27 Tips for Your Next Meeting

Running an effective meeting is not complicated. Here are 27 simple suggestions. Execution is everything.

Write down the objectives for the meeting. In one sentence, what should participants be able to know or do by the end of the day?

Revisit those objectives: What’s in it for participants to know or do this?

Once more: Six months from now, why will this matter?

As you design the program, consider different ways to reach your objectives. Go for variety. This doesn’t need to be fancy or complicated, just change the format as much as possible. Arrange a panel discussion, build time for small group brainstorming, have people pair off to discuss something, let them work alone in a journal, bring in a senior executive for a question & answer session, hire a juggler. Go for variety.

A week or so before the meeting, send out a pre-work package that gets people thinking. Keep it short and simple – an agenda and a few thought-provoking questions will do fine.

Get into the room early. Check everything out—especially the equipment. Equipment has a will of its own. Works fine before the meeting, then completely falls apart. Try to have a technician on hand, preferably one who knows about curses, and how to remove them.

At least 20 minutes before the meeting starts, you should be ready to go. That way you’ll appear relaxed, and organized, and you’ll be able to greet participants as they arrive.

Begin on time. At 8:30, or whatever time you said you’d start, start. Even if people are missing. (Unless everyone is missing. Then you need to ask a tough question: Are you in the right room???). Also start promptly after breaks. Shut the doors to signal the meeting is in progress. Otherwise people will straggle in later and later. Don’t let this happen. It’s not pretty.

Begin with an icebreaker. Nothing threatening or uncomfortable, just a way for people to begin talking and get a sense of who’s in the room.

Set ground rules with participants. These are dos and don’ts for the meeting to be successful. They should include items about punctuality, cell phones, beepers, and side conversations. Ideally the ground rules should come from participants, not you.

Post the ground rules. If things aren’t working, go back to the ground rules. Talk about them. Add one or two more.

Keep an eye on nonverbals. People will tell you with their facial expressions, and eye contact how they’re feeling. Do they look energized and alert? Or do they look like they’d rather be at a funeral?

If the latter, say something like, “You don’t look well. How’s this going?” Keep your tone light, but acknowledge what’s going on. And be prepared to change course. It might be as simple as taking a break, or getting everyone to stand up and do a gentle stretching exercise.

Even if things appear to be going well, periodically check. Ask some quick questions about pace, clarity, job relevance, and whether the ground rules are working. Do this right after lunch, and also at the end of the day.

Seat people at round tables if possible, so they’re in small groups. Avoid seating people “theatre-style” in rows. The idea is to encourage small group interaction.

Encourage small group interaction. Do a few brainstorming exercises to get everyone participating.

Take breaks every 60-90 minutes. Have some high-energy, nutritious snacks, like bagels, fruits, juices, etc.

Use music (before the session, during breaks, or anytime else that makes sense). Put it on to signal a break, turn it off when you restart. Or try some classical music during brainstorming – it works.

Keep tabs on the room temperature. You can never get this exactly right. Some people are going to be too cold, others too warm. Err on the side of cold.

Pay attention to the emotional climate as well. The goal is for people to feel both safe and stimulated. It’s easy to do one or the other, but only the combination gets optimal participation.

Coach your speakers on what to say and/or how to say it. Set expectations about how much time they’ll have. Err on the side of short. Tell them you’ll signal when they have two minutes left.

Remember that pre-work package? (See #5). If you sent one out, make sure you reference it during the program.

Serve a light lunch. Low-fat proteins, complex carbohydrates, vegetables, and fruits are your high-energy friends. Anything that requires gravy, deep-frying, or a cardiologist probably isn’t.

Schedule an energizing activity immediately after lunch.

Do an evaluation at the end. Make sure you find out two things: 1) What went well? 2) How you can do it even better next time?

End on time, or even 10 minutes early. It’s a little thing but, like everything else on this list, can make a big difference.

Call express potential® at 508-879-0934, or email us at info@expresspotential.com to help with the above items – or to speak at your next meeting.