Lead a Meeting to Order

Submitted by SharpMan Editorial Team on Friday 15th October 2010
In this article
  • Define the purpose of your meeting.
  • Learn to designate roles and facilitate discussion.
  • Uncover the secrets to effective meetings.

If you’ve made it past the first rung on the corporate ladder, then you’ve most likely been initiated into the darling of corporate culture: the business meeting. Meetings come in all sizes and formats, ranging from lots of people at regular, weekly meetings to a couple of coworkers gathered for an impromptu discussion. Regardless of the form, meetings should be used for two primary purposes: brainstorming and decision-making.

As an up and coming manager, the ability to bring people together to solve a problem is a skill that’ll have the higher-ups singing your praises as a sharp meeting coordinator. Check out these 11 SharpWork tips for a leg up on planning, running and concluding an effective meeting:

Step One: It’s All About Timing.

Evaluate your office’s typical workday and plan your meeting around the most efficient time. Mornings are usually best because by the time the afternoon rolls around, people are feeling more pressure to complete projects. They’re also sleepy from overeating at lunch or they’ve already had a busy morning full of complications that leaves them too stretched to focus on what you have to say.

And, unless it is imperative, never schedule a meeting an hour or less before the end of the day. People are ready to go home and because of that they may not participate as much (and if they do, the meeting could drag on past dinnertime).

Step Two: Send Out an Agenda Beforehand.

No one likes surprises at work, especially on sensitive issues. Therefore, create an agenda before the meeting, type it up and send it out. On top of giving everyone a heads-up, the agenda will also ensure that the attendees are better prepared for discussing the topic.

Step Three: Show Up Ahead of the Gang.

Being a successful manager has a lot to do with having respect for those around you, especially when it comes to their time. When hosting a meeting, show up at least 10-20 minutes beforehand. Make sure that all of your audio/visual equipment is set up properly and that it works; place a printed copy of the agenda in front of each seating space and go over all your handouts. Aside from making you look like a pro, your prep materials signal that — oops — they may actually have to pay attention at this meeting.

Step Four: Serve Food.

Food can be tricky. It can be a persuasive enticement, but at the same time, a potential distraction. So keep it simple, and for better audience participation, serve high sugar, caffeinated treats. Donuts and coffee work well for morning meetings, but don’t go cheap: opt for the good donuts and splurge on coffee from a "name" coffee shop — whether national or local. If your office environment leans toward the health-conscious side, try a platter of fruit ordered from the diner around the corner (every office has one).

Lunchtime is also a good time for a meeting. It’s typically more relaxed and you’re less likely to be taking attendees away from other engagements. On top of that, most coworkers enjoy a free lunch. In other words, provide lunch.

Step Five: Keep the Discussion on Track.

Try to stick to the agenda as much as possible and prevent one person from monopolizing the discussion. Simple phrases such as "let’s move on" or "thanks, now let’s hear from someone else" can be effective.

When running a meeting, you’re not so much a participant as a facilitator. Your job is to direct the flow of the meeting. You’re part manager, part amateur psychologist as you watch people’s body language, listen to what and how things are said, and draw opinions from quieter individuals.

Step Six: Start and Stop Times.

Stick to the schedule. Start at the designated time. If someone is late, go ahead and begin the meeting, otherwise it’ll become common knowledge that although you call a meeting for a particular time, it won’t actually take place until 15 minutes later. The same goes for the end time. If the wrap-up time approaches and you’re far from finishing the discussion, then schedule another meeting. Attendees have other projects outside this one and if the meeting runs over, then you’ll interrupt their work schedule.

Step Seven: Assign a Minute Man.

You’ll have your hands full with guiding the conversations along, so turn over the all-important job of taking notes to a trusted coworker. Have him or her record everyone’s comments and (especially) commitments to follow up, and then distribute them soon after the meeting. Quick action emphasizes the importance of the meeting, as well as clears up any fuzziness regarding responsibility.

Also, if it’s a large group, be sure to call people by their names. Not only will this personalize the discussion, but it also helps the note taker to accurately assign comments/questions to the right person.

Step Eight: Keep the Conversation Flowing.

Keep the criticism or judgments at bay in order to establish a free-flowing discussion. If you don’t agree with a comment, ask for other opinions. Being open-minded often leads to more conversation and ideas.

If possible, arrange the room so that attendees are facing each other, i.e., in a circle or semi-circle. This arrangement encourages interaction and allows everyone to see each other’s facial expressions.

Finally, avoid yes and no questions. Ask open-ended questions to stimulate responses. How questions are good to use; for example, ask, "How do you think that will affect the company?"

And, be sure to schedule time at the end for questions.

Step Nine: Responsibility Gets Results.

One of the main purposes of conducting meetings is to determine whose job is it anyway? For example, if someone presents a solution, ask the group for a volunteer to facilitate all or part of that solution. Then have the note taker document who the responsible parties are and how they will report on their work. By including these commitments in the minutes, you hold these people accountable, as well as give them recognition for doing their part.

At the end of the meeting, summarize conclusions and decisions. Make sure everyone understands the next step(s) and how they’re going to be accomplished. And always be sure to end on a positive note.

Step Ten: Leave the Details to the Individual.

Again, once you’ve identified a responsible party and have assigned him or her the task of fixing a problem, let him or her run with it. If the details need to be ironed out, arrange another meeting with just the two of you – no need to waste everyone’s time listening to what someone else is going to do.

Step Eleven: Follow Up.

The whole point of holding a meeting is to accomplish a goal. Keep a running timeline of objectives, and follow up with each person to ensure that he or she is meeting his or her goals.

If your meetings are punctual, effective and positive, then you’re more likely to see results, as well as increase your chances of better participation and attendance in the future.

Good meetings equal good business.

This article last updated on Friday 15th October 2010
As you like 'Lead a Meeting to Order' you may also like following Sharp Dating articles . . .

How to Plan a Successful Meeting

The last installment of Team Basics outlined steps for using e-mail and voice mail to communicate with co-workers in the team-working environment. What about those times when

Surviving a Business Meeting in Another Culture

You've been selected to represent your company at an important meeting in another country. When the initial euphoria passes, you begin worrying about how to behave in another

Meeting Women Online

Our recent SharpDating feature Where to Meet Women got SharpMen talking. Want more? You got it. SharpDating brings you How to Meet Women Online. Meeting women online can be a

Meeting Women: Smooth Lines

You’ve spotted your target. You just know she’s Ms. Right Now. How to make the move? Rule number one: anything you read in an e-mail forward won’t work. Trust us. Instead,

Where to Sit at Meetings

Since SharpMan’s Tip of the Week on "Where to Sit at Meetings," SharpMen have requested additional information on where to sit in order to reinforce their preferred

Time Management 101

You're on a tight deadline for a project proposal, but arrive at work to find a pile of messages that require return calls or e-mails. A colleague carrying a mug of coffee

Questions that Make a Statement

Whether you’re in an interview, a meeting at work or just tossing around ideas with your boss, asking the right questions at the right time sets you apart from your peers and

An Hour a Day: Seven Time-Saving Exercise Tips for Good Health

All too often we put our own personal health too far down on the priority list. It ends up getting overlooked because we’re rushing to work, heading off to our kid’s soccer