Friday 4 November 2016

Effectively Managing Meetings

“Meetings: Where minutes are kept and hours are lost.”

This little proverb can be prophetic if your business meetings are not effectively managed.  It is not surprising that many business people will do most anything to avoid a meeting, as they have the ability to devour hours in your working day.  The effective management of a business meeting is a vital skill for every business person.

The simple definition of a meeting is a face-to-face gathering of two or more people.  The face-to-face need not be in the same room as teleconferencing is also considered a meeting.

This article is not aimed at meetings such as big annual conferences or other meetings of that nature.  Here we are going to talk about the daily business meetings that underpin the day to day business decisions, which ensure the smooth running of a successful enterprise.

Why have a meeting?

Many business decisions today are made using alternatives such as telephone or e-mail, but there are times that sitting around a table will benefit everyone.

Meetings will roughly fall into one of three categories. The first type of meeting is designed to make decisions regarding business processes. This could be to decide on projects, new products or staffing issues. Strategic planning also falls into this category. 

Secondly, there are informative meetings.  These are usually regularly scheduled and can become tedious if they are allowed to drag on. 

Lastly, there are meetings called to review and analyze feedback. An example would be after the launch of a new product or service; the meeting could be used to analyze the performance of the product, review the costs structures and feed the information gathered to a decision-making body. Alternatively, you could be going through a post-mortem on the failure of a large piece of equipment. These meetings are used to gather information and analyze that information. It may or may not make decisions.

Plan your meetings carefully

Human beings have difficulty in paying attention for considerable lengths of time. On average, after an hour people start to think of other things so plan carefully what you want to achieve and keep a tight rein on the proceedings.

Here Is a Guide to Preparing

Step 1- Define the objectives of the meeting

Spend some time to define clearly what you want to achieve from the meeting.  Make the objective concrete and achievable within the time that you have.  Vague objectives such as ‘Status update’ may get you few acceptances whereas the objective set down as ‘Status of XYZ Project as at end-June 2016’ will gain you far more participants.

Take care that the objective is achievable. For example, do not set your objective to approve sales targets for the entire country if you only have a 30-minute time slot. Rather make your objective to set the sales targets for a particular section, or choose an area of the country. 

Ensure that the objective is clearly spelt out at the top of the agenda that is distributed for the meeting.

Step 2 – Preparation for the meeting

This is one of the most important steps, and the rewards will be commensurate with the amount of time spent in preparation.


Think of the people that you want to attend. Choose your participants wisely and ensure that they will be able to contribute to the set objective.  

Pre-Meeting Discussion

If this meeting is to agree serious and far reaching decisions, take the time to meet individually with the attendees before the meeting, and discuss informally the major decisions that will be made.  In this way your attendees are given time to think on the points and more importantly you know what the position each attendee will take.  You do not want to walk blindly into a meeting where far reaching decisions are to be made.

Minutes of the Meeting

The minutes are a true reflection of what transpired at the meeting. 

You need to decide how to record the business discussed at the meeting. It is extremely difficult for the facilitator or Chair of the meeting to try and record the minutes as well.  Engage someone to record the minutes on your behalf. 

Apart from pen and paper, a recorder could also be used as a tool to record meetings.

The most basic information that they will have to record is:

·       Who actually attended

·       Record any decisions taken – as facilitator or Chair ensure that the decision is recorded

·       Record any next steps or action items – the task, who will undertake it and the date due

Seat the minute taker as close to the facilitator or Chair as possible.  In this way he/she can request clarity on any item directly to the Chair and likewise the Chair can ensure that the points are being accurately recorded.

If there is infrastructure to record the meeting, ensure that all attendees are aware they are being recorded.  After the meeting, take possession of the tapes or recorder and arrange for the minutes to be transcribed from them.


Take care of these issues:

·       Meeting room – book this well in advance and ensure that it is the correct size for your meeting. If you cannot reserve a meeting room where everyone can sit at the table, rather reschedule the meeting than have people sitting several deep around a table.  If people do not sit at the table, they will not feel part of the proceeding and will not contribute fully. 

·       Refreshments - if the meeting is scheduled for longer than an hour, try to get refreshments served after an hour.  People find it difficult to concentrate for longer than an hour, so arrange for refreshments to be served to give everyone a short break. 

If this is a day-long meeting, remember to organize lunch. Do your best not to serve lunch at the table, arrange for another room and serve lunch there. Again, get people out of the meeting room and give them a chance to refresh themselves.  Remember to ask participants to advise you of any special dietary requirements.

Review the quotations given for food and beverage service at hotels. Read the fine print as the quote may be for the food only and will exclude taxes and service charges.  These missing costs on your quote can add up to 30% extra to your bill.  Do not over feed the attendees, that they may not end up sleeping during meetings.

·       Equipment – ensure that projectors, microphones, flip charts, network connectivity, paper and pencils are all organized and that you know how to operate them.  If you cannot operate the equipment, arrange for a person to be present to operate on your behalf.   Take the time to find out the name of the technician responsible for the equipment and save his/her telephone number. If you have a breakdown, you can minimize the delay by knowing who to contact.

·       Toilet facilities – take the time to find out where the ladies and gentlemen’s toilets are situated and at the opening of the meeting tell people where they are.

·       Hotel rooms – if you have to organize overnight accommodation, insist that participants requiring this accommodation tell you in good time so rooms at convenient hotels can be reserved. Be sure to arrange transport if participants do not intend to hire vehicles. This transport may have to include airport pickups.

·       Ground rules- in some cases, these may need to be re-emphasized, to ensure law and order, and the smooth running of the meeting.

Risk Assessment

Visit the meeting room and assess risks to the participants.  All or some of these risks may be assessed on a daily basis by the section responsible for the room.  Check with them before undertaking your own assessment. Here are some items to consider:

·       Tripping hazards – Look for things like loose carpets, trailing cables and spilt liquids.  These must be dealt with by building maintenance before the start of the meeting.

·       If you are expecting disabled persons, is the entry to the room and movement around the room suitable?

·       Furniture – look for broken legs on chairs and tables, sharp edges and torn seats.

·       Temperature – does the air conditioning/ heater work and does it work correctly?

·       Electrical equipment – is the electrical equipment in good working order. Are there sufficient electrical outlets without the danger of one being overloaded?

·       Lighting – is the lighting sufficient for the needs of the meeting.  If you have to dim the lights for the projector, are there small desk lights to allow the participants to write with ease?

·       Spare Pen/ paper- for those who may require them

·       Illness – what will you do if one of the participants is ill?  Is there a room that they can use to recover?

·       Fire Evacuation – are there clear instructions in the room that show where the fire escape is and where the fire assembly point is located? Are the locations of fire extinguishers clearly marked?

Behavior of attendees

It is a good idea to have some idea of how you intend to deal with the aggressive or abusive behavior of one or more of the attendees. Verbal abuse is the intention to disrupt or hurt and must never be mistaken for constructive criticism. Signs of verbal abuse include name-calling, racial slurs, swearing and attacks on a person’s gender, religion, sexual preference or age. 

Any sign of verbal abuse must be stopped immediately by trying to focus on the root cause of the abuse.  Was it caused by unfair criticism? Was it caused by a perception of poor performance?  If the abuser is not prepared to halt the attack, remove that person immediately and call a short break.  Take the abuser to another room and give them a chance to explain what the problem is.  Listen and try to establish the rationale behind the attack.  If the abuser cannot calm down and return to the meeting so issues can be discussed calmly, suggest that he/she goes back to their office and continue without them, if that is possible.

If the abuse is a regular occurrence, bring in the Human Resources staff and deal with the matter through the company’s policies and procedures. Abuse should never be tolerated.

Prepare the Agenda

This is a very important step in preparation for any meeting.  The agenda will spell out clearly what topics are to be discussed and the length of time allocated to each topic.

Be realistic in the selection of topics and how long you will allow the discussion around a topic to continue.  Try to limit a normal business day meetings to no more than an hour.  Conferences and seminars are by their nature longer.

If there is to be a presentation around the topic, lay down the time limit for the presentation and then allow sufficient time for discussion around the presentation. Each topic must have time allocated for agreement on the decision made or for next steps to be taken. Do not progress to the next topic without a clear agreement on the outcome of the current topic.

Allow time on the agenda for networking and greeting. If your participants come from different branches or different cities, they may only meet face to face at company meetings so give them some time to network. These informal networks are vital to the smooth running of any organization and providing some time for networking can be valuable to the organization.

Send out a draft agenda and ask participants to add any items that they feel are important or to adjust any plans that you have laid down. You can review these requested changes and decide to accept them or not depending on the value add, that they have to your stated objective.

Indicate, at the top of the agenda, the date, time and location of the meeting.

Request that any pre-meeting material must be submitted to you and give a deadline for that material.  This material must be distributed in good time so that the participants have the time to properly study it.

Send the agenda and pre-meeting material to all participants.

Step 3 – Running the Meeting

Opening and Introduction

Welcome everyone to the meeting and briefly indicate the purpose of the meeting. 

Introduce any guests or people that are attending for the first time.  It is very frustrating to attend a meeting and not know who the other people are.  Do not forget to introduce the person recording the minutes.

Request that all attendees turn their mobile devices off, not to silent, but off.  Buzzing telephones are highly disruptive and not conducive to everyone engaging in the discussion. There must be no texting or messaging of any kind whilst the meeting is in progress.

Explain any logistical issues. For example, when you intend to break for refreshments and where the toilets are located.

Decide what you intend to do if people come late.  There are two ways to deal with this; some facilitators refuse to admit late comers as it can be very disruptive or you can allow them to take their place at the table, but do not be tempted to rehash business already discussed. If they could not make the meeting on time, they forfeit the right to be part of the decisions taken before they arrived.

The issue of starting or ending the meeting with prayers is dependent on the company’s policies.   In the modern business world, where diversity is valued it may be extremely difficult to insert a prayer when the religious affiliations of the attendees can be diverse.  However, if the attendees have common religious affiliations, prayers may be said at the beginning and end of the meeting.

Timing each Topic

Prioritize topics to be discussed, ensuring that the most important discussions come first.

Make it clear that everyone’s time is valuable and in an effort to respect the fact that people have allocated time to the discussion, ensure all attendees adhere as closely as possible to the allocated time slots. Your attendees may well start to withdraw, mentally, from the proceedings if you allow the meeting to run on interminably. 

This is not to say that you cannot be flexible.  A particular point may be generating considerable discussion, all of which is valuable. If you reach the time limit for the point, stop the discussion and ask the attendees if the discussion should continue and something else will fall off the agenda or should this full discussion be taken to a new meeting. 

At the end of the topic, ask the minute taker to read the decisions taken and the action points raised.  Ensure that there is agreement that these points are correct and reflect the views of the attendees.

Give everyone a chance to talk

You are the facilitator or Chair of the meeting, do not allow it to degenerate into several discussions around the table or allow people to simply interrupt.

Avoid a dictatorial manner. You are not going to make all the decisions yourself, and you are not going to complete all the action points on your own. Both you and the organization need the other people sitting around the table so treat them with respect. 

Be firm about one person talking at a time.  It is impossible to follow several discussions and the minute taker will not be able to follow what the decisions are.

Give everyone that wishes to contribute a chance to do so but do not be afraid to step in to shut down attendees that are repeating points already made. Some people are naturally hesitant to speak in a large forum so take the time to bring their ideas out into the open.

If one attendee seems to be taking over, step in and ask them to summarize what it is, they wish to say.  Bring them to the point as quickly as you can and do not permit any one attendee to monopolize the discussion.

Do not lose your temper but keep control of unruly attendees. Under no circumstances permit and abuse to take place and if tempers flare call a break and let everyone cool down. Take the protagonists aside and try to resolve the issue before returning to the meeting.

Divisive discussions

It is highly likely that a point will arise that the attendees are unable to agree upon. In these cases, you have a couple of options.

·       Put the decision to the vote.  A simple count of hands raised will decide what action to take.

·       Record all the options and request a senior manager to decide which of the options is best.

Ensure the decision is recorded as an addendum to the minutes, so everyone is aware of what the final decision is.

Step 4 –Closing the Meeting


Bring the meeting to a close by summarizing the discussion.  Ask if anyone has anything further to add.

Closure and thanks

Thank everyone for attending and let them know when they can expect the minutes to be distributed.

IF there is to be a follow-up meeting or if this is one of a regular schedule of meetings, inform everyone of the next scheduled date.

Step 5 –Minutes

It is very important that minutes are written and distributed as quickly as possible, within 24 hours is best practice.  The list of action points on the minutes are tasks that must be performed, and it does not help productivity if the minutes are distributed weeks after the meeting closed.

Meetings are an essential part of any organizations daily life.  Becoming skilled at facilitating or Chairing a meeting is an invaluable skill to acquire. Effectively managing meetings need not be an alarming task if you follow these simple steps. As the facilitator or Chair, you must take full responsibility to ensure the meeting runs smoothly and you do not waste the valuable time that your colleagues are giving you.  It is interesting to calculate the total cost of any meeting by simply adding up the approximate hourly remuneration of all the attendees.  It will be clear that having these people attend and give up their time costs the organization and recognition must be given to this fact. Gaining a reputation for running meetings effectively and efficiently will enhance your standing within the organization and enhance the organization’s productivity.

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