In this day and age, meetings consume a tremendous amount of our time. If we aren’t careful, our entire calendars could be filled back-to-back with meetings day in and day out.
A good meeting makes a huge difference. An effective meeting requires intentional and thoughtful planning, as well as good execution. This is true for all meetings, whether internal, customer-facing, networking, executive, board, etc. Our time is far too valuable to spend in poorly planned or executed meetings. The elements of running an effective meeting are quite straightforward – we aren’t talking rocket science.
10 Ingredients of an Effective Meeting:
1) Purpose

Each meeting necessitates a purpose. Everyone should be clear on why this meeting is being called in the first place. This purpose will help you focus everyone and move the ball forward. Meetings should be more than a series of status reports and updates. An effective meeting requires sufficient pre-planning. Meetings that are pulled together minutes before they start are almost always problematic.

2) Agenda

Have an agenda. This agenda should cover everything that needs to be covered. Ensure every agenda item is critical for everyone in the room. Each agenda item should have a time allocation.

3) Objectives

The meeting should have overall objectives. Each agenda item also has specific objectives. State the objectives up front. These objectives should be measurable and specific. At the end of the meeting, the group should be able to revisit the stated objectives and agree to whether the objectives were met or not.

4) Attendee List

Limit the attendee list to those who really need to attend. Beware that large meeting sizes can be counter-productive to making progress. Simultaneously, be inclusive of critical stakeholders and decision makers. Be respectful not to waste valuable time for those whose presence is non-essential. (Good idea to invite individuals as required or optional, so long as there is acceptance that optional attendees may skip.) For standing meetings that have set attendee lists, ensure all agenda items are relevant to the entire audience. If some topics are relevant to only a sub-group of attendees, plan separate or follow-up meetings with the sub-groups.

5) Pre-Reading Materials

Distribute any required or suggested pre-reading materials ideally 48 hours, and no less than 24 hours, in advance. Given that people have packed calendars filled with other meetings and commitments, allot sufficient time for attendees to read and digest materials and collect their thoughts to best prep for a productive session. Sending reading materials with ample time for attendees to read and process will not only improve the meeting’s outcome, this also demonstrates a level of courtesy, professionalism, and respect for others’ time. Note, the longer the pre-reading packet, the longer the lead time should be for materials dissemination.

6) Discussion Topics/Questions

To help lead and navigate the meeting, have specific topics or questions for each discussion item on the agenda. Include these questions in the pre-reading materials, so attendees can form some thoughts ahead of the meeting. These specific topics and questions, along with the objectives, will help narrow the scope of each agenda item.

7) Meeting Owner

Each meeting must have a specific overall meeting owner. Distinct agenda items may also have distinct individual owners. Be clear on who owns the meeting and who owns each item. The owner needs to maintain control. This meeting owner leads the meeting, is the time-keeper, directs when and how to move through agenda items, decides which topics to park for future follow-up, and manages unruly participants.

8) Time Management

Meetings should start on time, end on time, and hit all agenda items, unless there is agreement that an agenda item is given extended time or punted. Worst meeting is a meeting that starts late, runs late, and doesn’t get through the agenda.

9) Summary of Progress and Next Steps

Towards the end of the meeting (and possibly also at the end of each agenda item,) summarize progress. Ensure you circle back for this review, so everyone leaves the meeting on the same page with regards to learnings, take-aways, and decisions made. Before the meeting concludes, lay out specific, actionable next steps with assigned owners to each next step. Ask if anything is missing to compile a comprehensive list. Gain agreement on all next steps, deliverables, and owners. Whenever possible, nail down the follow-up dates and times.

10) Close

Do a final wrap-up. Thank people for their time. Say a few closing words. This section can be just a sentence or two. Best to intentionally wrap and end instead of rushing through the final agenda items as everyone runs off to their next meeting.

Happy Meetings!