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How to Become a Masterful Meeting Leader

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Because so many meetings are disasters (or at best a waste of time), managers who can "do a good meeting" are both appreciated and respected. To become a Meeting Master, you must do four things well:

  1. Get Organized
  2. Use Time Wisely
  3. Move from Discussion to Action
  4. Lead Different Meetings Differently

For some help, check out the suggestions below.

1. Getting Organized
If you're the leader, you should never try to "wing it" in a meeting. Even a freewheeling brainstorming session requires some advance planning. So before your meeting, answer these questions:

  • Do we really need a meeting?
    Meetings use up a lot of person-hours, so be sure you really need to make that investment. Could you use email, phone calls, or one-on-one discussions instead? If so, then don't waste everyone's time.
  • Who needs to be there?
    Include all necessary people - but only necessary people. Have a specific reason for inviting each person to attend. If some only need to contribute limited information, don't make them stay for the whole meeting - just the part that relates to them.
  • What should be the outcome?
    Determine the desired result of the meeting. Tell participants in advance (or at the beginning of the meeting) what "product" is expected from the discussion.
  • What type of meeting is it?
    Tailor the format of the meeting to your goal. Below you will find specific suggestions for three types of meetings: Decision-Making Meetings, Information-Sharing Meetings, and Idea-Generating Meetings.
  • What's the "road map"?
    Develop a plan and agenda. The plan identifies goals and desired outcomes and determines how you will structure the time. The agenda lists topics to be covered and the order in which they will be discussed. One useful way to write your agenda is to identify the desired result for each topic - for example, instead of just writing "Budget Discussion" put "Budget Discussion: Identify areas where budget can be cut".
  • How should people prepare?
    Give everyone the agenda ahead of time. If this is a one-topic meeting which doesn't need a printed agenda, give participants the subject in advance. Review relevant materials before the meeting to prepare yourself for the discussion. Unprepared leaders drive everyone crazy.

2. Using Time Wisely
Here's how to make the most productive use of your meeting time:

  • Distribute the agenda and important information before the meeting.
  • Start on time. Waiting for stragglers punishes those who got there on schedule.
  • Discuss the most important items first. Resist the temptation to "get quick items out of the way".
  • Turn off cell phones and close laptops.
  • Follow the agenda, but deviate from it if important issues arise.
  • Keep the discussion focused on one topic at a time.
  • Keep moving the discussion towards the goal.
  • Create a place - sometimes called a "Parking Lot" to list topics for later discussion.
  • For long meetings, plan scheduled breaks to keep people from wandering in and out.
  • Arrange a later time to discuss issues that involve only a few members.
  • Specify a realistic ending time and stick to it.

3. Moving from Discussion to Action
If your meeting is to accomplish anything, everyone must understand what happens next. This is especially critical in decision-making meetings. Here's how to make something happen:

  • Before adjourning, summarize what occurred during the meeting. Review all decisions that were made.
  • Create a "Next Steps" list of actions to be taken as a result of the meeting.
  • Assign responsibility for each action item.
  • Agree on schedules and deadlines where appropriate.
  • Set a specific time to assess progress on these action steps.
  • If there will be a follow-up meeting, describe what must be done before the group meets again.

4. Lead Different Meetings Differently
Different types of meetings require different ground rules and leadership styles.

What's the Purpose of Your Meeting?
Information-Sharing Decision-Making Idea-Generating

Goal

For participants to provide useful information to one another about their work. The information is not being used to make a decision.

Goal

To make a decision about a problem or issue. The final decision may be a group consensus or may be made by the leader.

Goal

To come up with innovative and creative approaches to a situation.

Suggestions

  • Allow enough time for everyone to participate.
  • Don't let talkative members use up too much time.
  • Stay focused on information relevant to the whole group.
  • Schedule one-on-one meetings to pursue individual issues or concerns.
  • Encourage people to ask questions.
  • Identify opportunities for people to help each other.

Suggestions

  • If you've already made up your mind, don't have a meeting.
  • Only include people involved in the decision process.
  • Be sure everyone understands the decision to be made.
  • Be sure everyone understands how the decision will be made.
  • Structure the discussion to make the best use of time.
  • Encourage everyone to share information and opinions.
  • Listen to different view points.
  • Identify areas of agreement and disagreement.
  • Clearly communicate the final decision.
  • Before adjourning, make "next step" assignments.

Suggestions

  • Allow plenty of time.
  • Go off-site if possible.
  • Dress casually.
  • Prevent interruptions. Turn off cell phones and pagers.
  • Don't bring up unrelated work issues.
  • Encourage people to share all ideas.
  • Do not criticize or judge ideas when they are shared.
  • Reinforce "out-of-the-box" thinking.
  • Provide a structure for narrowing down alternatives.
  • At the end of the meeting, agree on what happens next.
  • Encourage people to relax, laugh, joke, have fun!

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