What you’re about to read truly is the ultimate guide to leading an effective meeting. We’re going to dive DEEP. This is a lot of content, so get ready and enjoy some great memes along the way.
You finally build up the courage to press that button, “SEND.” It’s the outlook calendar invitation to a meeting you’re hosting later this week. The invitation makes its way through cyberspace to a handful of team members within your organization. You immediately begin hearing the grumbling from your coworkers down the hall. “Another meeting, seriously?!” They exclaim, while reluctantly pressing the accept invitation button. The only coworker who is still happy is the one who will not be attending due to the dentist appointment he already has scheduled during the same time.
Okay, my example is extreme. No one would prefer to get a tooth pulled than attend one of your meetings. If your team hates meetings to that extent, you have a cultural issue. However, we all know the feeling to some extent. We’ve all been on the receiving end of the dreaded meeting invitation.
In this ultimate guide to leading an effective meeting, I’m going to cover the following:
- Why meetings suck
- The definition of a meeting
- The purpose of a meeting
- I’ll answer the big question: “Do we need another meeting?”
- Five ways to be an effective meeting facilitator
- 3-steps for leading an effective meeting
- General Meeting Details
- Meeting Agenda Template
- Post Meeting Action
Why do work meetings suck?
Over the years, meetings have transformed from something productive into something ugly — Energy draining time thieves. Meetings have become a place for big egos to keep a pulse on the business. Alternatively, meetings have become a place to discuss office politics. The biggest takeaway from most meetings is the pile of work to get caught up on that’s been growing on your desk while you’ve been away.
Have meetings always sucked? In short, no. If you look at the definition of the word meeting, they originated as something else entirely.
Definition of the Word Meeting: A group of individuals assembled to sync up on a project, collaborate, or brainstorm.
That doesn’t sound so bad, does it? Something must change if we want to begin leading effective meetings once again. It’s time to make meetings great again! (MMGA)
I’m going to let you in on a little secret. People don’t hate meetings. People hate meetings that suck. Unfortunately, since most meetings are ineffective, people enter meetings with preconceived notions that what they are about to sit through is going to be terrible. Look at these stats about how much time is spent (wasted) in meetings. The sad truth is that the majority of meetings are terrible time wasters!
Thankfully this doesn’t have to be the case for the meetings we host. Leading an effective meeting isn’t difficult! Let’s dive into how we can host meetings that drive results.
To start, we must first determine the purpose of a meeting.
What is the purpose of a business meeting?
A meeting is an organized gathering of a group of people to come together to resolve issues, improve communication, promote collaboration, and synergy. Most of all, the purpose of a business meeting is to create connection among the team.
If you needed to summarize the definition of a meeting in a single word, it would be connection. Attendees of your meeting need to gain a sense of connection to the project, or purpose of the meeting. Connection promotes synergy between departments and interdependence among teams. Creating connection is always the primary focus (and reason) for a meeting.
If your meeting is not run in a way that promotes synergy among team members, you need to reconsider even having the meeting in the first place. This brings me to my first big point.
Do we need to have another work meeting?
This is an important question to ask every time you’re considering hosting a meeting. The answer to this question is no. You don’t need another meeting. Fewer meetings will lead to increased productivity. You only need to organize a meeting if the team needs to be connected around the same focus or objective.
If you were to ask the team at BaseCamp, they would tell you that you rarely need to have a meeting. And I agree with BaseCamp 100%. Don’t host a meeting for the sake of meeting.
Still with me?
We need to cover one more point before jumping into the actionable steps for leading an effective meeting. It’s you; the facilitator.
It starts and ends with you, Mr. or Mrs. facilitator
You, the facilitator, determine the entire temperament of the meeting. Here are some things that you must nail down if you want your meetings to be productive and drive results.
Five ways to be an effective meeting facilitator:
#1. Show up early.
- Be the first person to arrive.
- Make sure everything is in order.
- Turn on the lights and make sure the room is a comfortable temperature.
- If it’s an outdoor meeting, make sure weather conditions are conducive. If you’re meeting the team for lunch, reserve a table.
- Test everything. (As someone who has attended many meetings where the first 20 minutes are spent troubleshooting technical difficulties, I can tell you that nothing is more annoying!)
#2. Don’t wing it.
- Work out every detail that will be covered before the meeting.
- Share high-level information before the meeting, so everyone knows what’s going to be covered. (Include these details in the calendar invitation.)
#3. Take notes or have someone else take notes.
- Begin with the end in mind. We’ll cover this in more detail later, but taking notes is a must for leading an effective meeting. (It’s connected to the most important part.)
- If you’re not a great note-taker, or you cannot take proper notes while facilitating, have a trustworthy attendee be the designated note-taker.
- Do NOT have everyone take notes on what they need to accomplish. YOU need to assign tasks to people, even if they acknowledge during the meeting that they will take action or finish a required task/project. Again, you organize and summarize everything, don’t rely on attendees to remember what they are supposed to do after the meeting.
#4. Be open-minded to learning from the team.
- Don’t host a meeting expecting to do all the teaching and wisdom sharing; listen to the team.
- Be willing to learn and accept feedback from every attendee.
#5. Demand timeliness and focus.
- If people are showing up late, remind them that they need to respect everyone else by arriving on time.
- Pull the ‘talker’ aside. Every meeting has one. It’s the person that wants to get into the smallest details on a specific topic that relates to no one other than themselves in the room. Or they always have ten questions. Likely, this person doesn’t realize what they’re doing; they simply process information differently. I have some of these “small details people” my team. When they start getting into the details, I say the following: “Let’s talk about that right after this meeting.” – I usually end up spending ten minutes after every meeting with one or more of these individuals. This isn’t a problem though, connection is the purpose of your meeting, and if this is what they need to feel connected to the project/objective, so be it. Talking to the people who need more details or clarification after allows you to keep the meeting on time and focused.
Here’s what we’ve covered so far:
Why meetings suck and how we can fix them through rediscovering the primary purpose of a meeting (connection). We talked about how you don’t need more meetings. And lastly, we talked about your role as the meeting facilitator. Now it’s the moment you’ve been waiting for. Let’s dive into the actionable steps for leading an effective meeting.
3-Steps for Leading an Effective Meeting:
- General Meeting Details
- Meeting Agenda Template
- Post Meeting Action
Part One: General Meeting Details
Meeting details are essential to get right. You don’t want to skim over this section even though it may appear basic. Many meeting facilitators skip this part because THEY know the details. But their team does not. What ends up happening when you skip the details is that attendees begin asking you, minutes before the meeting starts, where it is, what it’s about, and what they need to bring.
Sharing meeting details also has physiological benefits. It allows attendees to mentally and physically prepare for the meeting.
#1. Establishing your meeting framework
There are thousands of different formats and styles for meetings. Far too many to mention in this post. If you’re interested in getting some ideas on this, Meeting Sift has done a great job laying out different types of meetings. Another noteworthy meeting format is what a former guest on the Creating a Brand Podcast, and active member of our community refers to as a Heads-Up Meeting. You can learn more about that here.
What format is best for leading an effective meeting?
Determining the best format for leading an effective meeting begins with understanding your secondary purpose/objective. (Remember: the primary purpose/objective of all meetings is connection). Ask yourself, “Why are we meeting?” Once you understand the purpose of the meeting, you can then determine your format. Another pointer here is to ask your key players for ideas and feedback. (This creates buy-in and gives you additional insight.)
How long should my company meeting be?
Determining the duration of a company meeting begins with knowing the objective of the meeting. Once you decide how long your meeting will be, make it shorter. Then take it a step further. End early. You’ll win if you keep your meeting as short as possible without rushing it.
Want to know the worst thing you can do? Have a meeting that runs overtime. Everyone hates that. Stay on task; keep it on time. Stay focused. Don’t allow the conversation to divert from the purpose of the meeting. People will love you if you keep your meetings short. Plan for it to run under time, then make it even less. People will sing your praises if you end all your meetings early. Under no circumstances should you run over on a meeting.
#2. Location matters.
Make sure you pick an excellent location to meet. Note: a conference room isn’t always the best space. Sometimes a quick outdoor walk, or meeting over lunch works better. It’s crucial to figure out the location after establishing the purpose. Some meetings need a conference room with slides. Other meetings need a fun environment. (Here is a list of cool ideas/places to have meetings)
#3. Schedule your meeting when most of the attendees aren’t busy.
Don’t schedule meetings around your schedule. Schedule meeting when you know the attendees won’t be in the busiest time of their day. Make sure you’re not hosting during “rush hour.” Also, I do not recommend meeting on Monday’s or Fridays. If the meeting you’re hosting is going to be a reoccurring meeting, daily, weekly or monthly, schedule a reoccurring calendar event. Make sure it’s always on the same day of the week at the same time. Consistency is your friend when it comes to scheduling meetings.
#4. Who will you invite to your meeting and why should they be there?
Despite popular belief, everyone doesn’t need to attend your meetings. This one was tough for me; I wanted everyone to hear me speak and learn from my vast and extensive knowledge (Yes, I’m being sarcastic). Only invite the people who NEED to be there. Keep your meetings as small as possible. Don’t let your ego get in the way and make you feel like you need a lot of people in the meeting. Less is normally more. Just make sure you have the decision-makers or the people that are getting the work done in the room.
#5. Share the point of your meeting. Make a clear expectation.
Include these details in your invitation. Make it clear why you’re meeting. Get buy-in! All my meetings have notes on the invitation/request to join the meeting which explains why we’re meeting, what we’re covering and what they need to bring. It helps everyone understand the purpose of the meeting. This is far superior to getting a meeting invite request with no details at all.
#6. Do something out of the ordinary
Sometimes, I’ll bring snacks to our meetings. Or I’ll mix up the flow completely. This helps people stay interested. It causes my meetings to feel less robotic or repetitive. People are never sure what they are going to get or what is going to happen in the meetings I host. Because of this, I know deep down attendees are always looking forward to our next meeting.
(BONUS) Name your meeting something other than “meeting.”
Many people don’t think about what they are going to call their meeting, so you end up with something like “Weekly Meeting.” Because the term meeting has turned into a curse word in the office, I recommend keeping that word out of the title. Uses a title like this instead: “Weekly Team Huddle.” If you want to get extra fancy and really spice it up, add the time if it’s a short meeting. “15 Minute Weekly Kickoff Huddle”
Many businesses are catching onto this naming strategy. Searches for the words “meeting synonym” have become very popular in Google. People want to find other ways to have a meeting without saying the word. Here is a list I’ve compiled which contains my favorite synonyms for the word meeting.
What is another word for meeting?
Here is a list of the most popular and accurate synonyms for the word meeting. Use these words in place of the word meeting.
Or get even more creative. I.E., If you’re going to lunch, name it Triple B (Burgers Business and Bros!)
Part Two: Meeting Agenda Template
Leading an effective meeting is heavily dependent on the content. You need to plan. Creating a meeting agenda template is very important to the long-term success of your meeting. Plan to start and end every meeting the same way. Here is my meeting agenda template:
#1. Meeting Opener
- Make your meetings fun! Just today I started the meeting off with asking if anyone saw any movies this weekend (My group loves to go to the theater). Someone mentioned a movie, and we started talking about it and making jokes. Although it was only 3 minutes, it set a more relaxed tone for the rest of the meeting. (Here’s a great article on the topic of making meetings fun.
- Transition with company news. People love being kept in the loop. This helps everyone feel included in what’s happening internally.
- Start with a short motivational video or quote that has spoken to you. (Share why you like it.)
- Reiterate the purpose. Make sure attendees know why they are in the meeting and how it affects the entire company outside of the meeting. Be very clear about this. This is how people capture your vision. (This creates buy-in.)
- Open with a question. (Related to the purpose of the meeting.) The idea is that you want people to engage and contribute. One thing that makes meeting suck is when only the facilitator talks the entire time.
#2. Meeting Body
- Make your meetings educational and motivational
- Honor a different member of the team each week. Give a highlight. People love to have their strengths pointed out.
- Share problems, not just facts. Give people a way to add value. (And room to talk about their opinion.)
- Share/rotate responsibility
- Let someone else share or lead part of the meeting.
- Allow people to chat (a little bit and only on-topic) remember, it’s about connection.
- Leave space for healthy, on task, conversation, and creative thinking.
#3. Meeting Closer
- Ask if anyone has any questions. Make sure people are heard and get to voice their thoughts. Consider calling out a different member each week. “Alex, do you have any questions?” It will cause the quieter attendees to speak up in future meetings.
- Reshare the vision for the company or your department.
- Motivate and inspire when you close. Everyone should be excited about what’s happening.
Meeting Agenda Template Disclaimer: Your meeting agenda template should be kept private. (It’s just to help keep you on track.) If attendees see your full agenda, it will feel less organic. When you share the calendar invitation, only include the high-level notes, so people feel a sense of flexibility, but you bring stability to the meeting itself.
I want to mention one last thing about your meeting agenda template. You need to let your personality show through the meeting you lead. If you don’t have an outgoing, bubbly personality, you better fake it. If your meeting is overly formal or stiff, people are going to dread it even more. You don’t need to intimidate people, it should be fun, and something attendees look forward to.
Part Three: Post Meeting Action
Post-meeting action is the most crucial part of every meeting. People will lose faith in you as a facilitator, and leader, QUICKLY if you do not assign post-meeting action. If you meet with people and nothing happens as a result, then your meetings are pointless. Although the purpose of every meeting is connection, the connection must be exercised after the meeting ends.
Imagine yourself as the director of a movie…
You’ve spent many months improving the script, training the entire support team, and the actors/actresses are prepared to execute their role. Everything is ready to go; everyone is on board. There’s just one more thing that needs to happen. You need to say the word “action.” If you sit there and never say the word action, nothing will ever happen.
Your follow up email is the action word. This is what sets everyone and everything into motion.
Here’s an important question to ask yourself before your meeting starts, “Who is going to take notes during the meeting?”
Early on, I mentioned having someone take notes. This is extremely important because no one is going to remember everything. You need to be sending a follow-up email to the attendees of the meeting. This email must also include action items for each attendee.
If no action is taken or no follow up is sent after a conclusion of a meeting, it was time wasted. Leading an effective meeting is all about the follow-up action. Everything covered in your focused meeting needs to be completed on time. If no one is taking action, you’re just meeting for the sake of meeting. (That’s the worst!)
Post Meeting Action Examples:
- Send a full follow up email containing minutes and assigning tasks to each attendee.
(If one of the attendees is never getting anything assigned to them, they don’t need to attend future meetings.)
- Scheduled follow-ups are necessary to ensure that everyone is completing their assigned tasks.
(This must happen before the next meeting. Don’t wait for a meeting to discuss progress.)
Remember, if you meet and there is no action or follow up, the meeting was pointless. The goal is to create and assign actionable steps to achieve before the next meeting. You need to see substantial progress, or there is no reason to meet a second time. Even if your meetings are fun, or just a walk, this needs to be the serious part. People need to know that you mean business and assigned action items must be completed.
Leading an Effective Meeting Conclusion
Meetings suck, but they don’t have to. The 3-steps covered in this blog post are the formula for leading an effective meeting that will drive results. I encourage you to take this a step further. As you define and refine your meeting agenda, and how you see the best results, turn what you learn into a framework.
This is something I’ve done. I have a standard flow/framework for all my meetings. It’s turned into my effective meeting default. The best part is, it works in any industry and any job. It’s become part of my business expertise/tools. One benefit to working with Alex Sanfilippo is that you get to attend his effective meetings. (Yes, I’m referring to myself in the 3rd person.)
YOUR TURN! Start leading your meetings effectively. You’re going to be awestruck by the results your effective meetings yield. (And so will your team!)