5 Tips to Facilitate Effective Meetings

Mary Gormandy White
Effective Business Meeting

If you are responsible for facilitating a meeting, advance planning is key - and people who run meetings often don't spend enough time planning. According to Facilitate.com, "A typical meeting model is: 10% planning; 80% meeting; 10% follow-up. A much more effective model is 50% planning; 20% meeting; 30% follow-up." If you are responsible for running a meeting - whether it is a one-time event or a recurrent gathering - it's important to make sure that it is effective and meaningful.

Tips for Successful Meetings

1. Determine Necessity

In order to plan effectively, you should first determine if a meeting is even needed. As pointed out in the Teams On Target newsletter, you should "never hold a meeting just for the sake of holding a meeting." According to Teams on Target, meetings are "essential for problem-solving and strategizing, as well as publicly appreciating and rewarding work well done."

Define your objectives and purpose, and from there make a determination of whether or not bringing people together for a meeting will serve a useful purpose or if it will seem - as meetings often do - like a waste of time. Invite only those who truly need to be there and map out a plan to focus the meeting on accomplishing the overall goal within a reasonable time frame.

2. Establish an Agenda

It is important to create an agenda for the meeting and distribute it to the participants ahead of time. On his blog, business strategist Bill von Achen states "A simple meeting agenda, distributed in advance, is perhaps the most important tool in ensuring a successful productive meeting."

Getting an agenda in the hands of participants ahead of time lets them know what the meeting is about, why they need to be there and what they need to do to prepare. It also provides specific information regarding how much time to set aside for the gathering and where it will be held.

  • The agenda should list the major topics to be discussed, including following up on old business and introducing new items to the group.
  • Specify any materials or resources necessary so participants will know what to bring with them.
  • Set realistic limits on the amount of time allocated for each point.
  • Allocate a small amount of time at the end for participants to bring up other concerns, if appropriate.

Use the agenda as a checklist in the meeting, following the order and sticking to the allocated times for each item. This will keep the group on-topic and prevent the meeting from running over.

3. Prepare the Meeting Room

According to the University of Michigan's Change Leadership Network, meeting facilitators should ensure the meeting area is ready beforehand. This includes making sure that your projector is set up and working before participants start arriving, if you plan to use one. Any other tools needed - such as a flip chart, markers, pens, meeting handouts, refreshments etc. - should be prepared and in place in advance of meeting time. This is an important step in setting an appropriate tone, letting participants know that you take the meeting seriously, are organized and are concerned with maximizing productivity.

4. Stick to the Schedule

It is critical to begin meetings at the time they are scheduled to start. It is not acceptable for the facilitator to be late, nor is it okay to hold up the people who get there on time to wait for stragglers to come in. EffectiveMeetings.com suggests sending a reminder email to participants a half-hour before the beginning of the meeting with encouragement to arrive on time. When meeting time arrives, get started regardless of who is not there yet - to do otherwise shows disrespect for the time of those who did what they were supposed to do.

EffectiveMeetings.com suggests closing the doors when it is time to start and even posting the meeting time on the outside of the door. If you do this, those who arrive late won't be able to slip in unnoticed, so hopefully they'll think twice before arriving late again.

It is just as important to end meetings on time as it is to begin in a timely fashion. Participants may have other appointments scheduled, so running over could be problematic. If conversations begin to extend beyond the time allocated in the agenda, it is up to you as the facilitator to step in and get the group back on track. You may need to postpone some issues for a future meeting, or ask some members to get together to work out details outside of the larger group meeting.

5. Control the Discussion Flow

As the facilitator, you are responsible for ensuring that the conversation stays on target and that progress is made throughout the gathering. You don't need to dominate the conversation, but you do need to keep it on track. Meeting Planning Academy suggests opening the meeting with a statement about how valuable everyone's time is along with a reminder of the time the meeting has to be finished. You may even want to announce that you must leave at the scheduled time, to provide additional reinforcement for the importance of keeping the discussion on target.

Use the agenda as a tool, both for controlling the flow of conversation and keeping the meeting on schedule. Change Leadership Network recommends assigning someone to keep time who can make an announcement a few minutes before time is up for each agenda item so the group knows when it's time to move on from one subject to the next.

If people introduce items that are off the agenda, you'll need to steer the conversation back to what needs to be covered in the meeting in a respectful way. According to Meeting Planning Academy, you may also sometimes need to step in and function as a moderator to limit the number of questions and keep the conversation moving forward.

Preparing for Success

The time you spend laying the groundwork for successful meetings can have a positive impact on your team. When team members realize that meetings will be purposeful, focused on goals and stay on track, they'll likely have much better attitudes toward attending. You'll make better use of your time - and that of your team members - than if meetings are scheduled and conducted without careful consideration.

Once the meeting is over, be sure to prepare minutes for distribution to the group and follow up with team members as needed based on the outcome of the meeting. You'll be on your way to boosting productivity and fostering a greater sense of teamwork when you take the time to improve your meeting facilitation skills.

5 Tips to Facilitate Effective Meetings