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The Green Sheet Online Edition

October 26, 2009 • Issue 09:10:02

Conducting effective meetings

By Vicki M. Daughdrill
Small Business Resources LLC

Every day, millions of business people plan and attend meetings for staff, boards, committees, special teams, sales and service personnel, and more. Many of these meetings are held with enthusiastic, expert planning and execution. However, many are poorly conceived and executed, producing poor results.

Planning and delivering effective meetings is a fundamental skill for managing a successful business. With a little effort, you can learn to plan and conduct meetings that are short, effective and productive.

The four C's

Begin with the four C's of good meetings: concentration, coordination, camaraderie and constructive criticism.

  • Concentration. It is important to determine the purpose and desired outcome for each meeting. The Friday staff meeting is no longer an acceptable reason to hold a meeting. First, determine if a meeting is absolutely necessary or if an e-mail, fax, conference call, or a one-on-one meeting can achieve the same result more efficiently.

    Second, determine the items to be discussed and prioritize them in order of importance. Third, establish the date, time and location for the meeting. Fourth, consider any controversial issues and decide the best approach to dealing with them. And, fifth, remain focused while conducting the meeting to assure that the desired outcomes are reached.

  • Coordination. An effective meeting requires a neutral leader to keep the focus on the planned content of the meeting. The unbiased facilitator can keep everyone on time, on track and on target to achieve the objectives established at the beginning of the meeting. Many meetings deteriorate into arguments and gossip unless the leader controls and coordinates the agenda.

  • Camaraderie. The most effective meetings achieve the desired results when attendees work well together, share ideas openly, and state opinions clearly and succinctly. The more participants know, understand and appreciate each other, the better they are able to acknowledge and accept diverse thoughts and ideas.

    Better decisions are reached when a diversity of opinions leads to a consensus. It is imperative that the meeting facilitator includes each participant in the discussion to assure that a thorough discussion of the topic, including differing opinions, is conducted.

  • Constructive criticism. Meeting attendees are aware of how a meeting is going, what is being accomplished and whether their input is valued. The facilitator should frequently ask questions such as: How are we doing? Do we need to revisit this topic at a later meeting? Do you want to extend this meeting to allow for further conversation on this issue?

    Many seasoned facilitators will include a short feedback session at the end of each meeting in order to receive constructive criticism. To help the facilitator conduct a more efficient meeting the next time, simple questions can be asked, such as: What worked well in this process? What can we do to make the next meeting more effective? How do we make the next meeting better?

Following is a step-by-step guide to assist you with planning and conducting your next meeting.

Step 1: Planning and preparation

  • Set the objectives and determine the desired objective. What exactly are you planning to accomplish by having a meeting?
  • Determine if having a face-to-face meeting is necessary, or if a conference call, or other format will achieve the same results.
  • Select a location, date and time.
  • Decide what topics will be covered and establish the results you desire.
  • Estimate the amount of time required to complete the meeting. Be sure to allocate enough time to achieve your goals.
  • Create an agenda and deliver it to the participants prior to the meeting. The agenda should include: a beginning and ending time, the location of the meeting, a list of attendees, and an explanation of the roles of each participant.
  • Arrange the necessary equipment you will need, such as audio visual equipment, telephones, easels, screens et cetera.
  • Prepare and duplicate any handouts for attendees.
  • Select and order any food or refreshments that will be needed, deciding exactly when the food will be delivered.

Step 2: Conducting the meeting

  • Begin and end the meeting on time.
  • Provide a short welcome to attendees and thank them for their time.
  • Identify the attendees and allow introductions if necessary.
  • Briefly review the agenda.
  • Establish the ground rules for the meeting.
  • Advise attendees if notes will be taken and whether copies will be provided to all attendees following the close of the meeting.
  • Explain your role as the meeting leader or facilitator.
  • Facilitate the discussions by sticking to the agenda, controlling the discussion by not allowing any single member to dominate the conversation, redirecting the conversation as needed to stay on point, and encouraging full participation - calling on quiet participants if necessary.
  • Use humor when possible to break the ice, calm the tension, refocus the discussion, control a heated discussion, help relax the attendees, build team spirit and have fun.

Step 3: Closing the meeting

  • End the meeting on time, unless the group agrees to extend the meeting for further discussions.
  • Attempt to close on a positive note, detailing the accomplishments of the meeting.
  • Review any actions and assignments to be completed prior to the next meeting.
  • Schedule the next meeting date, time and location.
  • Obtain a commitment from participants to attend the next meeting and complete their assignments.
  • Clarify when meeting notes, if taken, will be delivered to attendees.
  • Thank participants for their attendance at the meeting and their participation in the process.

Step 4: Following up

  • Evaluate your performance as the leader and consider steps for improvement.
  • Consider the results or outcomes of the meeting. Did it accomplish your goals?
  • Determine any necessary support or resources needed to complete any tasks decided on during the meeting.
  • Follow up on any assignments or tasks resulting from the meeting.
  • Distribute meeting notes or other collateral pieces within a timely period after the meeting.
  • Set the date, time and agenda for any follow-up meetings needed.

Following these simple steps will help you improve your meeting skills and assist you in conducting effective, productive meetings. end of article

Vicki M. Daughdrill is the Managing Member of Small Business Resources LLC, a management consulting company. E-mail her at vickid@netdoor.com or call her at 601-310-3594.

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