How Can I Have a Great Meeting?

People sitting around at a table. have a great meeting.
Image by StartupStockPhotos from Pixabay

Whether you work for a large corporation, run a small business, or volunteer for a charity, meetings of some form are probably a part of your life. I’ve heard many complaints about boring, time-consuming meetings, and yet I know that meetings are a vital part running any multi-person operation. It is during meetings that we share vision, clarify goals, identify potential pitfalls, work out details, and delegate tasks. There is often a lot to get done. Further complicating the “meeting” concept has been the recent shift to virtual interactions, where communication can be stilted and awkward. All of this begs the question, “How can I have a great meeting?”

Meetings that are efficient, effective, and positive have a couple of common characteristics. If you want your meeting to go well, work to ensure that it has the following characteristics:

A leader. 

Meetings flounder if everyone is trying to be in charge. One person should be tasked with keeping the meeting on track.

A start and stop time.

Nothing is worse than watching your time fizzle away in a poorly run meeting. Honor those who have arrived on time by beginning at the designated time. If it is clear that an item cannot be sufficiently handled before the meeting’s close, survey the group to see if the meeting can be extended. If not, reschedule remaining items to another meeting. Never assume that everyone can simply “stay longer.” In addition to the meeting time, be clear about where the meeting will be held, and if it is virtual, how to log in.

A clear agenda, circulated in advance.

Knowing in advance what will be discussed helps participants know what to expect and arrive prepared. You can either send an agenda via email, or post a cloud-based agenda (such as a Google doc) for all to see. This approach will reduce the amount of paper waste/clutter. In addition, an agenda provides a framework upon which to easily take minutes (even informally), which then becomes an archived record of previous agendas, decisions, and action items.

Nothing on the agenda that can be better handled in another setting.

Don’t waste people’s time with items that can be resolved by email, phone, memo, or other means.  In addition, don’t use a large group setting to iron out details between only 2 or 3 attendees. Be alert during the meeting to identify when it is wise to move a discussion item offline to a smaller group.

A name next to every action item.

During meetings, it is easy to get excited about ideas. Unfortunately, it is also easy to end the meeting without actually assigning anyone responsibility for following up. When this happens, the good idea disappears in the mist. Ideally, at least one meeting attendee should be assigned the responsibility for tackling each task the group identifies, and reporting back on it to the group in the future.

A reasonable meeting time.

When scheduling meetings, it is a good idea to be respectful of those who will be attending. For recurring meetings, try to schedule them for the same time each week (e.g. Wednesday morning.) As a general rule, avoid Monday mornings and Friday afternoons, when most people have other priorities. If you are gathering a group who don’t regularly meet, use a tool such as Doodle poll to find out what works best for the great number of people.

An efficient environment.

It is hard to have a great meeting in a lousy setting. For in-person meetings, aim to meet in a space with a minimum amount of external noise and distractions, with enough seating for everyone, and a clear surface where people can place their things (computers, notepads, coffee cups, etc.). Also, consider having water and/or food, especially if the meeting runs over a mealtime. Since most people use digital tools, it is helpful to be in a location with a strong wifi signal. If you are hosting a virtual meeting, make sure you can be easily heard and seen, and in a location where you won’t be interrupted.

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When properly managed, meetings can be an important way to connect, grow and improve. What is your “ideal meeting” like?

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18 thoughts on “How Can I Have a Great Meeting?”

    1. Those names are all making me giggle – because they are so appropriate! Meetings can be important and productive, but they can also be a big time waster. I think the “Copy and paste” is my favorite – LOL!

  1. I love this one and your clear ‘rules’ for running great meetings! When I attend a well-run meeting, it’s a pleasure. And when I go to one that isn’t led or managed well, I find it frustrating. One thing I find most challenging is when one person dominates the conversation, and the meeting leader cannot manage, redirect, or interrupt that person to give others a chance to speak. Also, I don’t particularly appreciate when there is no agenda, expectation about what will be covered, and no attention to the start and end time.

    1. I also really don’t like it when one person dominates, or when the meeting starts late to accommodate the latecomers. What a shame! Honor those who arrive on time, and eventually people learn that it is important to show up on time, right?

  2. I am so glad you mentioned having a clear agenda. I work with many small businesses, and when I am on call with them, I make it a point to ask about the call’s purpose. If I do not get a clear answer, I usually create a few takeaways during the call so we can feel productive during the call. These takeaways could be delegated tasks, things I will need to do, or things the client needs to complete. And, always, always, always assign a deadline date. A week or two will give them and me enough time to get the task completed.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this topic.
    Sabrina Quairoli recently posted…How to Stay Productive When Working From HomeMy Profile

    1. Love that tip about assigning a deadline date. Deadlines are highly motivating for some people, and they keep everyone on the same page. They also make it clear who is responsible if things fall through the cracks!

  3. These are all excellent. I keep thinking about “Nothing on the agenda that can be better handled in another setting” and how it’s connected to those coffee mugs that say “I survived another meeting that could have been an email.” I’ll never understand wasting time in meetings for each department head or committee member to provide a status report on something when all the reports could be submitted to a central person who could combine them and route them out to everyone. (Yes, everyone could put them up in a central repository, but nobody would go look except the rule followers.) Meetings should be for brainstorming, problem-solving, decision-making, and assigning follow-up tasks. Harrumph!

    People need to stop having meetings just to have meetings; without an agenda, meetings are always a waste of time. You hit every nail! Great job!
    Julie Bestry recently posted…Paper Doll on How to Celebrate Organizing and Productivity with FriendsMy Profile

    1. I so agree, Julie. I hate listening to things that I could have seen in a bulleted list. I do appreciate the team-building and relational aspects of gathering, but it shouldn’t be done by routine, but for purpose!

  4. Fabulous tips for a productive meeting. I agree with Melissa – there are names for meetings which are inefficient. I love having an agenda in advance. It gives me time to think if there’s something to add or delete.

    1. I love the agenda too, even as a participant. It helps me see where we are in the meeting, and therefore to manage my expectations.

  5. I’ve experienced all of these things and think the worst one is discussing topics that aren’t relevant to most of the attendees and should be allotted to a separate meeting. Whether an organization is paying someone to be there (whether they have anything to contribute or not) or an individual is volunteering, it’s frustrating to have to sit through it, and the time could be better put to other use.
    Janet Barclay recently posted…Show your website some love with routine maintenanceMy Profile

    1. Keeping a meeting on time and relevant to present parties not only shows respect, but it also keeps people operating at optimum productivity. I hate it when people waste other peoples’ valuable time.

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