Effective Meetings

Do you use a productive process for managing meetings?

Lisa B. Marshall
5-minute read

Oh, if the agenda doesn't go out ahead of time, it doesn't mean you shouldn't create one-- even if that means creating the agenda as the first thing you do in the meeting.

Respect Time

Start your meeting on time, even if everyone isn’t there. If this isn't your standard procedure (yet), it's a good idea to warn people that you really are going to start on time. Trust me, people will get the message. By the way, this also applies to returning back from breaks.

Likewise, always end your meeting on time or earlier. Participants will love it and remember you for that. The key for keeping meetings on schedule is to manage the time for each individual segment. Someone needs to be responsible for paying attention to this. It could be a facilitator or note taker or a participant that manages the time.

I’ve found using a 2-minute warning system works great. When 2 minutes are left in a segment, the timer raises a large yellow sheet of paper. When there’s only a minute left, he raises a red sheet and says in a soft, polite voice "One minute, Lisa." Once the system has been in place a while, that’s usually enough to keep people on track.

However, if the speaker is running over, the timer may need to say, again in a soft, polite tone, "Sorry, Lisa, we’re out of time. Does this need to go in the parking lot?” The idea is for your team “valet” to “park” issues that might need further attention on a white board or flip chart. If participants are truly engaged, occasionally a topic will need more time; and for sure, issues not on the agenda will crop up. At the end of the meeting, each item should be reviewed and assigned an owner for follow-up. The parking lot concept is a powerful tool to keep meetings on track. By the way, it’s a good idea to look at all the parking lot lists quarterly to see if there are any recurring issues.

Keep a Written Record

Another common meeting mistake is to not record decisions and next steps. It's very important to get explicit, public buy-in and task ownership. "Lisa, you said you're going to contact the University to see which dates in September are available, right?" That forces me to publicly commit. The note taker records the task, the owner, and the deadline. By the way, that’s what meeting notes are--just a summary of the next steps--nothing more. A quick summary should be done after each meeting segment and voiced again at the end of the meeting to ensure there's an owner for all tasks.

Maintain a Positive Engaged Environment

Maintaining an upbeat, engaging environment in meetings is important. One expert recommends starting each meeting by writing the desired outcome on the whiteboard and then asking participants to communicate something positive. The facilitator should ask questions and encourage feedback from all participants. “Bob, what are your thoughts on this? Mary, do you agree?” Include a ground rule that only one person speaks at a time so that everyone can follow the conversation. The facilitator manages the meeting process while the meeting leader manages meeting content. It’s difficult for the same person to fill both of these roles. For important meetings, choose different people.

Commonly I get asked about what to do about people who come late. I don’t think latecomers should be publicly embarrassed. At the same time, I don’t think you should make any effort to catch them up when they arrive. If you feel the need to say something, simply state where you are in the agenda. “We just started the second topic.”


About the Author

Lisa B. Marshall

Lisa B. Marshall Lisa holds masters with duel degrees in interpersonal/intercultural communication and organizational communication. She’s the author of Smart Talk: The Public Speaker's Guide to Success in Every Situation, as well as Ace Your Interview, Powerful Presenter, and Expert Presenter. Her work has been featured in CBS Money Watch, Ragan.com, Woman's Day, Glamour, Cosmopolitan, and many others. Her institutional clients include Johns Hopkins Medicine, Harvard University, NY Academy of Science, University of Pennsylvania, Genentech, and Roche.