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A primer for more effective meetings

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in Meeting Management,Office Management

Many managers and supervisors spend up to half their time attending and preparing for meetings. If you lead some of those meetings, make them as effective as possible. Here's what the experts suggest:

- Ask yourself if a meeting is really necessary and, if so, who needs to be included. It's best to defer having a meeting, even a regularly scheduled one, unless everyone who needs to attend is available. If they're not, consider using e-mail or quick one-on-one discussions to exchange important information.

- Don't try to do too much. Only in extreme circumstances should a meeting last more than 90 minutes — and no meeting should go on longer than 90 minutes without a break.

- Outline the meeting's objectives at the beginning. Go over the agenda and explain what you'd like to accomplish with each item. If you can't identify an objective aside from "talking about" a certain subject, then cross that item off the agenda.

It's also helpful to set realistic time limits for discussion of each item; you'll often discover if your agenda is overloaded before the meeting has a chance to drag on and run late.

- Make sure everyone feels that their input is welcome. Don't allow criticism or ridicule of an attendee's well-intended suggestions. And don't allow anyone to cast blame on anyone's performance. If you expect that such conflicts are likely, try to defuse them privately before bringing people together.

- If you're using visual aids, don't simply read from the overhead or chart. Instead, elaborate on the information and spark discussion. Many people understand and learn better from a combination of verbal and visual information than from either one alone.

- Use active listening. Frequently summarize what you're hearing and make sure your understanding matches that of the speaker. Identify points of agreement for the group and, if possible, write them down; a flip chart works well for this.

After the meeting, summarize the points of agreement, along with important issues that haven't been resolved, in a memo to attendees. The memo may also propose an agenda for the next meeting.

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