As a professional communicator, there’s a good chance you’ll be called upon to chair a meeting at some point in your career.
And we’ve all sat in some badly chaired meetings in our time, right?
I’m no expert- but with the help of friends and colleagues I’ve pulled together a list of twelve tips for better meetings.
- Establish the purpose: saying clearly and succinctly at the start of every single meeting what it is for and why people are there isn’t just a great way of focusing discussions, it also helps out new staff who might be attending for the first time or who are covering the meeting for a colleague.
- To be on time is to be late: meeting chairs should be ready to go at least five minutes before a meeting, and attendees should be asked to do the same. If you spend the first 10 minutes of an hour-long meeting waiting for the chair to get themselves together, and admitting late comers, you have wasted 17 percent of your allotted time already.
- Timed agenda items: allocating defined time slots to every agenda item, publishing them on the agenda and then sticking to them carefully is the best way of ensuring a meeting finishes on time and that each agenda item is given fair time for discussion.
- Agenda design: if a meeting agenda has 12 items but the meeting is only scheduled to last for an hour, then clearly it will be difficult to stick to time. Meeting chairs should think carefully in this instance about which agenda items are a priority and which can instead be moved a future meeting.
- Read the papers: making it clear to attendees politely but firmly that you expect them to have prepared for a meeting by reading the papers beforehand saves time because it means those presenting items don’t have to go through papers in details.
- Invite contributions: inviting contributions from specific individuals, as opposed to asking for an open-ended ‘any comments’, can ensure that people who aren’t always heard in meetings are given the space to make their views known. Teeing people up to this before they are invited to comment (“I’m going to come to Siobhan first, then Dave, then Roger”) can help those people to collect their thoughts and feel less anxious about contributing.
- Retaining focus: Tangents can be massive time drains- killing focus and reducing impact. Cutting people off and returning the discussion to core business isn’t rude- it simply shows respect to the time of every other attendee and delivers better decisions.
- No-recaps: there are lots of reasons why people might be late for a meeting, especially during a pandemic, but recapping progress for the benefit of late comers is inefficient and shows a lack of respect for the time of others who attended promptly.
- Know when to move on: there comes a point in any discussion when a consensus has emerged and people begin to repeat each other’s points. Understanding when this point has been reached is vital for keeping to time.
- Cut the banter: there is nothing wrong with conducting a meeting in a friendly manner, but off-topic discussions should be limited to before the meeting start time or simply be moved to another time and place
- Bring in the right people: be clear about who needs to be at a meeting and who doesn’t, when issuing invites. Retain control of this as a chair prior to the meeting. Too many attendees can make it hard to run an effective meeting, as well as being a complete waste of time for those attendees with nothing to contribute.
- Plain English, all the time: not everyone understands what you’re saying – especially so when talking for a long time about complex issues or using industry jargon and acronyms. By speaking in Plain English, which everyone understands, you can make meetings more enjoyable, accessible and effective experiences.
Zander Mills is a Communications Manager at South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue (@SYFR)