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How to Run and Lead a Business Meeting

by nick

Business meetings are often considered one of the least productive business activities. Have you ever been at a meeting where all you can think about is how much more productive you’d be working alone at your desk? There’s no structure, no leadership and no direction. You leave the meeting feeling drained, de-motivated and even more confused as to what the meeting was about and its purpose. People dislike meetings, often skipping them and not paying attention during them. However, it’s not always the meetings themselves that people hate; it’s how the meetings are run. Without a leader, meetings can become unproductive and inefficient, not only wasting time and money, but draining office morale.

Leading a business meeting may seem like a daunting task at first, but with some preparation it can be dealt with as successfully as any other business task. Here’s how you can lead a productive meeting.

Establish whether a meeting is necessary. Before scheduling a meeting, it must be first decided whether it is absolutely necessary. Remember that a meeting is not always the most effective way. You should only call for a meeting if:

  • The information to be discussed could not be distributed via telephone, email or memo. Meetings should never be scheduled when only one-way information exchange is needed.
  • There are advantages to having everyone together in one room.

It’s your responsibility to determine the need for calling the meeting and who should attend. In general, it’s best to invite as few participants as possible (key players only).

Set an agenda. This is vital for a productive meeting. Without a clear, pre-set agenda, a meeting may drift off-topic and possibly go on longer than scheduled. And when you’re finished and everyone has left, you’ll probably remember an important point that you forgot to raise, thus requiring another meeting.

Type up an agenda and circulate it in advance of the meeting.  Email a copy of the set agenda one or two days before the meeting to give them an idea of what to expect and some time to start thinking about the topics to be addressed and how they’d like to contribute. It also gives people time to review the agenda and make additions or objections to the agenda before the meeting instead of at the meeting. Make it clear that if a topic is not on the agenda then it won’t be discussed during the meeting. Paste the agenda into the main body of the email. People generally don’t open attachments and some mobile phones don’t support word applications.

Ensure that key people will be in attendance. If you arrange a meeting knowing that the key people can’t come, you’ll spend the meeting second guessing what they’d say and decisions will be deferred meaning more meetings will be required. You’ll also waste time brining these key people up to date by going over the meeting again. Always arrange a meeting when you know the key people can make it.

Resolve individual issues before the meeting. Even if you state that only agenda items can be discussed in the meeting, there will always be someone who will try and break the rule and bring up their own issues. This will throw the meeting off track. If you’re aware that someone has an issue that doesn’t affect the group, discuss this issue one on one before the meeting to solve the problem and avoid any interruptions.

Bring food and drink. If your meeting is likely to run over half an hour, consider bringing something for people to eat and drink.

Start on time. This shows respect to the people that showed up on time. Acknowledge latecomers with a nod, if at all. No mention needs to be made of their lateness to the meeting, however don’t recap. Doing so legitimizes lateness and disrespects those who show up on time.

Get straight to the point. If there’s any back ground information relating to the issues to be discussed in the meeting, circulate this information in an email before the meeting so everyone is up to speed. You can then skip the background information and jump into the issue and come up with a solution or a course of action. If people haven’t prepared or bothered to read the information provided to them, stop the meeting. Moving forward will be a waste of time. This takes some guts, but people will definitely come prepared next time.

Come up with a solution. Most of the time during a meeting when people are unable to agree, the issue is put to one side, which means that there will unsurprisingly be another meeting in the near future to tackle the problem again. So, if possible, try to avoid these future meetings by coming up with a tangible solution and clear actions for people to take.

Control the discussion. This is a leader’s most valuable quality. You need to be able to keep the discussion productive and on topic. There are certain ways that you can achieve this:

  • Ask good questions. Often people can’t come up with the right answer because the leader isn’t asking the right questions. Ask questions that make people think.
  • Get feedback. A leader in a meeting needs to ensure that there’s plenty of feedback and collaboration. Without a leader, the very opinionated, who do not necessarily have the best ideas, will take over the discussion, while the more quieter ones sit back and watch. Entice the quieter people into the discussion by asking questions like: “John, you’ve undertaken this task before, how is the best way to go about it?” However be aware that some people are quiet because they have nothing to offer in the discussion. A good leader can tell the difference.
  • Close out disruptions. When people are getting off topic or just rambling on, a good leader is able to shut them down. Wait for the person to pause and then say something like:
    • “We’ll talk about that after the meeting.”
    • “Good point but we need to stick to the agenda.”
    • “Let’s make a note of that for now and we can put it onto the agenda for next time.”

Review the meeting. At the end of the meeting, quickly tick off the agenda of everything that you’ve accomplished, agreed to do. Delegate tasks and ensure that everyone is clear on what their roles are. Don’t ask for “any other business” Doing so could make the meeting overrun.

Finish on time. If you want to encourage people to attend meetings, then they need to know that they can trust you that the meetings will begin and finish on time, As a leader, your aim to is achieve everything you want out of the meeting in an established time frame.

Follow everything up. You need to ensure things get done and that the meeting wasn’t a waste of time. Remember that you need to summarize at the start of the next meeting what was accomplished since the last one. You need something to say.

If you’re not at the point of your career where you’re expected to lead meetings then there isn’t much you can do to control the meeting inanity. However meetings are a great for showing your potential leadership skills. Be on time, be prepared and have something good to say and hopefully you’ll be the one calling all the shots.

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