Did you know there are 11 million business meetings every day in the U.S.? Think of the number of hours that represents - hours during which meeting attendees could have been taking care of business in other ways. So the first key to holding a successful meeting is making a management decision: Is this meeting necessary?
Make a Business Meeting Worth Everyone's Time
By Following These Steps
Set your objectives for the meeting. The more concrete the objectives, the more focused your agenda, the better you will be able to evaluate the success of the meeting and the shorter the meeting will be. Objectives might include: problem-solving, brainstorming, project status report - all objectives that require group input.
Schedule a Business Meeting
Only When You Have to
As a general rule of thumb, if the same information could be covered in a memo, an email or a brief report, don't schedule a meeting. Of course many organizations, notably non-profits, whose bylaws call for regularly scheduled meetings of the board of directors, don't have any choice in the matter. But holding a team meeting just because it's Monday isn't a good enough reason. Your team members will thank you and will believe that when you do schedule a meeting, it is necessary and important.
The Business Meeting Agenda
An agenda is your roadmap for the meeting and should be prepared in conjunction with key participants. You need to include any background material that will be helpful so attendees are well-prepared to participate and feel they are "in the loop". The most important purpose of an agenda is to keep the meeting on track!
All agendas should include the following:
- Date of the meeting
- Sart and end times
- Meeting location
- purpose of the meeting (to address a particular problem, to brainstorm an issue, to report on the status of project elements, etc.)
- Individual top headings (include some detail for each and the time it is expected to last)
- An indication of which meeting participants are expected to participate, when and in what capacity
Email the agenda to all meeting attendees and ask if there are any other items, concerns or questions that should be added. Once it is finalized, stick to it! Post the agenda on a flip chart in the meeing room so attendees can refer to it.
The Business Meeting Itself
Whether you "facilitate" a meeting or "run" it depends on the objective of the meeting. By definition, facilitating means to make something run more smoothly and easily. Facilitation (sometimes by an outside professional meeting facilitator) is usually reserved for a special, rarely held, full-day long-term planning meeting or a high impact brainstorming session during which the objectives are to encourage maximum input and reach a consensus. A facilitated business meeting tends to be free form and to flow wherever the ideas being generated take it.
Running a regular business meeting requires a different mindset: getting your objective accomplished as quickly as possible by following an agenda. Your role, at least while you are new to management, will be to run the meeting.
Arrange the meeting room. If possible, try for a U-shaped setup so attendees can see you and each other. The next best alternative is a round or oval table.
Conduct the meeting.
Welcome attendees - even late arrivers.
Be sure someone is assigned to take minutes or take them yourself. Meeting minutes are sometimes the only written "history" of progress toward achieving goals. If you are challenged as to something you did or why your did it, meeting minutes can be your livesaved. (This I know also from personal experience.
Start with an icebreaker - a quick, simple lead-in. You can also serve refreshments, starting 10 minutes before the meeting is scheduled to begin. This is not only a good ice-breaker but usually helps get everyone to the meeting so you can begin on time.
Begin conducting the business os the meeting on time by reviewing the agenda and stressing important priorities.
Keep the meeting on track
- Don let any personal issues be raised that could take up time.
- Ensure that evreyone remains focused on the topic under distussion.
- Actively discourage side discussions.
Encourage group discussion to get all views and ideas aired Summarize agreements reached on each topic.
Be sure the discussion of each topic ends with an action plan, including who is responsible for what and when. If something arises you hadn't anticipated but is relevant, address it right then by making it an action item - even if it is noted in the minutes that it will be addressed at the next meeting. This shows meeting participants that you value their input as well as their time.
During the last few minutes of evry meeting, review assigned action steps. It is also helpful if you have participants critique the meeting so you can assess what took place. (A critique is best done in writing and given to you so attendees will be honest and open.) And if you are required to hold a regular meeting, remind attendees where and when the next meeting will be held.
Thank everyone for attending.
End on time.
After the Meeting
After a business meeting, be sure minutes are distributed within three of four days. Quick action reinforces the importance of the meeting and reduces the chance for memory lapses (convenient or otherwise). While you are new in your job, take a few minutes to discuss any problems that arose during the meeting with your boss - even if he or she attended.
Business Meeting Minutes
There's no special trick to taking minutes well if you follow some guidelines. If you assign this task to a team member, just review the following with them to be sure they are comfortable with the process - and it will sound as if you're an expert!
- Prepare an outline for taking minutes based on the agenda before the meeting begins. Just leave enough space between each item to take notes. With an outline, you or your designee, can move from item to item quickly.
- Prepare a list of expected attendees ahead of time and check them off as they arrive. (Or pass out a blank sheet of paper ahd have everyone sign in.)
- Don't try to write down every single comment. Just note the gist of the discussion so you can summarize the issues discussed, major points raised and decisions made for each item.
- Use a recording method that works best for you - a tape recorder, your laptop, or just a pad of paper and pen. Be sure that whomever is taking the minutes has copies of any handouts.
- If you are an active participant as well as the scribe, make notes ahead of time of questions you want to ask or issues you need addressed. That way you won't lost track of what is happening while you are actively involved in the meeting.
- Publish the minutes to the appropriate distribution list as soon as possible while your memory of the meeting is fresh.
And Finally, Lest You Forget . . .
Don't leave awareness of your body language in your office. In fact, with a group of people, any disconnect between what you say and how you say it will be magnified and broadcast to a larger audience.
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