Before you start
Preparation is key to everything in business, and this is no exception. If you have enough time before your meeting, we recommend reading the following article before this one:
We recommend reading this article first, but once you’ve done so, please click the links below for Excel templates you might find useful. You can use these templates freely, but we ask you not to redistribute:
Let’s get started
Step 1: Arrive early to be on-time
There’s no point doing all the preparation for a smooth-running meeting, if you then arrive late! Being late immediately makes you feel flustered, which will inevitably lead to mistakes being made, and puts you on the back-foot for any negotiations (or influencing) you were planning on doing.
Some factors will be outside your control and it’s your responsibility to anticipate as many of those factors as you can, and then mitigate them, to ensure they don’t disrupt your plans. The significance of your meeting will have a bearing too. So, as you’re reading this article, be sure to balance the recommendations we make with your unique situation. We will always urge you to over-prepare, so here are some of the factors you might need to consider for to make sure your meeting starts on time:
- Unexpected traffic on the commute to the meeting location, which could delay your arrival;
- A colleague stopping you in the corridor for an update or to attempt some ad hoc influencing on you;
- A phone call from a family member or friend;
- The meeting room being booked by a group that will absolutely overrun;
- A clash in meeting room booking that will leave one group seeking another venue.
You will want your attendees to arrive on time too, so be sure to set a clear expectation up-front of when the meeting will start, so as to have sufficient time to cover all items on the agenda. Factors that delay the start of a meeting tend to include the following:
- A previous meeting has overrun (blocking your room or delaying your attendees from arriving on time);
- Attendees arrive but then immediately need a comfort break;
- Attendees arrive but are then seeking liquid refreshments;
- Attendees make phone calls between meetings, and your meeting start is delayed to an attendee being on the phone.
Sometimes, it will be impossible to stop these factors from occurring, so the best thing is to allow a small amount of time for them, and ensure that when the meeting actually starts, everyone is aware that the finish time still stands.
Step 2: Introductions
There are two schools of thought: introduce people as part of the agenda, or before the agenda. We recommend getting the introductions out of the way and before the real purpose of the meeting is tackled.
At this stage, you should only be introducing people by name, role and company. The back-story to each individual comes later, if relevant.
Doing introductions in this way gets all attendees on to the same level, in terms of knowing who’s who. This knowledge can and will shape the subsequent behaviours of the attendees and is a critical stage for you to ensure you’ve welcomed everyone individually.
A very simple way to tackle this is to seat everyone and say:
“Thanks for coming. Before we go through the agenda, I’d like each of you to briefly introduce ourselves. So, if we could go round the table stating our name, role and company (if relevant) please. Starting here…”
Once introductions are complete, agree / announce who is taking minutes of the meeting.
Step 3: Agenda and expectations
The agenda will have been circulated ahead of the meeting, so this step is about understanding whether the agenda still makes sense, given that things in business can change quickly.
So, mention each agenda item as it currently stands, then open the floor to the attendees to contribute their ‘additional expectations of the meeting’. This could prompt discussion about the rationale of certain agenda items and whether they should be removed. It could prompt attendees to suggest additional outcomes they’d like from the meeting or perhaps a particular nuance of an existing agenda item.
No ‘expectation’ should be treated as a crazy contribution. Note them all, along with the raiser’s name, and allow for brief discussion if there’s some dispute. You will refer to the ‘expectations’ list at the end of the meeting.
Now review the list of expectations to ensure there’s an agenda item already in-place to discuss each of them. If not, add an appropriate agenda item so that topic is covered. If new agenda items are opposed by the attendees (e.g. due to lack of time), seek some consensus on whether to cover the extra item today or in a separate meeting. In the case of it being taken to another meeting, make sure a next step / action is given to someone in the meeting to schedule the additional meeting.
Now you have an agenda, you need to allocate a time to each agenda item, to stand the best chance of completing on time. This is a collaborative step, led by you. If there’s too much on the agenda for this meeting, agree to schedule a separate meeting and ‘next step’ it.
The by-product of this step is that everyone has had a chance to shape the meeting and the expected outcomes. If the flow of the agenda also needs to change to meet the needs of the attendees, allow it. Now, everyone should be on-board and keen to engage in discussion.
Step 4: Conduct the meeting
Take each agenda item in-turn, quietly noting the start time and calculating when discussion needs to complete by. If context or background is need, ensure this is kept to the point and as brief as possible.
For a lengthy background or context, we recommend circulating a pre-read beforehand, so all attendees come to the meeting prepared. This is a more traditional approach.
Some businesses, like Amazon, are now taking an alternative approach where context papers are circulated in the meeting. These are then read during the meeting by all attendees and then discussed. There are several benefits to this approach:
- Everyone will have read the context paper before then discussing it;
- Should the agenda item be pulled just ahead of the meeting, due to changes in circumstance, no one will have wasted time reading the context paper unnecessarily;
- It supports Agile methodology, in that time is only spent on something when it is of high value.
As the meeting progresses, only key decisions and next steps need to be captured. A blow-by-blow account of the meeting is very unlikely to be read by anyone and is rarely worthwhile in business. This is not the case in some settings where regulatory requirements stipulate a more stringent level of notetaking, or where there are potential legal implications for other reasons.
Step 5: Review the expectations
Once all agenda items have been covered, review the list of expectations captured at the start and ask each raiser if their expectation had been covered satisfactorily. If there are still items to discuss, simply ‘next step’ them for a subsequent meeting.
Step 6: Wrap-up
Some attendees will be looking at their watches / phones and wanting to head for the door, so keep this step brief.
Thank everyone for coming and for their contribution. Let them know when the minutes and / or next steps will be circulated. Also, let them know if / when the next meeting is, if known.
Always leave your meeting facility as you would wish to find it yourself. This small detail demonstrates to others your values and level of professionalism.
Now you have the technique for running a really effective meeting, perhaps you could extend your skillset a little by looking at another structured technique – SMART objectives.