Have you ever sat through a meeting and wondered, “What am I doing here?”

Or, have you ever left a meeting and thought, “Well, that’s an hour of my life I’ll never get back!”

Meetings are a fact of life in business. Unfortunately, many meetings are poorly run and relatively unproductive, leaving attendees feeling like they just wasted their time. Meeting facilitators can avoid these pitfalls by taking several steps to ensure that they’re running effective meetings.

Strategies to Run an Effective Meeting

  • Define a clear objective. The meeting should have a specific and well-defined purpose. When planning a meeting, ask yourself, “What do I want to accomplish?” or “By the end of this meeting, what do I want the group to do?” If you can state the purpose in one detailed sentence that answers these questions, you will be able to develop an agenda focused on achieving that goal and be able to rein in conversational tangents during the meeting.
  • Think through your meeting invitation list. Invite only the people directly related to accomplishing your objective. While office politics can sometimes come into play when sending out meeting invites, most people will appreciate the fact that you’re respectful of their time by only including them when their input is relevant or required.
  • Create an agenda – and stick to it. The agenda is the guide for how the meeting will proceed. Distributing it prior to the meeting gives attendees an opportunity to prepare and bring any necessary information with them. It also helps you as the facilitator stay on track. The conversation may begin to veer in a direction that isn’t related to the meeting topic, so by referring everyone back to the agenda, you can help keep the discussion focused on accomplishing the meeting’s objective. Agendas should be detailed with start and end times for each topic to be discussed, the names of people speaking or leading particular pieces of the meeting, and any other details that need to be shared with attendees in advance of the meeting. While drafting your agenda, connect with the people you’ve identified as leading portions of the discussion to confirm their participation and get their input on the agenda item.
  • Be a stickler for time. You show respect for the meeting attendees by starting and ending the meeting at the times on the agenda. Don’t wait for latecomers to straggle into the room before beginning – the people who were on time will be resentful of this waste of their time. By accommodating this poor behavior, it will also seem to be acceptable. Any late arrivals will have to jump in as best they can – don’t recap what they missed or tell them “It’s OK,” when they apologize. Again, you’re setting the expectation that people will be on time as a sign of respect for their colleagues, which will help curb this behavior at future meetings.
  • Prevent hostage-taking. Most meetings have at least one person who seems to monopolize the conversation. As the meeting facilitator, it’s your job to prevent them from hijacking the discussion. You can use one of several tactics, depending on the person and your own style. These include:
    • Setting a ground rule at the beginning of the meeting that everyone is respectful of time and their colleagues, and that you as the facilitator may need to move the discussion along by asking them to give the floor to someone else.
    • Joking gently about your role as the big bad time-keeper and needing to be a stickler for keeping to the times allotted can lighten the mood without aiming the joke at the long-winded talker.
    • Addressing the situation directly by saying, “Let’s give others a chance to share their input before making a decision,” will move things along while sparing the speaker’s feelings.
  • Share meeting minutes within 24 hours. Prior to the meeting, ask a colleague to act as note-taker during the meeting. Take their notes and type up meeting minutes that are then given to all who attended within 24 hours. Be sure to include what decisions were made, what timelines were established, and who was assigned responsibility for accomplishing each goal or task. Sharing these minutes helps eliminate any confusion about roles and expectations in moving forward. You can also thank people for their active participation and their effort in accomplishing next steps when you distribute the minutes. This gratitude can help build relationships and goodwill for you and your project.

Using these strategies can help you run efficient and effective meetings – and earn you a reputation for being a strong and fair leader.

What strategies have you used to make your meetings successful? What have you seen others do well – or do poorly? Share your thoughts here!