One of the biggest challenges you face when asked to chair a meeting is to keep everyone on topic and focused. It’s such a challenge, in fact, that most managers dread the thought of hosting a meeting. They know that if they don’t keep the meeting focused and on topic little will be accomplished and most attendees will consider the whole exercise a waste of time.
Plan Ahead for Best Results
Preparing a detailed meeting agenda shows you respect the attendees’ time and value their input. You’ll have a better turnout and more active participation – both important elements of a successful meeting. Your agenda should include the following:
- Meeting objectives
- Action item review
- Specific topics you’ll cover
- Any new action items
Ideally, you should send your agenda with the initial invitation to the meeting, and both should go out at least a week in advance. Participants need time to consider their part in the meeting, and to schedule the meeting date on their calendars.
Additionally, if the purpose of your meeting is to finalize an important decision, plan to spend the week prior discussing various options with decision makers and answering their questions. By getting buy-in from the decision makers in advance of the meeting you ensure that the meeting will run smoothly and be merely a formality in the approval process.
Role Playing Keeps Everyone on Task
Meetings with more than a few participants can be difficult to manage. Defining and assigning basic roles beforehand will keep everyone focused, and help prevent time overruns. The three key roles are those of chairperson, record keeper, and timekeeper.
The chairperson’s job is to follow the agenda and make sure all topics are covered. The record keeper is responsible for taking notes and compiling minutes. The timekeeper watches the clock and lets the chairperson know when it’s time to move to the next topic.
Dealing with Off-Topic Discussion
All meetings have the potential to stray from the original topic. Just as in everyday conversation, one subject leads naturally to another, and soon you’re discussing infrastructure upgrades instead of new acceptable use policies. In such cases, use the Parking Lot technique: make note of the subject then defer – or park – it for consideration at a later time. Handling off-topic discussions in a meaningful way sends the message that while the subject is important, it would be better to address it later.
Follow-Up for Better Feedback
Getting the most out of a meeting doesn’t end when participants head back to their offices. Follow-up quickly – within 24 hours – and distribute minutes to all attendees. Use the same format as your meeting agenda, with notes about actions taken, new action items assigned and their due dates, and a short sentence or two about each topic discussed.
Successful meetings don’t happen by accident. With careful planning and execution, though, they can be effective and efficient. Learning to host a productive meeting will not only help accomplish your goals, it will also enhance your professional standing and earn you the well-deserved reputation as someone who gets things done.