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How to Run a Formal Meeting

Adapted from content excerpted from the American Express® OPEN Small Business Network


As your small business grows so will the size of your company meetings. Informal get-togethers can be effective, but when time is tight and projects are complex, more order is necessary. Working with corporate clients may also require you to lead a formal meeting.

Step One: Set Objectives

A clear objective will encourage people to attend the meeting because they will understand its intent. It also will set the foundation for a focused meeting.

Meetings usually have one of two objectives - to inform or to decide. "Discussion" is not a meeting objective. For example, "to determine the market positioning for Series 2000 trade advertising" is an effective objective. It is focused and clearly announces the aim of the meeting. "To discuss Series 2000 marketing" sounds aimless and could invite rambling instead of action.

Step Two: Assemble Attendees

Create a list of who needs to attend this meeting. Think carefully about whether or not someone needs to be in the room for the duration of the meeting (perhaps they can join you via conference call, or for one specific topic). Remember, if you waste someone's time, he or she will be less likely to attend and participate in the next meeting you run.

Be definitive when you invite people to a meeting. You must be courteous of people's schedules, but you will have an easier time scheduling a meeting if you say "Please plan to attend and if you cannot make it let me know." Always let people know the objective of the meeting, the time it will begin and the time it will end. Also, stress that it will begin on time.

Step Three: Create an Agenda

An agenda is a list of the key items to review in order to meet your objective. It can be something you use for yourself or hand out at the meeting. The upside of handing out an agenda is that it provides a script for people to follow. The downside is that it may distract your attendees; it could tempt them to jump to issues you're not ready to cover. For example, if the fifth bullet down is engineering, the engineers in the room may want to jump right to that. If you need to resolve other issues first you may want to keep the agenda to yourself. If you are running a status meeting you can use your project timeline as your agenda.

If you decide to hand out an agenda, be sure to state the objective and date at the top of the page. All points should be bulleted. Everyone in the meeting should receive one, so be sure to make more than enough copies.

Step Four: Maintain Control

Once the meeting has begun, it is your responsibility to keep it moving and keep it focused. Here are some tips for accomplishing this:

  • Start on time, even if people are late. If you wait until the last person arrives, you train people to be late.
  • Briefly state what the meeting is about.
  • If you have passed out an agenda, be sure everyone follows it so that you accomplish your objectives.
  • If discussion drags on a topic and a decision is not being made, it is your job to interject and say something like, "For the sake of the timeline of the project, we need to make a decision."
  • If it is apparent that something cannot be resolved, determine what will be necessary to resolve it in the future and add it to the project timeline.
  • Crowd control: You have to be firm if the group gets off track and suggest that the matter be discussed at another time.
  • Schedule the next meeting at the end of the current one.
  • If you called the meeting, you are responsible for taking notes or appointing someone to take notes.

Step Five: Follow-up

Once the meeting has ended, you still have work to do.

Put together and distribute an internal memo summarizing what was covered, what was resolved, and what actions need to be taken for issues requiring further clarification. This should come straight from the meeting notes. Don't make this memo long -- a handful of bullet points should do the trick.

Make sure to thank people for attending and participating. They will be happy to know their time was appreciated.

Update your timeline to cover progress reported at the meeting. In your update, make sure to include the date of the next meeting, along with what needs to be accomplished by then.

Distribute the revised timeline.

 

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