. Believe it or not, if you do everything right and skip this step, the meeting will not be a success. Send out a summary of ideas and discussion topics that were gathered during your meeting. Prepare a follow up action list and check that all deadlines are being met. Do what you say you are going to do and you will be way ahead of the game.
If you have successful meeting tips and ideas, please send them in.
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