Running a Successful Meeting
I was asked to run a meeting on a client site for contractors who, the last time they met, caused absolute chaos. The meeting nearly ended in fisticuffs. Consequently, the client abandoned the meetings and never attempted them again, until I showed up. I think they wanted to test my ability actually.
Anyway, I knew exactly what would happen because I’ve seen it again and again. You have to use the force, Luke. Because whenever a lot of equals come together with the client there is a little devil of a contractor who tries to win more work by putting everyone else down and puffing themselves up.
I had my tactics and set to work to run the meeting…
No Trainer, No Agenda, No Plans, No Breath
Once when I was working as the head of occupational health, I arranged a meeting for my whole team, arriving from all over the country. I’d meticulously planned training to learn about the new IT management system I had purchased. We met on one of our Central England sites with many staying over the night and a couple flying in. Hugely expensive. So I needed to make sure the meeting warranted the cost.
Next day 14 nurses, doctors and technicians turned up with their regional supervisors. I had IT set up loads of wires and screens for the IT training and I brought lunch for everyone and the external trainer.
At 08:30 I had a call from the front gate to say that my visitor had arrived but there was a problem. Mystified I trotted over to the front gate to find the trainer sitting red faced in reception. We were a food manufacturing company and had strict rules on infections and how to protect the food etc. Unfortunately, this trainer had symptoms of infection and it was with disbelief, I heard myself saying that he was not allowed on site due to illness.
It was a bit like an accident happening. Slow motion. I was absolutely stunned – I’d planned this meeting for months and it cost an arm and a leg; my boss would not be happy. Nevertheless, there was no alternative.
I wandered slowly back to the meeting room to tell the team what had happened. Luckily they took it well and settled down to enjoy the day now that I had postponed the training. I quickly managed to cobble an alternative agenda together with the aid of the supervisors but it was hardly worth the time and effort I had put in.
How much do Meetings Cost?
Nowadays I tend to think about the cost of a meeting before planning a meeting so I can justify the effort. A few weeks ago, the whole department wanted a meeting. There were about 35 people and we closed the department to usual business. Now estimate the cost by considering the hourly rate of each person x hours attending, refreshments, travel and subsistence costs – does this justify setting up the meeting?
Things to Consider
If you do decide that a meeting is justified here are my top tips for success:
My Top 25 Tips for a Successful Meeting
- Is face to face meetings the best option? Nowadays you can opt for a webinar or video conferencing – Go to meeting, or Google Hangouts, Skype or Facetime cuts down travel time and costs.
- Set the agenda a couple of days in advance so that people come prepared
- Ask those who always arrive early (so annoying) to set up the meeting or the day. Hopefully, they will be more considerate next time
- Ask for suggestions for agenda before the meeting
- Logistics – make sure everyone knows where the meeting is and how to get into the room/building
- Do not forget the health and safety arrangements especially if you are in a safety meeting. It’s very bad form to forget this! Learn where the welfare, restaurant and fire exit and muster points are before people arrive.
- Ask everyone to set their mobile phones and tablets to ‘stun’ or buzz so that there are least interruptions
- Agree how you will all behave and the focus of the meeting (the Terms of Reference in more formal meetings)
- If some one arrives late to ask a colleague to update them in the break, it’s so annoying when everyone has to have a rerun for the late arriver
- Set up and arrange the information technology (IT) well in advance of the meeting. How many times have you had to put a meeting on hold as you search for a password or try to get a presentation to work?
- Arrange refreshments or tell people to bring their own food and drinks
- For group work, arrange break out areas to discuss issues privately
- Warn participants via the agenda that you only have x time to spend on an issue, have a timekeeper and put important issues first on agenda in case you run out of time
- Use an icebreaker – see my current favourites here:
- If there is a known troublemaker take them aside and discuss the situation before the meeting. Ask them to behave in the meeting – personal issues should be moved outside of meeting too
- Nominate different team members to talk about subjects – try not to dominate
- Find out the wi-fi password for attendees and display for users (so often there are upper case and numbers involved) so there is no confusion.
- Vary the meeting rooms if possible
- Vary the topics on the agenda so that there is a variety of subjects
- Use an interactive style, group work, questions, quizzes – don’t do all the talking yourself
- Prior to breaking up the meeting ask participants what they are going to do differently or change in behaviour because of this meeting
- Do not take long minutes – just jot down the action points with name and date of completion
- Ask group members for help clearing the room before leaving (otherwise I did it all)
- At the end of the meeting ask each participant if they have questions or comments
- Arrange the date of the next meeting before leaving
The meeting with contractors went well (if you have managed to stay with me this long). The biggest help is always the terms of reference, the agenda and the icebreakers which set the tone for the meeting and gave us a shared starting point.
Share your meeting experiences, either terribly wrong or brilliantly right in the comments box.