As you know, there is nothing more boring than sitting through a meeting that is pointless or unfocused. It’s a common time waster. Meetings are also very costly in terms of time and productivity. So if you’re called upon to run a meeting, the first question you should ask yourself is, “Is this meeting really necessary or can I accomplish what needs to be done in a more efficient manner”? If you have a better alternative, use it. Today with E-mail, faxes, conference calls, teleconferencing, and computer networks, you have numerous options. But if you’ve decided that an in-person meeting is the best choice, then plan ahead carefully.

Before your meeting, you need to set goals. What is it that needs to be decided? What is the best possible outcome from this gathering? Write down your goals so you have them on hand.

Do you need one meeting or a series of meetings to accomplish your intentions? What preparation do participants need to execute beforehand? Do you need to appoint a pre-meeting task force or obtain certain documents or have participants E-mail you agenda ideas or problems to be solved? Historically, how productive have meetings with this group been? What style meeting works best with this group?

Meetings are meant to be an exchange of ideas and/or information. There are generally five purposes for meetings: to inform, train, inspire, solve problems, or resolve conflicts. What is the purpose of your meeting? Is it realistic to handle multi-purposes at this one meeting?

Secondly, take the time to analyze your participants. Consider all the people who should attend this meeting and why. More participants often make for longer meetings, so keep your list to a minimum. But also beware of the consequences of overlooking people who ought to be there. Review a staff list to make sure you have invited all the key people.

If they are strangers, follow the audience analysis guidelines to help you to prepare. If the participants are people you know, then think about how they interact. Is there a loudmouth in the group who disrupts meetings with long monologues? If so, you are in charge of intervening on the group’s behalf. Is it a quiet group? Then, design activities to get people interacting and working together.

Is this a group that works well together or are there festering conflicts that need to be diffused? Think about your participants in detail: their moods, their work habits, their abilities, their gripes, their pressures, their resources, their diversity, etc. Then plan a format that will guarantee that this group can meet its goals.

Also, think carefully about the where and when of the meeting. Is the location convenient for everyone? Is the room comfortable and private? Is the room depressing or attractive? Would it be helpful for the meeting to be out of the office? Do you have the right equipment? How’s the lighting? What time of day is best for the group? Would snacks be an asset?

Thirdly, you need to write up an agenda and distribute it to the participants beforehand and ask for additional suggestions. As you are in charge, you must decide what agenda items fit your time frame.

Think about the order of agenda topics. You may want to place the easier agenda items first so the group experiences success early on. If you have a lot of agenda items to cover, you may want to note a time allotment next to each item. A critical agenda item is assignments.

At the end of a quality meeting, the chairperson needs to list out the results and assignments for each participant. If you can’t resolve an issue at the meeting, assign a study group to outline the issues or poll the participants. Clearly delineate what decisions have been made and what actions will be taken and by whom. Discuss with the group any loose ends and allocate either another time or a person to manage them. Restate conclusions to insure agreement and end on time.

People respect a leader who is considerate of their time pressures and actively facilitates the agenda so that there are visible results. Distribute a written meeting summary to the group within forty-eight hours and follow-up with the study groups prior to the next meeting to make sure they are prepared with the right information. Armed with these tools, you can take advantage of growth opportunities and increase your value to your organization.

Author's Bio: 

Gail McMeekin, MSW, LICSW, is a nationally known career/creativity/life choices coach and consultant and the author of the highly acclaimed books, The 12 Secrets of Highly Creative Women and The Power of Positive Choices. Her work has been featured in many periodicals such as Boston Magazine, Investor's Business Daily, Redbook, and Health, as well as on radio and TV. She has a new e-book called Boost Your Creativity, Productivity, and Profits in 21 Steps available at her website: creativesuccess.com as well as a free newsletter called Creative Success. You may contact her at gmcmeekin@comcast.net