How to Run an Effective Meeting

Read on for five top tips on mastering the meeting – from preparing an agenda to starting on time.

Read on for five top tips on mastering the meeting – from preparing an agenda to starting on time.

Meetings are the perennial butt of office jokes, mainly because talking about work is a lot less productive than actually working. Nevertheless, there are times when there’s just no substitute for gathering a bunch of colleagues around a table. For the definitive word on how to ensure your meetings aren’t a waste of time, we talked to some folks who have seen more than their fair share of meetings: Lane Sherman, team coach in the Faculty of Management at Royal Roads University; Mayor Lois Jackson, chair of Metro Vancouver’s board of directors; and Paul Sandhu, director of the B.C. Legal Management Association.


Know your aim

“It’s important to understand the cost of the meeting before setting it up,” says Sherman. Meetings have a price: they cost time, effort and often money, which are too precious to waste. Think about who is there and what you want to accomplish, explains Sandhu. “Being prepared is also vital to a successful meeting,” according to Jackson. If you check and distribute all materials in advance, each participant can come prepared and you won’t waste time filling in background details.

Be aware of timing 

“Always start on time; this sets your reputation for future meetings,” Jackson advises. Nobody wants to be watching the clock overrun at the end, either. Set a time and stick to it. A meeting should never run longer than 90 minutes, as this is the maximum length of time that we can stay focused. Sherman emphasizes that the time of day is also crucial, suggesting that morning sessions are more effective: “10 a.m. to 12 p.m. is the ‘sweet spot’ and anything after midday should be avoided.”

Structure your meeting

Every meeting needs a clear agenda with defined items and outcomes, yet can’t be so rigid as to discourage discussion. “It’s important to explain what will happen and if there are to be decisions made, so that the audience has expectations,” says Jackson. There are no hard and fast rules for the order of agenda items; you can ease into things if conflict is likely on a certain issue, or get straight to the main point. In any case, allow some room in your structure for discussion. 

Follow the lead

Whoever chairs the meeting must be prepared to encourage dialogue while respecting the different personalities at the table. That person needs to set the tone, but without taking him or herself too seriously. Above all, the group must be directed to keep on task. As Sherman states, “The leader must work to seek closure and meet the defined outcomes.” 

Use technology wisely

Modern tools make video- and teleconferencing excellent options for talking with remote parties, but they place extra demands on the meeting chair. When working with technology you must pay extra attention to the social dynamics. Sherman explains that virtual meetings leave room for misunderstanding. “When in a room together, you can see body language,” he explains, but in a virtual setting “you need to check in with explicit questions to gauge common understanding.”