How to Lead Effective Meetings

How to Lead Effective Meetings

The concept of leading a meeting seems fairly simple. You’ve called a group of people to a conference room at a specified time to discuss a certain topic. Not that complex, right?

Like all things in life, there’s a big difference between leading a meeting, and leading one well. Anyone who has sat through a terrible one knows this. As a participant, you feel almost as though you’re trapped — there doesn’t seem to be any direction, it doesn’t feel like anything is actually being accomplished. And yet there goes another few minutes (or more) of your workday as Kevin continues his tangent about how his favorite salad place closed… Wasn’t this a meeting about interdepartmental process improvements?

Since you’re probably familiar with meetings like this, don’t put other people through them. Learn how to lead effective meetings with these 6 key strategies.

1. Never schedule a meeting without an objective.

Never means never. You should not schedule time with one or more people if you aren’t clear on what you need to accomplish from that meeting. It could be to brainstorm solutions to an identified issue, to walk through results of a report, to discuss the hiring plan for a department, etc. It should not be that you set a meeting just because that in and of itself feels like progress on a project — it’s not.

2. Limit the number of people included.

You won’t be able to lead a valuable meeting if the size of the group is too large. It just simply goes beyond what can be a productive conversation because there are too many people involved who are all trying to speak at once. The rule of thumb is: A meeting of 10 people or more is either a presentation, or it’s an ineffective meeting. Include only the individuals who are needed for the objective to be accomplished — no more, no fewer.

3. Have an agenda set in advance, and stick to it.

Even if you’ve got a clear goal, the meeting needs to be structured so that you can achieve it. You must create an agenda in advance. This ensures that the group will discuss all of the important matters at hand before the time runs out. Plus, it’ll allow you to retain control of the discussion, rather than have a pushy colleague take control because there’s no plan. If the group gets off track, you can simply refer them back to the agenda and keep things moving.

4. Start off the meeting by explaining the purpose and the agenda.

This is a simple strategy but is very effective. Once everyone is settled, thank them for taking the time to meet, explain what the objective of the meeting is, and what will be covered (i.e. the agenda you prepared). This ensures everyone is on the same page about why they’re there, and helps keep them on track throughout the meeting.  

5. Strike a balance between leading and allowing for discussion.

The purpose of the meeting is not for the group to just listen to you talk (that’s just a presentation) — there should be some discussion. Make sure to strike a balance between these two. You’ll want to establish yourself as the person in charge by leading the discussion, while also giving plenty of opportunities for participants to join in with their two cents.

6. At the end, summarize the discussion and explicitly outline the next steps.

In most cases, there will be some type of follow up to the meeting. For example, it could be that each individual will research something and report back via email to the group. Whatever the case may be, it’s essential that you summarize what was covered in the meeting, and then explicitly tell the group what the next steps are. This holds everyone accountable so that the discussion doesn’t go to waste.

There’s not much worse than a poorly run meeting or one that seemingly has no purpose and no direction. Don’t let yours be like that. If you’re calling the meeting, there are easy ways to make sure that your meeting is effective and efficient. Use the six key strategies above to help improve your meetings to get the most out of everyone’s time. 

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Maddi Salmon

Maddi Salmon is a senior editor and researcher at Overheard on Conference Calls. She is an expert in management, data journalism, and all things spreadsheets.
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