A Meeting Worth Attending

One of my main pet peeves is a poorly run meeting.  You know what I’m talking about…  The meeting is scheduled to start at 9am, and at 9:15am you’re still waiting for people to arrive.  Which leaves you with time to ponder – do you really need to be in the meeting anyway?  Could one of your staff handle it?  But you aren’t sure, because the meeting organizer was sketchy on the agenda.  Now there are two hours of your life that you’ll never get back!

At my last campaign job, my days were scheduled with back-to-back meetings.  So needless to say, I’ve learned a thing or two about the components of efficient meetings.  So here it goes…
Set an Objective
The first step, even before inviting attendees, is to define your objective.  In doing this you might realize you can skip the meeting completely and hold a smaller conference call or solve the problem one-on-one with your supervisor. 
Here are some ways to think about defining your meeting’s objective:
  • To assign responsibility…
  • To solve the problem…
  • To train staff on…
  • To identify actions to be taken…
Determine Attendees
Only invite people that will contribute to or directly benefit from the meeting.  There is nothing worse that sitting in a meeting and realizing you’re not the right person to handle the topic.  Trust me, no one is going to be offended if they weren’t invited.  It’s the best use of you and your colleagues’ time to make sure the right people are at the table – no more, no less.
The Art of the Agenda
I love a good agenda.  Bold statement, I know.  Here are my tips for an effective agenda:
  • State the meeting’s objective (see above) at the top of the agenda.
  • List a start time, end time, and the name of the presenter for each agenda item.
  • Include time for introductions at the start of the meeting, only if necessary.
  • Include brief breaks, if the meeting is particularly long.  Breaks give participants a chance to respond to urgent emails and stretch their legs.
  • Vary presenters to encourage collaboration and interaction.  Mixing it up gives others a chance to speak and keeps the energy up.
  • Control the agenda.  Be realistic about how much you can cover in the time allotted.  Only add topics that relate to the meeting’s objective.
  • Send the agenda to participants in advance of the meeting.
Running the Meeting
Always start the meeting on time, and don’t re-cap for late arrivals. 
In addition to the agenda, circulate any handouts prior to the meeting.  Don’t assume everyone will come to the meeting prepared.  Always have copies of the agenda and handouts for each participant.  Pass out all materials before the start of the meeting as a packet left on each seat.  This will save time during the course of the meetings and eliminate shuffling papers all around the room. 
Determine a couple roles in advance – meeting facilitator and note-taker.  The meeting facilitator makes sure the meeting stays on schedule and on topic.  This person should be senior enough to politely re-focus the conversation if it goes off topic (i.e. cut off the person that loves the sound of their voice).  The facilitator will also need to quickly summarize action items, either after each agenda item or at the end of the meeting.  The note-taker takes notes (Shocker!) during the meeting with a focus on decisions made and next steps.  The note-taker will also be responsible for sending around a summary following the meeting.
Depending on the length of the meeting, make sure beverages and snacks are set-up in the room.  Also, the meeting space should be free of distractions (other staff passing through, for example) and neither too cold nor too hot.   
Meeting Follow-up
There are two main components to effective meeting follow-up:  1) meeting summary and 2) participant feedback.  As soon as possible, a meeting summary should be sent to all participants and should include main decision points and next steps.  The next steps should include:  each action item, person responsible for each action, and due dates.  Forgo long, detailed meeting minutes, and instead focus on the decisions made and action items to keep everyone on the same page.
The best way to determine if a meeting was successful is to ask participants for feedback.  Depending on the size of the meeting, ask them to fill out a simple feedback form at the end of the meeting.  If it’s a smaller, less formal meeting, email participants asking for their thoughts or grab a few participants after the meeting to discuss.
Now, go forth and meet efficiently!