Have you ever left a meeting that felt like it was a complete waste of your time?

Research shows that only 50% of the time spent in meetings is effective and engaging. Over $37 billion is wasted on unproductive meetings each year to make things worse.

For most of us, this isn’t a surprise. Without apparent purpose, leadership, or organization, a lousy meeting can drag on forever.

However, genuinely effective meetings leave everyone feeling organized, motivated, and clear on what they need to get done in the following days or weeks.

If you want to plan and host a successful meeting, you’ll need a proper framework and time management strategy to lead the discussion in the right direction.

Here’s how to run a meeting that will get things done. Use these 6 simple strategies to empower and organize your team to take proactive action toward your business goals.

What Makes a Successful Meeting?

Homo sapiens is a social species. For thousands of years, humans have come together in small groups or larger “tribal” gatherings to discuss matters of importance, from business to family to communal and beyond.

No matter how much technology is added to our daily lives, meetings remain vital to accomplishing a shared vision within business units. Meetings define both the cultural and strategic frameworks for our workplaces.

Whether remote or in-person, effective meetings are crucial for teamwork and productivity.

Sure, efficient meetings can speed through an agenda in a short amount of time. Still, truly effective meetings deliver a tangible result or outcome.

Everyone should leave with a feeling of clarity and confidence in exactly what they need to do, how they need to do it, and when it needs to be done.

Successful meetings should:

  • Define a collective identity of a group and help each individual understand their role within the team
  • Inspire creativity and cooperation amongst a team
  • Take individual ideas and refine them to actionable solutions
  • Clarify collective goals and deadlines so that each person sees their role in achieving them

To run an effective meeting that provides the highest ROI for your time and your staff’s wages, follow these 6 time-tested steps to get organized ahead of time.

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6 Simple Steps to Run a Successful Meeting

  1. Define the Meeting Objectives
  2. Create an Agenda + Send Calendar Invites
  3. Create a Safe Space for Collaboration
  4. Strategically Choose Attendees + Appoint Important Roles
  5. Best Practices to Stay on Track
  6. End With Clear Actions, Owners, and Timelines

Define the Meeting Objectives

Have you ever showed up to a meeting and wondered, “why the heck am I here?”

Successful meetings have a clear purpose. Without an objective, there is no reason for holding a meeting.

As a leader, you must differentiate between the need for essential communications (which can be done through email, Slack, or phone call) versus the need to call a strategic meeting to accomplish an important goal (like project planning, solving a problem, setting a goal, making a decision, or mapping out a customer journey).

There are two primary types of meetings:

  1. Routine meetings (ex: Monday morning recap and projections, Friday team meetings, etc.)
  2. Strategic meetings (ex: task force meetings, problem-solving, creating a plan, etc.)

Although each type of meeting may be run differently, they require an objective. 

To clarify your objectives, jot them down! Better yet, send the meeting objectives out with the agenda, so everyone is on the same page.

Be as clear and concise as possible with your meeting objective, for example:

  • Brainstorming session for how to reduce customer cart abandonment
  • Explore third-party solutions to increase efficiency in online search traffic
  • Present first quarter project progress and determine next steps
  • Hindsight meeting with key stakeholders to celebrate wins and identify opportunities to improve

If you can’t describe why you’re holding a meeting in a sentence or two, you probably don’t need to have the meeting.

The meeting objective should have results-oriented terms and actionable goals. There may be several goals within the more significant objective. Still, these should all be defined for the team to understand ahead of time.

This is your north star and the guiding purpose of the meeting.

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Create an Agenda + Send Calendar Invites

Next comes your agenda, which is like your compass pointing you toward that north star objective. Without a compass to guide you, the entire team will feel like a ship lost at sea.

We all know that time is a precious resource. An agenda should directly support progress towards meeting your objectives. At the same time, sticking to a meeting agenda demonstrates that you are an effective and organized leader, which means more trust and dedication from your team.

We’ve all been in one of those meetings that were far too short to cover everything that needed to be discussed.

On the flip side, there is nothing worse than a meeting that gets derailed into off-topic conversations and goes on for far longer than anticipated.

Yawn.

Find a happy medium between the two by scheduling the meeting length and time around achieving the specific objective at hand.

Bonus Tip for Introverts: If you have introverts on your team who need to speak up, use the agenda to give them some time to prep. Introverts appreciate being able to prepare for speaking or brainstorming sessions. Learn more about how to make introversion into a superpower

Meeting Length

The length of an effective meeting should reflect how many people are involved and how in-depth the project is.

Each agenda item should have a clear amount of time allotted to it, for example:

  • Introduction/call to the meeting (2 minutes)
  • Review previous meeting notes (2 min.)
  • Present objective or problem at hand (3 min.)
  • Open brainstorming/group discussion (10 min.)
  • Report from team 1 (10 min.)
  • Questions for team 1 (3 min.)
  • News from team 2 (10 min.)
  • Questions for team 2 (3 min.)
  • Updates from the chief executive (5 min.)
  • Closing statements / clarify Actions, Owners, and Timelines (5 min.)

This agenda reflects a complex team project with 10 or more people. A smaller team should not require as much time.

In general, meetings should never last more than 60 minutes because people might lose focus and interest.

Keep it short and to the point!

You can always have a further discussion later on.

Meeting Scheduling Time

The timing of the meeting should be chosen based on what needs to get done. Research shows that brainstorming, creativity, and strategic thinking are best in the mornings when the prefrontal cortex is most active and we have the most mental energy.

On the other hand, we are typically better at creative problem solving later in the day because we are less distracted and more relaxed.

Don’t forget to consider time zone differences (if you’re a remote team) and respect other calendar items within your organization.

Keep the agenda as simple as possible to keep your team engaged. Each agenda item should be allotted a specific amount of time so that everyone can know their time constraints for discussions or presentations.

Send Agenda With Calendar Invite

It is best practice to send the agenda out ahead of time if possible! Include the text or document linked in the Calendar Invite. You can also display the agenda on a projector screen or whiteboard during the meeting to keep everyone on the same page.

Be sure that only necessary team members are on the invite list for maximum productivity.

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Create a Safe Space for Collaboration

Collaboration can only happen when people feel safe and comfortable. These are the best tips for creating a safe space that yields truly effective meetings every time.

Lay Out the Guidelines

Establish guidelines when the meeting starts to ensure that participants feel comfortable speaking and sharing their ideas while remaining respectful of others and not getting too off-topic.

You can also note that you prefer cell phones to be silent to minimize distractions.

It’s essential to make sure each team member feels heard while encouraging balanced participation. Consider a “round table” approach where everyone gets a moment to speak.

Pro Tip: Want to level up your meeting game? Whether working remotely or in person, choosing the right communication tool is vital for optimum collaboration.

Psychological Safety

Ineffective meetings allow one person or a handful of people to dominate the conversation while others sit on the sidelines.

A great meeting invites a feeling of safety amongst team members by welcoming new ideas and removing the fear of public criticism.

A Harvard Business Review study found that the highest performing teams with the most successful meetings have trust, confidence, and curiosity. Their work environments do not promote punishment for mistakes.

Pro Tip: The most productive teams receive appreciation regularly. Learn more about the 10 Must-Know Productivity Secrets of High Performing Teams.

In other words, to run effective meetings, you need to be a positive leader that is collaborative and kind. You can do this by keeping to a few steadfast rules both in and out of meetings:

  • Use positive reinforcement to recognize achievements rather than magnifying shortcomings.
  • Never publicly reprimand an employee in front of the team.
  • Avoid blaming any specific team or individual for a problem. Research shows that this destroys trust and confidence in a leader. Instead, opt for curiosity and stay solution-oriented.
  • Ask for feedback. Asking for feedback increases people’s trust in their leaders.

Comfortable Ambiance

Research has shown that over a third of workers are unhappy with the ambiance of their offices.

Nobody wants to meet in one of those horrible, dimly lit, cold, dreary board rooms!

Create a pleasant ambiance (such as open windows or a decorated room) or consider providing beverages to help people relax a bit more.

Details like temperature, light, comfortable chairs, and even a few indoor plants can help create calmer, more effective meetings.

Consider an Icebreaker

Would your team like a non-awkward icebreaker? For meetings where you want to encourage bonding and creativity, try a specifically chosen icebreaker. 

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Strategically Choose Attendees + Appoint Important Roles

Meetings are expensive and time-consuming. Avoid inviting anyone who is not needed to achieve the meeting objective.

At the same time, be sure that you have enough participants for a productive open discussion with diverse perspectives. A good meeting strikes a balance between minimizing attendees and maximizing the creative potential of a group.

Harvard Business Review has an excellent Meeting Cost Calculator that can help you figure out who is best included on your attendee list.

Choosing Roles

Running effective meetings always requires appointing roles ahead of time.

Who are the key decision-makers in your meeting?

As the host, will you be the facilitator? Will team leaders also be reporting about their department or projects?

Who is the notetaker? They will be responsible for keeping track of the discussion and recording every good idea or action plan agreed on.

They are also responsible for sending out a meeting recap with actions, owners, and timelines that were agreed on during the meeting.

Who is the timekeeper? They can help keep everyone on track with the agenda plan.

If you are running a project management meeting, be sure that key stakeholders from each department or project unit are ready to report on their area of responsibility. Allot a specific amount of time for each presentation in the agenda items.

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Best Practices to Stay on Track

So, after all this planning, how are you going to keep everyone on topic and focused for the whole duration of your meeting?

Surveys show that executives consider 67% of all meetings to be failures.

Yikes!

Failed meetings can be caused by a lack of objectivity, a poorly planned agenda, bad discussions, an unengaged team, or all of the above.

Regardless of the problem, it’s generally your job as the leader to fix them. Keep meeting participants on track by laying ground rules and keeping things interesting.

Pro Tip: Some meetings can crash and burn due to a phenomenon known as Zoom Fatigue. Here’s how to combat it: 20 Scientific Tips to Beat Zoom Fatigue, According to Your Personality

Avoid Side Discussions

Establish ground rules in your introduction to minimize side discussions, and everyone knows the core topic at hand.

If side discussions begin to happen, kindly re-route the team back to the objectives and promise to revisit those ideas in the future.

Use a whiteboard or chat recorded by the notetaker to jot down unrelated topics that can be reviewed in future meetings. 

Keep ’em Engaged

To run an effective meeting, you need your team to be engaged.

Good meetings are exciting and provide plenty of mental stimulation. 

Here are a few tips for leading engaging meetings:

  • Don’t drone on and on in a monotone.
  • Use visuals or slides on a screen.
  • Keep the meeting short and to the point.
  • Ask questions periodically so participants can contribute and remain interested.

Engagement is especially challenging in remote meetings where participants are often distracted or multitask. Research has shown that using video is one of the easiest ways to keep people engaged.

Drawing in virtual attendees through regular question asking (“Leah, could you share your thoughts on this?”) is especially important in remote meetings.

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End With Clear Actions, Owners, and Timelines

Ultimately, the most effective meeting strategies come to a crux at the very end when everyone is about to leave, and they wonder, “why the heck did I go to that meeting?”

Before the meeting adjourns, align on actions, owners, and timelines:

  • Actions: What is going to get done? What are the key metrics? How does the assignment fit into the broader objective?
  • Owners: Who is going to accomplish which action?
  • Timelines: When is it due? What are the deadlines? Where should people report to with their final product?

If you forget this part, your entire meeting was in vain. People need crystal clear direction for what to do next.

Be sure also to discuss the general time frame of your next meeting.

Most importantly, thank everyone for coming and reminding them of their excellent work. 

Always end on a positive note!

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Meeting Mini-FAQ

How do you run a meeting effectively?

The best meetings are highly organized ahead of time. Define a clear objective, create an agenda, and send both out with your calendar invites. Be sure only to invite relevant team members and keep the meeting time as brief as possible to retain engagement. Don’t forget to end every meeting with actions, owners, and timelines to get your team crystal clear on what needs to get done before the next meeting.

How do you conduct a meeting?

Conducting a meeting should always be done from a servant leadership mindset. Approach your team with kindness and create a culture of trust wherein everyone feels safe to speak and participate. Remain positive and inspirational while speaking with authority and focusing on the objectives. Stay true to your agenda to respect everyone’s time.

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How to Run a Meeting Key Takeaways

If you’ve been nervous about running a meeting, remember that most of the work happens beforehand through organization and schedule planning. 

Don’t forget to: 

  1. Define the Meeting Objectives
  2. Create an Agenda + Send Calendar Invites
  3. Create a Safe Space for Collaboration
  4. Strategically Choose Attendees + Appoint Important Roles
  5. Best Practices to Stay on Track
  6. End With Clear Actions, Owners, and Timelines

Most meetings are scattered and feel like a waste of time. Set yourself apart and establish yourself as a strong leader by putting in the work upfront.

Take the time and effort to prepare for a productive meeting. You will have a high-functioning team that meets your business goals and works in a culture of trust and collaboration.

Next thing you know, people will be looking forward to meetings rather than dreading them!

For further reading, check out this article: 17 Easy Ways to Make Your Meetings Better

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