People Management Issues: Mastering the art of meetings

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MEETINGS, if not properly planned, are often maligned by staff and managers alike for usually being unproductive and a waste of time. Leaders should not get into the temptation of holding a meeting for the sake of it.

ROBERT MANDEYA

However, it is important to note that a great meeting will be confidence-inspiring, motivating and energising. Meetings cannot be dispensed with — they are a necessary evil in the corporate world. A meeting makes people feel included in the organisation, its goals and achievements.

The question is: if you have to lead a meeting, how can you make the difference between a bad meeting or a productive one? What is most common is that at times the person responsible for holding and steering the meeting could plan it poorly or can let it digress into unnecessary issues. Don’t let this happen to you! Here’s a quick guide on running an effective meeting.

Preparation before the meeting
Here are some questions one should ponder on before calling for a meeting: do you actually need to hold a meeting? Is it necessary for people to take time out to hear this information or can this be sent out by letter or e-mail, with a meeting to discuss the outcomes instead?

Meetings can be used for imparting information, sure, but it need not be the sole reason when other modes of communication would be more effective at this stage.

Estimate how long the meeting is going to take — people are often going to make time out of their busy schedules to attend, so make sure you give plenty of notice to prevent any unnecessary drop-outs. If the meeting is particularly important, reconfirm attendance nearer to the time so that you are not hit by last-minute absentees.

Know what you want to achieve in the meeting (within the timescale) and stick to it. A follow-up meeting after people have had a break is much better than one long, boring meeting that becomes dull and repetitive. Arrange your topics in the order you want to cover them and decide how you are going to present them to the attendees. If you have time, construct an agenda. This keeps both you and everyone else on track as to how much time you have to cover all the relevant points and stops people from using this meeting to bring up irrelevant points. Distribute this as early in advance as you are able to.

Thinking about the meeting venue
It’s amazing that most people don’t give due consideration as to where they are holding the meeting, as they are often too wrapped up in the content of the meeting itself.

If you have a choice of venue, then ask yourself — is it big enough (including space for refreshments — ensure to book these on time. if the meeting is long enough to warrant them)? Does it have the right facilities? Overhead projectors are better than flipcharts and flipcharts are better than you standing there with notes.

Even better (for example, if this is a brainstorm) make it fun — meetings do not have to be boring! Use the space around you, and bring visual or learning aids to get your point across or help the attendees understand your presentation.

Finally, it’s always handy to appoint someone to take the minutes of the meeting — you’ll probably not have the concentration or time to multitask and do this yourself.

The meeting itself
Start by clarifying the purpose, scope, and the aim/goals/outcomes of the meeting. Manage expectations so that people know the window of time they have to contribute or discuss certain points. There is no need to dictate the meeting — after all, you should value the opinions and contributions of others (otherwise there would be no meeting!), so let the attendees know that their presence is valued.
The most important thing is to keep the meeting on track. This is easier if you have an agenda. It doesn’t mean refusing to discuss non-relevant topics, you can take them on board and agree to address them later, outside the meeting, or on a one-on-one basis. When someone agrees to take on a piece of work or raises an issue that requires attention, make sure it is noted so that you can follow it up.
Resist the urge to let the meeting drag on or go off-topic (we have all been there!). If you are raising more issues than you are solving, you are veering into letting your meeting turn counter-productive.

Remember you can take a break! If you sense that concentration is starting to wander or people are getting restless, take a breather. It is also a good idea to summarise what has been covered so far at various points in the meeting, to try and keep it fresh. Do not be afraid to bring the current meeting to a close and propose another one.

After you end the meeting — distribute minutes if you deem this appropriate. This will help you set an agenda for the next one. Overall: keep your meetings succinct, as fun as you can make them given the material you have to work with and make your attendees feel included. You never know, you might actually start to enjoy meetings and end up holding too many. Why not hold a meeting on how to hold a meeting?
Now here is something to think about … it is best to get involved in training on meetings instead!

Mandeya is a senior executive training consultant and communication in management advisor, a personal coach in leadership and professional development with the Institute of Leadership Research and Development. You can contact him on mandeyarobert@yahoo.com, mandeyarobert@gmail.com. The views contained herein are personal.

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