Meeting preparation: How to run an effective meeting

10 min read

At some point, we’ve all experienced a full day of business meetings, without a minute of working time. Nothing beats returning to your desk at 5:00 p.m. with eight hours of emails, tasks, and to-do lists to catch up on. Even as some of our jobs transition to a full day of virtual work, it doesn’t stop our coworkers - and even ourselves - from scheduling an endless number of Zoom calls. Good news is, it’s never too late to change the status quo and shake-up those weekday occurrences. Reclaim your time and help your coworkers do the same.

Whether you’re leading a meeting or attending, it’s important to understand how to run a meeting and make them as efficient and effective as possible. Here are some tips to make sure you’re holding effective meetings - so that you can spend more of your time productively.

Preparing for meetings

The key to running effective meetings is to plan ahead. Leaders of business meetings should prepare in advance by anticipating participants’ questions and sharing out important information ahead of the meeting time. As part of your meeting preparation, you should be able to address the following questions: 

  • Why are we having this meeting?
    Is this meeting absolutely necessary, or could the information be shared via email? If the information requires some face time, but won’t take much time, consider a quick informal conversation rather than a formal scheduled meeting. 
  • How much time will this take?
    Does this meeting require a full hour, or could all goals be accomplished in 30 minutes? Be respectful of everyone’s time and plan for an efficient meeting - only take as much time as you truly need and stay on schedule.
  • What do I expect is going to happen at this meeting?
    Is this discussion intended for information sharing or decision making? Be sure to share a written agenda with any expected results ahead of time, so everyone can stay on track. For even more efficiency, you can include time restrictions for each topic on the agenda. Be sure to place the most important items at the beginning of the agenda in case any stakeholders have other commitments after your call. If you anticipate any conflict from participants, talk to those individuals one-on-one in advance of the meeting.
  • Who can contribute?
    Only invite needed participants. Efficient meetings only include those who are able to contribute. If additional co-workers need to be in the know, but aren’t necessarily major contributors, consider sending a follow-up summary of the call. Your coworkers will appreciate saving time and being on a need-to-know basis.

Running effective meetings

Preparation is only the beginning. Once it’s go-time, how do you ensure that your meeting is as efficient as possible? Here are some ways to develop a reputation for leading effective meetings: 

  • Be early and end on time.
    Be early to your meetings - either on the phone, online or in person - and greet people when they arrive so they feel comfortable. Start the meeting on time and don’t delay for late arrivals. Be sure to end on time to be respectful of everyone’s commitments. Realistically, someone on the call has a meeting directly after yours.
  • Encourage engagement. 
    Meeting-goers are more likely to participate if you encourage the sharing of different viewpoints and productive opinions. Show appreciation when your colleagues speak by making eye contact, showing interest and asking related follow-up questions, where appropriate. If this is an online conference call, keep your camera on to encourage other meeting attendees to do the same. Most importantly, thank everyone for their participation and attendance at the meeting. They could’ve been in a different meeting or working on something else! 
  • Keep your goals in mind. 
    Keep the pace moving forward and focused on the objectives by reminding everyone of the agenda items. Wrap up the meeting with five minutes remaining by summarizing the key take-away points and agreeing on deadlines and tasks. Be sure to end on time! Immediately follow up the meeting with a written document of attendees, objectives, key outcomes, assigned tasks, and deliverable dates.

The way you run meetings is an important part of your job, especially since we spend so much of our work day in meetings. We spend a lot of time honing our hard and technical skills, but the soft skills - like how to run a meeting - need just as much attention. Many of these soft skills, like emotional intelligence, affect your ability to run effective meetings. For additional education on soft skills and meetings that work, check out Becker’s Continuing Professional Education courses.

Whether you’re an individual contributor or a senior VP, business meetings are a necessary and important part of your career. Take them seriously by actively leading effective meetings with these preparation and practice tips - everyone’s time depends on it.

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