Strategies for Planning and Conducting Effective Meetings
by Kate Smalley
Did you know that business executives spend about half their time sitting in meetings? In fact, 40 to 50 percent of their working hours are consumed by meetings, according to a study by the Annenberg School of Communications at UCLA and the University of Minnesota*s Training & Development Research Center.
Meetings are inevitable - whether youíre a business executive or member of a volunteer, social, or civic organization. But meetings can be a very effective and efficient way to communicate, if properly planned and conducted. To help you pull off successful meetings, below are some key strategies to follow. You may only need to address a few of them, if youíre conducting an informal meeting. For a meeting with major consequences, you should give all or most of these areas careful consideration.
Prior to the Meeting
First, youíll need to define the purpose of the meeting and develop an agenda with the cooperation of the key participants. Then distribute the agenda and circulate background material, lengthy documents or articles ahead of time. This will make participants feel prepared, involved and up-to-date, so they can be ready to make valuable contributions to the meeting.
Next, choose an appropriate time for everyone to assemble. Itís also important to set a time limit and stick to it, as much as possible. Participants have other commitments and will be more likely to attend meetings if you make them as productive, predictable and short as possible.
If possible, set up the room so attendees can face each other in a circle, semi-circle - or U-shaped rows for large groups. The location you choose should comfortably suit your group*s size. Rooms that are too small can get stuffy and create tension; a larger room is more comfortable and encourages individual expression.
During the Meeting
Greet attendees and make them feel welcome, even latecomers when appropriate. If possible, serve light refreshments to help break the ice and make everyone feel comfortable.
Begin the meeting on time, so you can end on time. Start by reviewing the agenda and setting priorities for the meeting. Stick closely to the agenda, but also encourage group discussion to collect all points of view. Keep the conversation focused on the topic, and donít hesitate to ask for only constructive and original comments.
Tactfully end discussions when theyíre going nowhere or become too touchy. As a leader, set a good example by listening attentively and showing appreciation for participantsí input.
Keep minutes of the meeting for future reference in case a question or problem arises. Summarize any agreements reached and end the meeting on a positive note. For example, have participants volunteer to share their views on what good ideas or positive developments they feel resulted from the meeting. And before everyone leaves, donít forget to set a date, time and place for the next meeting.
After the Meeting
Be sure to transcribe and distribute minutes of the meeting within three or four days. This will help reinforce the importance of the meeting and give participants a clear and accurate record of what took place. Follow up on any delegation decisions and ensure that all participants understand and carry out their responsibilities. Give recognition and appreciation to excellent and timely progress. And put any unfinished business on the agenda for the next meeting.
You should also periodically evaluate meetings and work on any areas that need improving. Remember, meetings that are effectively planned - from start to finish - can leave participants with a sense of accomplishment and enhance your organizationís overall success.
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