12 Simple Steps for Planning Effective Meetings

How to Set Your Meeting Objective and Get Results

planning effective meetings

If you are like most people I know, the thought of spending a day in back-to-back meetings brings feelings of dread. Meetings may be boring, are often unnecessary, and definitely take time away from other work. But meetings can be very efficient and productive if they are planned right.

12 Simple Steps for Planning Effective Meetings

Do You Really Need a Meeting?

First, decide if planning a meeting is really necessary.

Oftentimes, we think of a formal meeting as the best way to share information or discuss a topic. But if your news can be delivered via email or conference call, or just by rallying a few people in your office for 15 minutes, then skip the formal meeting.

Only Invite the People that Really Need to Be There

Ever been invited to a meeting and wondered — halfway through — why you are there? Don’t waste people’s time by inviting them to a meeting that they do not need to attend. That will not be an effective meeting. Does someone from accounting need to be present at the meeting to answer budget questions? Then invite one individual from accounting who is suited for that task.

If a colleague or supervisor needs to be informed of what was discussed at a meeting, you don’t need to invite them to the actual meeting. Simply prepare a meeting summary and send it to them afterwards. They will appreciate the time saver and you have the assurance that — because you put the information in writing — that they are fully informed of discussions.

Send Out Meeting Reminders

Life is busy and calendars quickly become booked with scheduled activities. Send out a follow-up meeting reminder two days before your meeting. This will confirm those people who responded that they would be in attendance and also lets you know ahead of time if schedules have changed and key participants cannot make the scheduled meeting time.

Have an Agenda

To plan effective meetings, you must first plan what will be discussed. What is the objective of the meeting? What are you seeking to accomplish?

Develop a meeting agenda ahead of time and distribute it to attendees. Indicate the start time and include a short list of topics to be addressed. Don’t bog down your own meeting with a lengthy, overly detailed agenda. Indicate by name any individuals that will be responsible for reporting on a specific area.

Be Clear About Expectations

When you first send out notification of the meeting, be clear about its purpose and your expectations. Will the meeting revolve around a presentation and attendees should be prepared to take notes? Or is this a brainstorming session where attendees are expected to show up with ideas and suggestions?

In some corporate cultures, employees are gathered to listen only and then head back to their workspaces. In other companies, employees freely participate. In today’s collaborative workplaces, interaction and sharing of ideas is not only welcome at meetings; it is frequently the purpose of the meeting itself.

Start on Time

If you are the person who typically shows up for meetings on time, then you understand how frustrating it is when the actual meeting doesn’t get going for 15 minutes as folks trickle into the room.

What inevitably happens is, going forward, everyone knows that these meetings never start on time so everyone starts showing up late.

Take charge of your meeting. Start promptly at the given start time. Shut the door and begin. Those stragglers will quickly get the message that they are arriving late and they should only make that mistake once.

Keep It Short and Simple

Most meetings are slated for an hour when — in many cases — 30 minutes or even 45 minutes will suffice. When too much time is allotted, the usual outcome is that time is wasted. People linger after the meeting is over or spend too long on a given agenda item. Keep meetings short and to the point.

Stay on Topic

An agenda alone will not run your meeting efficiently. Stick to the agenda and keep discussions from wandering off on tangents.

Address any off-topic questions, stating that it is a topic for another meeting, it will be addressed privately, or the like. No one likes a runaway meeting where the purpose of the meeting took a backseat to other conversation.

Take Smaller Meetings Outside the Conference Room

Sitting in the same familiar conference room gathered around the same familiar table is just that — familiar. To encourage employees to interact, think creatively, and have lively discussions, consider taking the meeting outside of the standard conference room.

Consider meeting at a table outside if venue and weather allow. Try gathering in a common area that has sofas and small tables instead of a large conference table and swivel chairs.

Don’t Be Afraid to Take a Different Approach

If the approach to the meeting isn’t working, don’t be afraid to switch course. For example, if a brainstorming session is yielding a quiet room with very little dialogue, change direction. Be flexible and pay attention to how the overall meeting is progressing.

Use Technology

Plan to use technology to keep attendees engaged. In today’s digital world, most people are used to seeing graphics or videos to support the words they hear. Appeal to that mindset and incorporate audiovisuals when planning your meeting.

Computers projected onto large screens and Smart Board presentations that encourage interaction are a welcome change from the standard lengthy PowerPoint presentations.

Send out a Meeting Summary

Within a day after the meeting, send out a brief summary of what was discussed. Disseminate this via email to all those in attendance, those that were unable to attend the meeting, and those that need to be informed. Also include any action items, specifying who is responsible for each item as well as the due date.