10 Tips to Lead Meetings That Get Something Done

I read a statistic that there are more than 11 million meetings in the United States each day. You would think we’d all be great at leading meetings with so much experience, but there’s definitely room for improvement.  Here are ten tips to help you lead meetings that get something done:

  1. Know why you’re meeting and recognize when you don’t need to meet.
  2. Think through your desired outcomes (insights, ideas, agreement, decisions, an action plan) because we move towards that which we think about.
  3. Build an agenda that drives toward your outcomes — and, here’s the catch, limit yourself to only three agenda items.  Most agendas resemble laundry lists of ten, twelve or twenty issues for discussion.  I guarantee you won’t get to all twenty items.  I’ll also guarantee that you can cluster all of those individual items into three “buckets.”  (Ask the participants in my recent workshop who doubted but were won over.)
  4. Distribute the agenda — including desired outcomes — in advance. Let people know how they can prepare to contribute fully in the discussion.
  5. Lead your meeting as a conductor leads his orchestra.   Bring together the individual sounds in beautiful and unexpected ways that excite the participants.  Pace the discussion, weaving between fast-paced crescendos and softer, slower and calmer moments.  Start together (on time) and wrap up with a clear, satsifying conclusion.     I could keep going…
  6. Actively engage your participants.  Select a perfect warm-up to jumpstart the discussion, ask fruitful questions, frame or reframe the discussion, connect the dots, pose “what if” questions, and challenge assumptions.    Beyond driving the discussion forward, meeting leaders need to remember to stop talking, listen and leave “air time” for others!
  7. Encourage constructive participation.  Make it safe for everyone to share their ideas.   Control those overexuberant individuals who tend to dominate because they have so much to say.  Watch for “bullies” who poison meetings with their negativity and judgment.
  8. Move beyond stuck.  Too often meetings get derailed or hit a brick wall.  Get your meeting back on track by revisiting mutual goals and shared perspectives, envision success, help participants understand different perspectives and “park” topics that need to be continued at a different time.  (Be sure to revisit the parking lot at the end of the meeting and talk through next steps.)
  9. With 75% of our meetings taking place by phone, it’s good to recognize the ways in which you need to facilitate phone meetings differently. Keep phone meetings smaller and shorter.  Direct questions to specific participants or offices.  Listen more intently for cues and signals to make sure people are staying engaged.  Distribute parts of the agenda among the offices.
  10. Clarify take-aways, agreements, decisions-made,  and next steps.  Follow-up with a meeting report distributed within 24 hours.

A future blog will troubleshoot challenging meeting scenarios (e.g. when the senior decision-maker gets called away minutes before your big presentation, or when you’re only on slide #7 (or 25) but you can tell the group has lost interest, or how to handle a meeting when no one is prepared for an important discussion…).

One Response to “10 Tips to Lead Meetings That Get Something Done”

  1. Deb says:

    I remember exactly one meeting I was in that had one agenda item. It was scary- there was an Executive Vice President, three department heads- it was not the usual screwing around, let’s hear the sound of our own voices time. And it was quick. But that was over a decade ago, and I haven’t seen one since.

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