Proper preparation and a positive approach can help you lead a “good meeting”
Effective meetings follow a basic structure which includes having a clear purpose, shared discussion and support for decisions from all participants.
Many of us spend countless hours a week in meetings in our roles as employee, parent, community member or volunteer. Too often, the meetings we attend don’t feel effective or productive. What can be done to make meetings more worth our valuable time?
- Provide a meeting agenda in advance, which will effectively indicate the meeting purpose. The agenda should outline what will be discussed and potential decisions that will be made. Be flexible! It’s okay to modify the agenda as needed, but keep the agenda in mind so that valuable time isn’t lost. Discussions can easily get side-tracked without focus.
- Participants should show respect for other’s ideas and opinions. Remember that having a variety of ideas is good; otherwise discussions are boring and unimaginative. Create a positive atmosphere. All participants should feel comfortable to speak up and share their ideas in a relaxed and safe environment. It is sometimes useful to ask for suggestions on participation, such as speaking one at a time, respecting different points of view and making sure that everyone gets a chance to speak. If participants agree to a few simple ground rules, they will have shared ownership and shared responsibility to follow them.
- Practice active listening. The Pennsylvania State University provides excellent suggestions for active listening. As the meeting facilitator, you are in a unique position to listen to all points of view and link similar ideas. You must listen to what people are saying and relate the discussion to the agenda, as well as to overall goals for the meeting. You can also ask clarifying questions to ensure better understanding. To promote a sense of trust and openness, frequently summarize discussions, draw conclusions, and identify next steps.
- Manage time effectively. Make sure to cover critical issues on the meeting agenda. Focus discussion on issues that are both important and urgent first, then move on to issues that are important but less urgent.
- As you lead meetings, maintain personal integrity with confidence and honest behavior. Show enthusiasm in all discussions, even if you have different ideas. Focus on the group process to accomplish the purpose of the meeting.
- Keep in mind that conflicts are normal; it is how you handle conflicts that matters. Promote an atmosphere of collaboration, showing that differences of opinions are valued and respected, and can help to build understanding of issues. If conflicts occur, listen to both parties and paraphrase what is said in terms of their underlying emotions (e.g., “you sound frustrated, can you tell us more about…”). Allow conflicts to be discussed without losing control of the meeting purpose, and above all, don’t make people feel defensive.
Michigan State University Extension offers educational programs and assistance to organizations in areas of strategic planning, board member professional development, conflict resolution and many other topics! To learn more about these programs, contact an expert in your area.