The blank stare is something you want to avoid at any event, at any cost. Whether it is a weekly internal office meeting or a conference with invited attendees, meeting planners should know how to keep any type of meeting on schedule and running smoothly and efficiently. Meeting fatigue is a real problem, and a skilled meeting planner can help you keep things on pace with plenty of breaks and activities to keep the blood flowing.
Share in Advance
Frankly, this might be the most solid tip for an effective meeting. To help ensure that all attendees are well prepared to meet, its a good practice to send out the meeting agenda one to five business days in advance. This will ensure that everyone has their thoughts and speaking points organized prior to the meeting. It’s also a good idea to share the attendee list as well. This way, people can be prepared for who they will see at the meeting.
Watch the Clock
Have a time frame, make others aware of it, and stick to it. This will not only keep the meeting discussion focused, but if you can stick to a time frame, you will gain a good reputation. Ask attendees to arrive a few minutes early in order to stick to your agenda and to discourage stragglers. If you can end the meeting a couple of minutes early, even better.
Make Note of Personal Technology Use
It sounds like a rule from the local playground, but if you want people to pay attention and participate in your meeting, consider a ban on all smart phones, tablets and laptops. The facilitator or note-taker should be the only person with a screen.
Now, this may seem a bit harsh and unrealistic. So, depending on your industry and the meeting goals, you may just want to mention the etiquette of not using personal devices, rather than an all-out ban. Want to go screen free? To make this easier for people, share the notes being taken on a big screen, in addition to the agenda, so they know what they'll get afterwards. Participants may claim to be taking notes and checking email on their phones but there is a 71% chance they are just looking at Facebook or the photo their nanny just sent them.
Have a Post-Meeting Plan
Run through the agenda in your head and think about which items may stick, or points that may take some extra time to explain. Now think of which attendees might have additional questions or may be distracted and lead the discussion off-topic. Plan for these distractions by playing them out in your head. Think of a handy phrase like, “That’s a good point, but less discuss it later in the office.” Therefore, you aren’t further distracting other attendees or wasting anyone's time.
Have a Pre-Meeting Plan
If you do have a large number of items to discuss or some have some big decisions that need to be made, make sure and pre-meet with your high-level stakeholders. Gather all of the desired outcome information before the meeting; that way, as the meeting planner, you can lead the meeting in the pre-determined direction. A five to ten-minute pre-meeting can make a huge impact on the outcome of an effective meeting.
Schedule Breaks & Bring Food
For longer meetings its important to plan some well-timed breaks. People can only process so much information at one time, so make sure there are plenty of bio and coffee breaks planned throughout the meeting. Having a variety of food options on hand, as well as a scheduled lunch hour are great ways to keep people's grumbling tummies from distracting them.
End with a Bang
Schedule a big announcement, an energetic speaker or something humorous and lighthearted after a long meeting day. This gives attendees an incentive to stay present in the meeting if they know something exciting will happen at the end.
If there is any type of follow-up required, it is best to do this as early as possible. A great practice for a meeting planner is to send out a follow-up memo that details the points of the meeting, the action steps and deadlines. Try to send the memo within 24 hours of the meeting.
Meetings have gotten a bad reputation over the years. However, by employing a few key strategies, your meetings can be both powerful and productive.