Holding Effective Meetings: nine simple rules

Most people in business complain that there are just too many meetings. That may be true, but business meetings are a fact of life, and the best we can do is learn to make them worth the time and effort they require.

Effective business meetings are an exercise in communication: we speak, we listen, we discuss, we decide. Meeting rules may vary from one situation to another, but holding effective meetings is essential to getting things done. If you want to learn how to conduct a meeting, here are my nine simple rules to help you through the process.

1. Call only necessary meetings

Before you begin the whole process of calling and holding a business meeting, ask yourself if it is really necessary. Do certain people actually have to gather in the same room to accomplish your purpose, or could a series of phone calls, an e-mail or a memo serve the same purpose? Develop a reputation for calling meetings only when necessary, and people will be more willing to devote their time to them.

2. Invite the right people

Invite people who have something to contribute or who need to be involved in the discussion. If you have to consult someone for information or authorization about an agenda item and that person is not there, it’s frustrating for everyone. Consider inviting them just for a specific agenda item. On the other hand, don’t invite people just because they are at a certain level in the organization. Busy people appreciate your consideration of their time.

3. Create an effective agenda and distribute it well before the meeting

An effective agenda is much more than a list of topics. It can function as a meeting announcement, as well as a tool to help the leader control the discussion. Sending it out in advance lets people know what will be discussed and gives them an opportunity to gather information they will need and prepare their input. Effective meetings begin with effective agendas.

4. Start and finish on time

Don’t wait for latecomers –— start on time without them. You should also avoid the temptation to bring latecomers up to date on what has taken place before they arrived, a practice that penalizes those who came on time. People shouldn’t be rewarded for upsetting everyone else’s schedule. Allot a time to each subject on the agenda and stick to it. Effective business meetings start and finish on time.

5. State the objective at the start of the meeting

State an objective that is results-oriented rather than discussion-based. e.g. “We are meeting this morning to approve the final budget for next quarter.” This is a measurable objective, towards which you can work during the discussion. Don’t say, “We are meeting to discuss…..”. After all, you could discuss for hours and technically you would have met your objective, but you could hardly describe it as an effective meeting.

6. Keep the meeting moving towards its objective

Don’t let people drag the discussion off track. Keep reminding them of the objective and redirect the discussion back when they stray. Your communication skills come to the fore as you lead a business meeting.

7. Don’t just sit there –— say something!

But what if you are attending someone else’s meeting? Can you still contribute to making it an effective meeting? Yes, you can. Assuming you have received an agenda in advance, carefully consider what materials you should take with you, any information you have that would be important to the discussion and make notes of any points you might make at the meeting. Having something to say and saying it is the best way to contribute to a successful meeting. Do your homework in advance and you will know what role you should play.

8. Arrange for appropriate notes

Even informal meetings need notes to summarize what happened and, even more important, to set out any actions that are to be taken and by whom. Names of those who are to take the actions should be included in the notes and, if possible, someone designated to follow up on the actions.

9. When the objective has been accomplished –— stop!

If you have been successful in completing discussion of your agenda within the allotted time, don’t be tempted to start a discussion about something else. Finish early and you’ll be a hero, so don’t spoil it by starting to discuss other issues. Congratulate participants on a successful meeting, and move on.

If you follow these rules, you will not only be observing proper meeting etiquette, but you will also be on track to an effective business meeting that delivers results.