It was Hendrik van Loon who once said that a meeting would be successful only if it had three participants – one of whom is away sick and another who is absent. Organisational life is never so generous to managers, however. Meetings have become an unavoidable aspect of a manager’s job. Fortunately, unnecessary meetings can be eliminated; others can be made more effective. Important ingredients are planning and preparation, as the following points reveal…

1. Make sure you’ve called the meeting for a reason.

Meetings should never become rituals. They cost time and money, so it’s important to call a meeting only when one is warranted – to solve a problem, to coordinate activities, to disseminate and discuss urgent information, to reach a consensus or decision, to build morale, or to reconcile conflicts. So don’t ask people to attend a listening-session if you can send a memo or newsletter instead.

2. Select the participants wisely.

Only those who need to attend should be invited to do so. Each non-essential attendee is wasting his or her time and costing your organisation money. As well, the more people attending, the more difficult it is to reach consensus. Consider inviting participants to be present at a particular time – that is, for the agenda item on which their personal contributions are required.

According to US communications specialist Milo Frank, unnecessary participants, like unnecessary meetings, are a waste of everyone’s time. He suggests you consider six questions in deciding whom to invite:

  1. Whom must you invite?
  2. Who can give you what you want?
  3. Who favours your objective?
  4. Who will oppose your objective?
  5. Who is sitting on the fence?
  6. Who can cause trouble if not invited?

3. Prepare a benchmark of productivity.

Be clear on the purposes of the meeting and your hoped-for outcomes. How will you know when you have achieved them? By preparing a ‘benchmark of productivity’ for the meeting – a check list of what you want to accomplish, to refer to during the meeting, or to use later to compare the hoped-for outcomes with the actual ones.

4. Select the right time and place for the meeting.

Call a meeting only when you have the information required for decision-making and you can be assured that the appropriate people will attend. Ensure that the venue is accessible to all participants, but remote enough to prevent interruptions. Check out the venue – its location, seating, lighting, ventilation, whiteboards, electrical requirements, and other essentials; and book the facility if appropriate.

5. Prepare and distribute an agenda that will work.

The more care you take with an agenda, the more productive the meeting will be. The agenda should be more than merely a list of items handed out at the meeting. Key elements would include these:

  • date, time, place, and duration of meeting
  • a list of items to be discussed in sequence, detailing (for each item) who will lead the discussion, time allocated and, importantly, the objective (information sharing, discussion only, decision required, or problem to be solved, etc.).

6. Send out the agenda and background papers.

By giving adequate advance notice and distributing the agenda and support documents, you will demonstrate your thoroughness and instil confidence in your leadership. (Remember, people being what people are, to allow time at the beginning of your meeting for ‘reviewing’ documents that may not have been read in advance.)

7. Do your homework on the participants.

If emotional or controversial issues, for example, are to be raised during the meeting, it is sometimes a good idea to discuss them with some of the key participants beforehand. Consider their reactions and how you might handle them during the meeting to achieve the desired outcomes.

8. Gather appropriate tools for the meeting.

Make sure you have considered the items frequently required during a meeting: notepaper, pens, a flip chart, a whiteboard, refreshments, an overhead projector, a telephone, a tape recorder, and so on.

9. Be prepared – psychologically.

Mental preparation is also a vital consideration, so the following suggestions are offered:

  • Know the meeting process and your role as chairperson. Understand the rules of the game before you play – whether they are formal rules of order involving motions, voting, adjournments, etc., or unofficial procedures developed by your own organisation.
  • Do your homework. Be prepared and knowledgeable about the subjects under discussion.
  • Believe you can lead. If you have been called on to lead, someone believes you can do it. So be confident yourself that you can.
  • Seize the opportunity. Responsibility requires extra effort. Give it – and grow.
  • Aim high. Strive for excellence and set an example. Others will follow.

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