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Conducting effective meetings

Do you sometimes feel you spend too much time in meetings?  Do you ask yourself why you are there?  Does the meeting go on and on?

All of us in business participate and often have the responsibility to conduct meetings.  What are some tips to ensuring the time is not wasted and that something is actually accomplished?

1.  Have clear objectives for meeting —  Every meeting should have a clearly defined specific purpose.  Ask yourself the question, “ What am I seeking to accomplish?” Stay on topic. Develop the agenda and distribute to invitees in advance of the meeting. If you are the organizer or facilitator prepare well in advance.  Have available any pertinent handouts for participants and use tools including power point presentations to communicate points for discussion.

2.  Invite the appropriate people to attend — Take time to determine who should be in attendance. If the people in attendance don’t know each other have introductions at the beginning of the meeting. If you are announcing a change, ensure that all the people affected by the announcement attend.  If the purpose is to solve a problem invite those who will be good sources to find a solution.   If it is to gather and compile information include all involved at various levels in the process to be examined.

3.  Stick to a schedule — Always start on time. Have an agenda that lays out everything you plan to cover in the meeting.  Allot time segments to each subject so you will stay on schedule and make the most of discussions.  Rarely should meetings last more than an hour.  You will lose people’s attention when the meeting drags on.  Don’t allow anyone to go on and on. As chair of the meeting it is your responsibility to keep things moving.  It may require intervention and cutting off the incessant talkers who ramble on and on and monopolize the conversation. End on time.

4.  Answer questions and address concerns — Interaction is the key to productive meetings.  Encourage engagement of participants.  Answer questions you can and acknowledge if you don’t have the answer. Don’t reprimand participants even if you disagree with the information they share.  Ensure all voices are heard.  Be considerate of others. Speak last, not first.  Your job is to facilitate.

5.  Have someone take notes of the meeting — Documenting the meeting in writing is important to ensure follow-up is on target and an accurate record of topics discussed is made. If you are conducting the meeting it is difficult to be the note taker at the same time. Some meetings may also require more official minutes be taken.

6.  Follow up — It is common for people to come away from the same meeting  with different interpretations of what went on.  After the meeting email participants a summary of what happened to all who attended. Do it within the next 24 hours.   Document the responsibilities assigned, tasks delegated and any deadlines. This will ensure all will be on the same page.

7.  Identify next steps — If a follow up meeting is needed announce that you will notify everyone of the next time and place.  Don’t wait too long to schedule the follow up meeting but ensure you give enough time for those who participated and took assignments to complete them.

Meetings are essential in businesses and organizations.  The goal should not be to eliminate meetings but to make meetings more effective.  Meeting leaders and participants both have responsibility for the effectiveness and productivity.  A sobering exercise is to calculate the compensation of all attendees to the meeting to determine the actual cost.  It will shock you. This eye opening exercise will serve to tighten up time frames for meetings in the future and ensure a serious consideration of the necessity of holding a meeting.

Meetings can be valuable and productive.  Planning in advance, being well prepared, focusing on the purpose, conducting the meeting well and following up will help your company be a quality organization and make a difference in productivity.  Running meetings is a skill that can be developed.  Another benefit is that you can gain a reputation for running effective meetings that don’t waste people’s time and actually accomplish something.  This will result in others taking you more seriously and be more open to attending future meetings where you are in charge.  It can be good for you and your career as you demonstrate leadership and team building ability.

Becky Vaughn-Furlow retired from Trustmark Bank as executive vice president and human resources director. She can be contacted by emailing bvaughnfurlow@gmail.com.