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Well-run meetings are good for your career (part 1)

In the last newsletter, I talked about presentations, which started me thinking about just where and when presentations occur. Most of the time, it’s in a meeting, so I have put together some information on creating effective meetings that I hope will be helpful. Like presentations, meetings can take different forms and contribute to workplace success or failure on many levels. 

This newsletter is Part One of what will be a few parts describing how to plan, conduct and follow up on meetings.

Planning an effective meeting

As with so many things, planning is vitally important for meetings. Questions like “What do I/we want to accomplish?” are at the core of this stage. Of course there will be times when an unplanned, impromptu meeting has to be held, but here we will focus on meetings with some lead time.

Preparing

First and foremost, what is the purpose of the meeting? People respond to purposeful meetings, and tend to minimize their input in routine meetings. A rule of thumb is that “every meeting should be special.”

There are two basic types of meetings:

  • Informational or non-participatory, where information is being presented
  • Participatory, where input and discussion are sought

For the first category, you might consider an alternative means of sending out the information: an email, a handout, etc. You may find it valuable to calculate the cost in salary/wages for each of the attendees to be present for the meeting – this can be remarkably high, and could point you towards different ways of sending out information.

Participatory meetings are planned to involve the attendees at some level. This can be, for example:

  • To brainstorm
  • To vote on an issue
  • To report on events
  • To arrive at a consensus on an issue

What is most important is that the attendees be aware of the purpose of the meeting. This means a clear agenda that is sent out in advance, a clear process and clear goals.

Even the time that you set for the meeting can have an impact. Be efficient in your use of time. We tend to set meetings to one hour or 30 minutes. Watch out here; if you have an hour, the meeting will stretch to fit that time, and if you have 30 minutes set up, you may find yourself racing to finish.

Many organizations have regular meetings, with varying results. It is very important that these meetings be evaluated for the effectiveness and continued as such, or modified to improve their effectiveness. Some meetings also have a political component that needs to be taken into account. For example, there are staff meetings that are showcases for recent events, and meetings that are misused for negative feedback.

Summary

So at this point in the planning stage, you should have clearly defined/sent out/prepared:

  • The purpose for the meeting and its goals
  • Where and when the meeting will take place
  • The list of attendees, including guests
  • The meeting agenda
  • The decision-making process (voting, consensus, etc.)
  • The meeting materials (presentations, handouts, etc.)

In the next newsletter, we will look at getting the meeting underway, and understanding what can go right and wrong in meetings. In the meantime, you can start to think about meetings in your organization – what’s good and not so good about them?

Thanks to the “Managers Guide to Effective Meetings” by Barbara J. Streibel for some of the material in this newsletter.