We've all attended meetings that went off the rails. When this happens, nothing gets decided and participants return to their desks lamenting the waste of time. Well, there are proven techniques to ensure that the meetings you conduct are successful. Here are seven tips for moderating productive meetings:
1. Send the agenda to everyone a couple of days beforehand. In addition, ask each person to reply with one sentence about each of the main agenda items. This has three purposes.
- First, writing a sentence on each item will force everyone to do a minimal amount of preparation.
- Second, the comments will provide you with enough information to guide the discussion in the most effective way.
- Third, the feedback will allow you to determine how much time to allocate to each item.
2. Provide ground rules at the start of the meeting. Ask the participants to let others speak without interruption; to allow each person to address each item (or pass); and to respect your interventions as a moderator. While it may seem unnecessary to make these rules explicit (especially if the participants know each other), doing so sets a business-like tone.
3. Distribute a revised agenda that includes the time frame. The revised agenda distributed at the start of the meeting should include a schedule showing the time allocated to each item. You may not be able to follow this time frame precisely, but it helps to focus discussion and ensure that all agenda items are covered. Appoint a time-keeper to let the group know when time is running out on an item.
4. Intervene when necessary. It is unwise to intervene in the meeting too often, as participants may clam up if they feel they aren’t being permitted to speak freely. However, you should definitely intervene in particular circumstances – if the discussion goes far off-topic; if the exchange of views turns into a heated debate between two participants; or if the meeting gets bogged down in excessive humor or small talk.
5. Provide a concluding statement at the end of each time slot. Before moving on to the next item, either indicate the consensus that you heard expressed (if there is one) or specify next steps (if there is no consensus). It is useful to do such a summing-up at this point, while the discussion is still fresh in the minds of participants.
6. Do a complete recap at the end of the meeting. Be sure to save five minutes at the end for a recap of all the agenda items. For each item where there was a consensus, specify both the decision made and the participant who is assigned to take whatever action is necessary to implement the decision. For each item where there was no consensus, specify who is responsible for overseeing the next steps.
7. Ensure that the meeting notes/minutes, including the decisions and assignments, are prepared and sent out within a couple of days. Since this document is both a record of what happened and a road map for follow-up, it is essential that it be delivered in a timely manner.
Conducting a productive meeting is a challenging task requiring a variety of skills. There are many ways that meetings can fail, and the time lost in failed meetings can be significant. These seven tips will help you to moderate meetings that deliver results for your organization.
About the Author: Steven Burns, FAIA, spent 14 years managing his firm Burns + Beyerl Architects. After creating ArchiOffice®, the intelligent office, project management and time tracking solution for architectural firms, Steve brought his management expertise to BQE Software, where he is perfecting the business strategy and product development.