How to Run Great Business Meetings
If you have ever sat in a business meeting so tedious that it feels like it will never end, you know the score…
The same goes when you are stuck in a contentious business meeting where the atmosphere is so electric in a negative way that you feel like leaving as soon as you can.
Whether it is virtual or real-world, there’s nothing worse than a bad meeting, a toxic meeting, a pointless meeting. However, there’s nothing quite so good as a meeting that hits the mark perfectly, leaving everyone buoyed up, confident and raring to go. Here’s how to make your meetings go with a swing rather than a sigh, a dull thump or an actual explosion!
Do you need to hold a meeting in the first place?
Before we start, one of the biggest complaints about meetings is spending hours having them when there’s no real need. If you can achieve the same with an email exchange, phone call or Skype encounter, do it that way.
Most people feel very frustrated when their time is wasted. If you can build yourself a reputation for running efficient and fruitful meetings, it will benefit your career. Whatever kind of meeting you have set up, here’s how to make sure it is worth having. If you are leading a project, team or department, or you are maybe new to managing others, this one for you.
How to run positive face to face business meetings
Are you sitting comfortably? If not, there’s less chance you will get what you want out of the meeting. Avoid making people sit for extended periods of time, consider making it a physically comfortable experience. Also, consider factoring in proper formal breaks.
Paying attention to the planning of meetings always pays dividends, saving time and effort. Are you certain you have invited the right stakeholders and decision makers? Be clear about what the group wants to accomplish, and how decisions will be made: via a vote, consensus, by the chair or by recommendations to senior staff? Set responsibilities and goals too, so everyone knows where he or she stands:
- Start and finish with your primary objective/s
- Use the least amount of time possible
- Leave attendees with clear actions to take
Giving the meeting some variety helps a lot – maybe plan some time with a whiteboard noting down ideas, sometimes presenting ideas, and the rest of discussion. Setting up the rules is equally important, so people know where they stand and what is expected of them. You might use any or all of these guidelines to create a safe environment for people to discuss things openly and confidently:
- ‘What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas’ – What is said here, remains here
- Please be honest and open
- Be respectful and don’t interrupt, even if you do not agree
- Everyone gets to voice their opinion
- It is OK to have fun as well as be serious
- There’s no such thing as a stupid question or answer or a wrong one
It is important to actively manage the energy of a meeting, in other words, its personality. If you are not experienced, a facilitator might be what you need. A facilitator is usually someone independent who does not have a stake in what occurs at the meeting, someone who can keep everyone on track, dilute any emotional content safely, ensure you all stick to the meeting plan, cover everything on the agenda and ends it on time.
It makes much sense to make sure that you set up other people’s contributions before the meeting, so create an agenda for everyone to focus on together. A broad outline defining your objectives is ideal, covering the headlines of what needs to be discussed. It does not have to be detailed. If you can include who will be making the decisions and how, and what kind of outcomes are anticipated, that is even better.
An agenda means you will have a bunch of actual, prioritised actions attached to the meeting. However, a meeting on its own is meaningless unless you know that those actions have been handled, not just forgotten. Follow up every meeting with notes of the actions that have been agreed. You do not need detailed minutes unless you want to, but following up with actions regarding what, who, how and by when ensures your meeting will have been genuinely worthwhile.
When you review the agenda at the end, you should ensure everything has been adequately covered. If you have missed off something or you ran out of time, make sure you note it down so it can be dealt with later or at the next meeting.
How to run excellent virtual meetings
Virtual meetings have their set of problems. However, they can be extremely positive experiences when handled wisely. If you run them, pay the right amount of attention to them. Give them the time and quality attention that they deserve, and they will work just as well as in-person meetings.
With the amount of time spent on Skype, Gotomeeting and Good hangout type meeting set ups. You need to plan these wisely too. For a start, you need a strong presenter who can bring people in at the right time. If you are video conferencing it is easier but usually more intense – get it wrong, and you can see people switching off. If you are running an audio group call, as a presenter it can be helpful to note down the names of everyone present. Ultimately, making it easier to bring everyone in and involve them all.
Running an effective virtual meeting is all about structure and order, the things you need to accomplish and the outcome you want. When everyone has a real objective, there’s a tight agenda, and you are committed to involving participants in the planning, preparation and execution, you are well on the way to success.
- Invite the right people
- Create an agenda
- Keep the meeting as short as possible
- Make sure everyone can access the technology
- Test that the tech works first – it is so frustrating when it does not
- Build people’s trust and social capital so they contribute as well as they would in a real world meeting: set meeting rules in advance, stop negative behaviour in its tracks, create an environment where everyone feels safe and free to express themselves honestly
- Prepare the participants, so they know what to expect, and understand what is expected of them
- Provide all the information they need beforehand to be a productive member of the meeting
- Keep everyone focused and engaged by following the agenda, not getting sidetracked, maintaining the momentum, boxing off decisions as they are made and keeping things short, sweet and simple
What do you think about virtual versus real life meetings?
Can you survive by only holding virtual meetings? Alternatively, is face-to-face time essential at some point or another to keep up the momentum? Patrick Lencioni, a highly respected expert on the way teams work. Here’s a link to his ideas about running meetings with virtual teams. He is somewhat sceptical about how well they can work without any recourse to face-to-face time. What do you think? Is a blend of face-to-face and virtual meetings the ideal way?