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How to prepare and hold successful business meetings
Preparations before a meeting
A good preparation is vital for any successful meeting. What you want from a meeting is to get the outcome/results for those topics that you started the meeting with, without spending hours in them.
Whether to hold a meeting
The first thing to decide is whether a meeting is really necessary. Often meetings are held without a real purpose or important topic, think for example about those recurring meetings that take place every week or month but do not have any real important topics to discuss. If there is nothing really important to discuss or to make decisions on, then why have a meeting at all? These types of useless meetings just take up time that could be spend on more useful things, plus they cost a lot of money as well this way as the participants of the meeting could have spent their time better. For example, if the topics for a meeting are purely communication items, consider informing the participants by email instead. If you have a topic that needs discussion or a decision from the participants and it cannot be done bilaterally, then consider holding a meeting.
Where and when?
Once you have some discussion/decision-making topics in mind, it is a matter to find the right time, date and location.
Time and date
In principle a date of the meeting is more depending on the urgency of the meeting then on anything else. When choosing a suitable day, preferably do not pick the Friday late afternoons. When choosing a time, it is best to either have meetings in early morning or early afternoons. Early in the morning, people are still fresh and will be able to concentrate better. Early afternoon (after lunchtime) people have taken a break and have food in their stomachs which also makes them better thinkers. Late in the morning and late in the afternoon are in principle the worst times of the day as either people want the meeting to end because they are hungry and want to eat or they are eager to finish their working day and go home to their family.
Tip: should it come to a lunch-meeting, which might be needed in the more urgent cases, be polite and provide the participants with a lunch, so they can eat during the meeting.
The meeting location can in general be a regular meeting room with the meeting room facilities and within the building. Make sure that coffee/tea is present so the participants can have something to drink. When a presentation is held in the meeting, make sure the location has the presentation facilities and have it set up before the meeting starts. In case of an all-day meeting or a meeting that cannot have any distractions, choose a location outside of the work building. This way your participants cannot run to their office and there will be no distractions by phone calls.
Preparing the agenda and documentation
Start preparing an agenda well in advance, preferably 1 to 1,5 weeks in advance (if there is that much time). This gives you as chairman the time to think about what you want to say and how you want to say it (especially if the topics are of a sensitive/confidential nature)
Contents of the agenda
A well-prepared agenda contains everything that you need to know about the meeting.
- Title of the meeting (type of the meeting, e.g. annual meeting, staff meeting, etc. )
- Date and time of the meeting (so participants know when and what time to come)
- Location of the meeting ( if external location, mention the address and phone number of who to contact in case anyone cannot find the location)
- Attendees/participants of the meeting
- Topics of the meeting and which documentation needs to be read / brought to the meeting.
To prepare for the topics to be discussed, it might be useful to find or write some documentation that participants could read to prepare for the meeting. If there is documentation to be read, it is important to send the agenda and documentation to the participants a couple of days before the meeting to give them time to read everything.
Sending the agenda
To avoid confusion, send the agenda and documentation in the same email/hardcopy mail. That way it is easier for the participants to keep the information together as one set. If wanted or needed, you could ask participants also to provide any agenda points themselves.
During the meeting
During the meeting there are a few pointers to stick to, in order to make the meeting proceed as planned. Here the roles of the chairman and the secretary should be clear. It is therefore wise that the secretary and Chairman sit next to each other.
The secretary’s role is almost as important to the meeting as that of the Chairman as she has to keep track of the proceeding of the meeting in the following way:
- Make sure the facilities are working and ready to be used (e.g. presentation materials/whiteboard)
- Make notes of action points and /or discussion points in the meeting.
- If needed, help the chairman to keep track of the agenda points to be followed correctly.
The Chairman’s role
- Ask participants to turn their cellphones off and in some cases it is also better to not have them bring their laptops. It is very disturbing to find a participants getting phone calls during a meeting or to have them spend more attention to their laptop screen than to you.
- While discussing the topics, keep in mind what result/outcome you want from your participants and be direct about it. Avoid discussions that lead in a direction away from the actual topic.
- Stick to the agenda topics and be careful not to spend too much time on a topic and avoid ongoing discussions that lead to the same. If a decision is made or there is a result that people agree with, don’t keep discussing it, but move on to the next point.
- Avoid bilateral discussions that do not affect all participants (they can be discussed bilaterally after the meeting). This way you don’t waste any time discussing something that is only interesting to 1 or 2 people in the meeting.
- Don’t be afraid to cut a topic short and interrupt once an outcome is known or a decision is made. The common mistake for a chairman is that they let the other participants go on and discuss endlessly, which makes a meeting run too long, and in the end it could result in certain topics not being dealt with because a shortage of time.
After the meeting (Follow-up)
After the meeting the minutes/notes of the meeting should be prepared. If there are certain action points that came from this meeting and that should be followed up, it is wise to place an action point list above the rest of the minutes. That way, it is the first thing that the participants will see and it will remind them to take actions where necessary. Another role of the secretary is to make sure the actions are followed-up before any next meeting. If there is no follow-up meeting planned, then have the participant(s) communicate their taken action to the other participants of the meeting.
Should the meetings still not have the outcome you want, you can also ask the participants for their suggestions of how a meeting should take place. Although, if you take the precautions and preparations as above, the meeting should go as you had planned and without any extra hours of time wasted on endless discussions.