Howto:Run an effective meeting
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Running effective meetings is an important and fundamental element of accomplishing a goal among a group of people. It allows you to bring all issues and answers to the forefront at one time, so that they can be understood and vetted, provides a forum, allows for conflict resolution, and establishes the path for moving forward.
While every meeting is different due to the nature of the subject matter, the number of attendees, and the personality of the group, these are some basic guidelines that can be followed and tailored to each situation.
While many people may have a natural fear of speaking in public and running meetings, at some point almost everyone will need to do so. Keep in mind that a meeting is really just a more organized discussion, with more organization required as the size of the group grows. Also keep in mind that the people who are at the meeting want to be there – especially when it is not work-related – and they are interested and concerned enough to give up their free time to participate.
Who runs a meeting?
Although most meetings have a designated leader, it is the responsibility of all participants and attendees of the meeting to ensure that it is effectively run. The formal or informal leader of a meeting is sometimes known as the “chair” of the meeting. In many cases, it is the leader of the organization holding the meeting, such as the president, chair, executive director or other leader of the group, who leads the meeting. Sometimes a different person may be delegated the responsibility to lead or facilitate the meeting. The leader of the meeting has the greatest responsibility and work to do to make sure the meeting achieves its goals. However, every participant of a meeting has a role to play. Every participant should be prepared for the meeting by understanding what his or her own goals may be for the meeting and how he or she wants to achieve those goals. Participants should seek to interact collaboratively and respectfully with all other participants of the meeting in recognition that they are part of a collective effort to find a mutual plan of action for the group or community.
This “How To” focuses on how a designated leader of a meeting can effectively run a meeting. However, many of these suggestions also apply to all participants of a meeting and how they can prepare and conduct themselves to make a meeting productive and efficient. For example, while a leader of a meeting should prepare by seeking the input of participants before the meeting, other participants of the meeting should also talk to their fellow participants to prepare for the discussion. Keep in mind that if the meeting is held by a “public body,” a certain type of collective government body with formal decision-making responsibilities, such as a Community Board, then New York State Open Meetings Law applies and prohibits a quorum of members of the public body from having a discussion about business outside of the formal meeting. For more information regarding this restriction, you may contact the New York State Committee on Open Government at www…. In addition, all participants of a meeting have a leadership role to play in supporting the chair or leader of the meeting or agenda of the meeting. Everyone should be mindful of ensuring that different viewpoints receive appropriate consideration, the goals of the meeting can be met and that civility and professionalism is maintained.
Prior to running a meeting, you will need to get input from the members of the group that is hosting the meeting. This may be a community board, neighborhood organization, political group, or any other group that is holding the meeting. Find out what appear to be the important topics, flashpoints, goals, and personalities. Try to identify any problems for the meeting and if the meeting will focus on routine business or an significant exchange of opinions on a subject. Anticipating what people want to see and hear – and achieve – at the meeting is critical. You should also try to anticipate whether any new or unrelated issues may arise and that may affect the meeting. Begin this process as far in advance as possible so that you will be prepared for all viewpoints, including those of elected officials, special interest groups and community opinion leaders.
Creating a Structure for the Meeting
The key to running an effective meeting is having a structured, easy-to-implement agenda that allows attendees to understand where they are starting and where they are ending. In many cases, agendas for “standing” meetings (meetings that are regularly scheduled such as once a month) are well understood by meeting participants, but in the case of a one-time, ad hoc or “special” meeting, the leader will need to create and effectively communicate a new agenda. The agenda should of course be put in writing to provide an accessible form of guidance for everyone. The leader of a meeting may sometimes create his or her own private notes on the agenda to help him or her manage the meeting.
To create the agenda, visualize how you want the meeting to run. Begin with an introduction that sets the stage and defines the meeting duration, indicates how and when the attendees can express their opinions (including a way to follow up via email or otherwise), and that recognizes other keynote speakers or attendees. Be sure to start the meeting on time; if not, make an announcement that you will start at a specific time (it is preferable to give a reason for the delay such as allowing people to get to their seats, accommodating latecomers who may be having trouble getting through security).
If you will have public speakers at the meeting, set a time limit for each speaker (two minutes is usually adequate); a timer that rings will provide a clear reminder. If someone refuses to cede the floor, remind them of the rules and the need to respect others and then call up the next speaker. You may offer to the person who refuses to yield that they can speak with you or members of the group after the meeting.
If appropriate send around a sign in sheet and collect email addresses so that people can be informed of the next meeting or activity. You can also provide a website for minutes or information that will be posted. At the end of the meeting, provide a brief warp up, thank the attendees and speakers, and state what the next step will be.
Knowing the Location
Prior to the meeting, be sure to check on the needs of the facility. Are the microphones in place? Will someone need a slide projector or laptop? Are there enough seats? It is important that attendees are not uncomfortable and crowding the aisles, and that the technology works so that you are not fumbling with the lights or a non-working microphone. In addition, determine if you need to provide reasonable accommodations for people with disabilities or mobility impairments. It is very important to pick a meeting location that is accessible. Furthermore, determine if you need to provide interpretation in different languages or in sign language for meeting participants. Be resourceful and consult with experts to determine how you can provide accommodations and interpretation as needed.
Your Personality and Leadership
Each leader is a unique individual. Allow the attendees to feel that you are someone that has a personality, but remember to remain impartial and eager to listen to all points of view. Keep your tone neutral and thank everyone who attends and speaks; they may be even more nervous than you in appearing at the meeting.
A crucial element is maintaining a slow, clear method of speaking. People want and need to understand what you say, and those few extra seconds are worth the effort. Being deliberate will show that what you are saying is important and that you are not trying to rush though a subject matter. In some cases, you may be going into a heated meeting, so your role will be to keep things from boiling over. Be firm, respectful, and command respect from everyone so that others can have their views heard.
Be ready to take notes – have paper and a pen in front of you – so that you can ask your own follow up questions or get back to people after the meeting. You may also want to delegate someone else to take more detailed minutes of the meeting since it can be difficult to lead a meeting and take notes at the same time. The attention you provide to people’s concerns and questions is critical in helping understand and resolve issues in the future and creating supporters.
In some cases, when a meeting may be controversial, ask your associates to assist by asking questions that raise points that can help move the agenda and direct the discussion. Remember to look at those attendees when speaking, since their friendly faces can help you maintain composure and their support will have an impact on people sitting near them.
- Find out what the real issues and items are that must be addressed. Identify any potential problems in advance so that you can find a way to resolve them and keep the meeting moving.
- Be a positive leader/moderator. Take an interest in everyone’s comments and promise to address them even if it is at a later date.
- Create a clear agenda and have it in front of you so that you can keep the meeting flowing. When you hit a bump or problem, make note and either address it now or add it to a future agenda.
- Identify allies in the room if necessary. Make eye contact with them and let them help support the agenda through their comments and reactions.
Running an effective meeting is not easy, but it should not be painfully difficult. With a good agenda, a clear goal, and the ability to moderate the activity you can be successful.