7 Ways to Prevent a Meeting Disaster

Oct 15th 2014

I went to a meeting the other day, one with a mix of professionals and aspiring professionals—college students. I'd love to tell you what the purpose of the meeting was, but I don't actually know. One might ask, what was I doing at a meeting where I didn't even know the purpose to begin with? Well, I recently joined an organization and this was a regular monthly meeting, so I figured I would go and see what they were all about. Or not, as it turned out. They didn't know how to hold an effective meeting.

What I got instead was a meeting leader asking the group unrelated questions, participants who shared a wide variety of disconnected responses, and no real resolution or next steps after we spent an hour discussing several topics. The whole event felt about as inviting as the fluorescent lights and their loud buzzing noise.

It turns out this isn't that unusual of a situation: 71 percent of American employees report that meetings "aren't very productive." If you find yourself hosting a meeting anytime soon, here's a quick refresher on how to be a great host.

Kristen's Baseline Meeting Hosting Rules:

  1. Introduce yourself to your audience (always) and let attendees introduce themselves as appropriate, unless everyone knows each other, of course.
  2. Introduce your meeting's purpose, agenda or mission. Without this, you'll have people like me writing essays like this, or at least feeling like they just wasted their time and may hesitate to return. Extra points if you then stick to your agenda!
  3. Stick to your time frame. The only thing worse than being in a room full of people you don't know, with no purpose, is being there longer.

Advanced Rules for Exceptional Hosts:

  1. Stay neutral in your role as facilitator. If you are both hosting and contributing you are not precluded from adding your own thoughts, just be sure that fair representation is given to all interests around the table for a healthy discussion.
  2. Adapt the meeting to keep it productive. Some meetings flow well from start to finish, some start to get off track quickly. Keep the meeting focused, while using your judgment to allow for conversation to dive into important areas. It's OK to depart from your agenda if it's the best use of the meeting time and still drives toward the ultimate purpose. Better to use time well than to force it into a mold that doesn't fit a changing situation.
  3. Size your venue correctly. Productivity can be lost in a room that is too big or too small for the number of attendees you have. Give people enough space to be comfortable, but do your best not to let someone get lost in a sea of empty chairs, or ignite their claustrophobia. It is OK to arrange chairs (and remove extra ones) to your liking.
  4. End with action. What IS the result of your meeting after all? Have decisions been made? Is there work to be done? Ideas to communicate? If so, by whom? Is another meeting on the horizon? Should you set a tentative agenda? Concretely wrapping up the meeting, while everyone is in the room, leaves participants feeling like they were part of a great thing, thanks in part to a great meeting host—that's you!

About the author:

Kristen Rampe is a CPA who loves helping other CPAs develop great teams and great customers. She provides consulting and customized, in-house CPE to professional service firms in the areas of client service, communication and team building. Check out her blog for great ideas on how to improve your practice!


Replies (1)

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By Kristen Rampe
Jun 25th 2015 20:11 EDT

Great comments submitted by email:

"Here are some practical ideas to put into place right now.
They have the benefit of fulfilling a purpose without too much forethought:

1. We are about serving our client (customer) first and foremost. Adopt a working philosophy that meetings are largely a waste of time for all. People should be PO'd about being called to a meeting. The 'leader' should be in a position of justifying why someone is there.

2. Hold as many meetings as possible while everyone is standing. No seats.

3. Every -- and I do mean EVERY -- meeting must begin with two questions being answered. If not, everyone must leave. Q1 - What time is this meeting over? Q2 - What is it we are going to accomplish in this meeting?

4. All meetings, unless impromptu, should have an agenda sent out with the notice of the meeting and contain any information that is going to be transmitted at the meeting. With limited exception, meetings are not about initially communicating information. That purpose alone can be achieved by so many other means.

5. As a professional service firm, our time is worth something. All meetings should be "valued" and that price should be shared at the meeting. Make
sure to build in for travel and support staff.

Of these, #2 & #3 are very easy for anyone to implement right now. On their own the go an amazingly long way towards the remedy. Add in #5 and you're on a roll."

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