How to run a successful meeting

Make sure everyone is getting the most out of meetings in the workplace with these simple tips
by Bethan Rees


Meetings are an inevitable part of working life. However, they don’t have to be a bore or feel like an unnecessary interruption of your workflow. Jennifer Phillips writes on the Slack (a workplace communication system) blog: “Understanding how to host effective meetings is likely one of the most important skills employees at all levels need to learn to thrive at work.” She refers to a study in the Journal of Organizational Behaviour that according to Phillips, finds that time wasting seems to be an accepted norm in meetings.

Here’s how to combat wasting time and run a successful meeting.

Make a plan and set an agenda

The Balance Careers blog post by Susan M Heathfield suggests that smart planning can help create a successful meeting. First, she advises identifying whether you need other employees to help plan the meeting. The next step is to decide the goal (or goals) for the meeting, as this should help you prepare a framework. She quotes author Stephen Covey, referring to his book The 7 habits of highly effective people. The quote reads: “Begin with the end in mind.”

The agenda or plan for the meeting can be on a handout, written on a whiteboard or discussed at the beginning of the meeting, writes Adam Bryant in The New York Times. “The agenda provides a compass for the conversation,” he says. “The meeting can get back on track if the discussion wanders off course.” Bryant quotes Annette Catino, chief executive of US-based healthcare provider QualCare Alliance Networks, who says that she will walk out if she is not given an agenda, because “if I don’t know why we’re in the meeting, and you don’t know why we’re there, then there’s no reason for a meeting”.

Keep it punctual

Starting and ending a meeting on time is important, and this rule should extend to those in a position of power, Bryant explains. “Nothing can drain the energy from a room quite like waiting for the person in charge to show up,” he writes.

According to Phillips, the research article in the Journal of Organizational Behavior states that at companies where there are more than 250 employees, nearly 40% of meetings are delayed in starting. Phillips says this can have a negative effect on the meeting when it finally starts, because “the annoyance that grows while waiting for the meeting to start spills over into the meeting itself, resulting in more interruptions, fewer ideas, and decreased morale”.

Bryant also reports that finishing on time is just as important as starting on time. “A definitive end time will help ensure that you accomplish what’s on your agenda and get people back to their work promptly,” he says.

Active listening and engagement

Keeping the meeting attendees engaged is crucial. Phillips recommends using a communication technique known as active listening. “Active listeners live in the moment, taking in the speaker’s words, gestures and facial expressions, rather than simply waiting their turn to talk,” she writes. To encourage active listening, she advises setting the scene – making the environment comfortable, which could include providing food and/or drinks and considering the time of the meeting. “It’s a good idea to reserve some meetings for the morning when people have the most energy, or, as one study found, 2.30pm on a Tuesday also seems to work wonders,” she reports.

Elise Keith, co-founder of Lucid Meetings, a provider of online meeting management software, writes on the company blog about steps to improving engagement in meetings.

She explains that you must make sure there is time and space for people to engage with the meeting. “The ‘Five Hippopotamus Rule’ is a simple technique that illustrates this point. After you ask a question, remain silent for at least five seconds (the time it takes to count in your head, ‘one-hippopotamus, two-hippopotamus’, all the way to five) before speaking again. This gives everyone time to consider your question. The silence also shows them that you really do expect to hear someone else provide an answer.”

At the end of the meeting and post meeting

Before the meeting ends, you should set aside a few minutes to discuss the next steps, writes Bryant. “This discussion should include deciding who is responsible for what, and what the deadlines are”, otherwise it’s a waste of time, he explains.

Bryant quotes Shellye Archambeau, the former CEO of MetricStream, a firm that helps companies become compliant, who, he says, likes to end meetings by asking the room “Who’s got the ball?” This sports analogy helps to establish who is “in control of what happens next”, she said. “You own it. It becomes a very visible concept for making sure that there’s actually ownership to make sure things get done.”

Katy Trost, a Forbes Councils member writing in a council post for Forbes, suggests setting clear outcomes at the end of a meeting, and asking the attendees about any concerns or questions they may have. She explains that this “can save you time in the long run and also help you avoid miscommunication”.

Publishing the minutes as soon as possible can also help achieve the goals of the meeting, Heathfield writes. “Publish your minutes and action plan within 24 hours. People will most effectively contribute to results if they get started on action items right away. They still have a fresh memory of the meeting, the various discussion points, and the rationale for each meeting item,” she says.

What are your tips for a successful meeting? Does 2.30pm on a Tuesday work for you? Leave your comments below.

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Published: 19 Jul 2019
  • Career Development
  • The Review
  • Management
  • meetings
  • leadership
  • Career advice
  • active listening

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