If you’ve ever sat in a meeting, middle-distancing and asking yourself, “couldn’t this meeting have been an email?” then you’ve probably encountered poor meeting planning. Like them or not, meetings are an integral part of a business. And, regardless of whether they’re running in-person meetings or video conference calls, the smartest businesses are those that plan meetings to use the time efficiently.
Meeting planning is more than doodling a couple of bullet points on paper. It requires selecting the appropriate agenda, structuring your time, and allocating space for discussion and feedback.
To help you piece together the ingredients for a great meeting, we’ve put together this guide to effective meeting planning.
What does meeting planning mean?
Meeting planning involves organising, coordinating, and executing meetings with your team and network. As part of this, you set the agenda of the meeting; decide the key attendees; plan when and where you’ll be taking the meeting; structure the time you’ve allocated for it, and where possible, state desired outcomes or next actions
Why is planning a meeting important?
Although you might be tempted to jump head first into a meeting with no prior thought, it’s important to think carefully about what you want to achieve through the meeting. These are some of the reasons why planning a meeting is key:
- Time is of the essence: by meticulously mapping out agendas, setting clear objectives, and establishing time limits for discussions, meetings become focused and productive. Time saved in meetings translates directly to increased productivity across the board, enabling teams to allocate resources more efficiently to other essential tasks and projects.
- Goal alignment: carefully crafted agendas that address key goals and initiatives make it easier for every participant to understand the purpose and relevance of the meeting, which boost meeting commitment and engagement. This keeps your team on the same page about investing collective efforts to secure tangible outcomes.
- Enhanced communication: clearly structured meetings provide a platform for collaboration, idea exchange and feedback. This helps your participants feel empowered to contribute their insights and perspectives, fostering a culture of inclusivity and transparency.
9 steps to planning an effective meeting
Meetings are essential for collaboration and decision-making within any business. However, without proper planning they can quickly turn into a mess. These are the steps to follow to guarantee your meeting’s success:
- Define meeting objectives: begin by clearly defining the purpose of the meeting and establishing specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART) objectives. Ask yourself: what do we hope to accomplish by the end of this meeting?
- Create a detailed agenda: make sure to include outlines of the topics you want to discuss, time allocations for each item, and any required pre-meeting materials. Start your agenda with the most critical items.
- Identify key participants: only invite the people that are relevant to your meeting in order to have effective discussions. Consider appointing specific roles, such as a meeting lead, notetaker, timekeeper, and subject matter experts to facilitate the process.
- Choose the right venue and technology: are you meeting with important clients and want to make a great impression? Meeting in person in your office might be good – meeting at their office may be better. Are you scheduling a weekly team catchup on a Monday morning? Perhaps a remote Google Meet should do the trick. Ensure you have enough capacity, accessibility, and amenities. If you’re meeting virtually, check you have the necessary technology and equipment, like video conference software and screen-sharing features.
- Send invitations and pre-meeting materials: send your invite well in advance of the meeting, alongside any necessary pre-meeting materials like the agenda, presentations, or background documents. Encourage participants to review the materials beforehand.
- Following the agenda: stick to your predetermined agenda to maintain focus and efficiency. Start and end the meeting on time to respect participants’ schedules. If off-topic discussions come up, politely suggest returning to them at a later time to stay on track.
- Encourage participation: create an inclusive environment that encourages participation from all attendees, including introverts. Use techniques like round-robin discussions, open-floor feedback sessions, and interactive polls (including before or after the meeting) to engage participants in different ways and gather diverse perspectives.
- Summarise key points: once you’re done with the meeting, summarise key takeaways and decisions made. This reinforces understanding among participants and ensures alignment on next steps and action items. Make sure to assign follow-up tasks where necessary to keep your post-meeting momentum going.
- Evaluate and adjust: gather feedback from your attendees to identify areas for improvement. Check in regarding the meeting’s effectiveness and make adjustments for future meetings as needed.
Best practice tips for running a meeting
Running a successful meeting requires more than having an agenda or a room full of attendees. These are some tips and tricks you can implement to guarantee a smooth-running meeting:
- Effective communication: make sure everyone in the meeting understands its purpose and their roles within it. Encourage active listening by paraphrasing and summarising points attendees bring up – it makes them feel more engaged and provides opportunities to avoid misunderstandings. Foster an environment where everyone feels comfortable expressing their ideas and concerns.
- Decision-making strategies: methods like consensus-building, voting, and seeking expert opinion work great for making tougher choices during meetings. Choose the approach that best suits the situation and ensure that all relevant stakeholders have their voices heard.
- Handling conflict: conflicts and disagreements in any collaborative environment are nearly inevitable. Instead of avoiding or suppressing them, view them as an opportunity for growth and innovation. Nurture open dialogue, active listening, and mutual respect when resolving conflicts. Focus on finding solutions that address the underlying issues while preserving relationships within the team.
- Establish a time frame: to keep focus and prevent meetings from dragging on, set a specific time frame for each agenda item. Allocate sufficient time for discussion while being mindful of the overall meeting duration. Above all, stick to the schedule!
- Consider different meeting formats: flexibility in meeting formats allows you to tailor the discussion to the specific objectives and dynamics of the group. Brainstorming sessions are ideal for generating creative ideas, decision-making meetings for reaching consensus on important issues, and status update meetings for keeping everyone informed on project goals.
Meeting agendas play a crucial role in boosting efficiency and team collaboration. With a clear meeting plan, you’ll be able to define objectives, list crucial topics, identify participants, and avoid wasting time. Make sure you’re also up to date with your video conferencing software, to facilitate collaboration online.
Most importantly, remember that not everything needs a meeting – if you find your meeting agenda is too short or replete with topics that don’t require a ton of team input, just write that email!
- How do you write an agenda for a meeting?
Define objectives, invite participant input, outline key questions for discussion, define each task’s purpose, allocate time for agenda items, and assign topic facilitators.
- What is typically included in a meeting agenda?
You can include topics, goals, a timeline, designated speakers, supporting documents, and talking points.
- What should not be included in the agenda?
Avoid including irrelevant topics, lengthy discussions without clear objectives, and items better suited for individual discussions.