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Five Steps to Pain-Free, Productive Meetings

Your leadership is on the line when you run a meeting, so it’s time to learn how to do it right.

By Suzanne Bates

If you hate meetings, you’re not alone. Although businesses have to run meetings, it seems that very often meetings run businesses. More than just a drag, bad meetings can have a tremendous negative impact on productivity and the bottom line.

You may think that the only thing worse than sitting through a meeting is having to lead one. But remember, your ability to run meetings well is a direct reflection of your leadership skills. Your staff and your peers will judge how you lead meetings and, in turn, whether your meetings accomplish results.

Different types of meetings require different approaches. While there are different meeting styles, some practices and policies make all meetings better. The following five steps will enable you to lead great meetings:

1. Determine the meeting’s purpose and prepare for productivity.
As the meeting leader, you must determine why the meeting is taking place so you know who to invite, what to put on the agenda, how long to discuss each item and even what methods to use to come to a decision. Productive meetings begin with good premeeting communication with those who will be involved, so you can identify which issues will need to be addressed. This checking-in process will help you to deal with objections and build consensus.

2. Write an agenda and stick to it.
Without an agenda, participants cannot prepare, and missions fall by the wayside as people talk about whatever is on their minds instead. As the meeting wanders, some may start side conversations, and anyone dominant enough can easily hijack the meeting. If you decide to spend 10 minutes on a topic, it’s your responsibility to move on when that time is up. You may be amazed to find what a difference just starting and ending the meeting on time—and keeping it clipping along—will make in participants’ morale and willingness to participate now and in future meetings.

3. Encourage discussion and participation.
Your most valuable resource is the collective knowledge of others. A good leader encourages participation in order to harness others’ creative power. Everyone will benefit when you make the atmosphere safe and easy for everyone—even the shy ones—to get involved. Take note of those who remain silent, and make it a point to ask them what they think. You don’t want those who disagree with you or with the group’s decisions not to say anything, and then to leave the meeting and undermine the decisions later.

Encourage participation by saying:

  • “Stan, you shook your head just now. What else do we need to consider?”
  • “I would like to hear from Amanda on this.”
  • “Jack, you and I talked about something before the meeting. Would you share it?”
  • “Do we have all the issues on the table?

4. Listen actively.
Listening well and being able to provide a brief but accurate review of what has been said sets great leaders apart. To summarize effectively, you must hear everything that is said, and more importantly, notice what is not said. Take notes or listen in “note-taking” mindset to key words and phrases. Put ideas you hear into the context of the whole discussion, and you will find that this creates accountability. Ask questions and then truly listen to the answers.

Questions that will yield valuable insights might begin with:

  • “What’s your reaction to …?”
  • “What’s your view on …?”
  • “What led you to …?”
  • “How could we …?”

5. Manage conflict and deal with difficult people.
If you ask good questions and make it safe to disagree, participants will debate issues on the merits. You can’t allow discussions to get personal or let issues go unresolved; otherwise, you risk damage to the whole organization, not just the individuals involved. Meeting leaders must promote positive conflict while avoiding personal attacks.

While debate is usually healthy for organizations, some people in the group will test the limits. To keep difficult people from derailing your meeting, intervene in advance. Speak with them one-on-one so that they can vent or discuss what’s on their minds outside of the meeting context. During the meeting, allow them to have their say, and even ask a few questions, and then move on. Remember, your role as a leader is to enforce time limits.

Used with permission. All rights reserved.

Suzanne Bates, president and CEO of Bates Communications, is an executive coach and communications consultant who helps professionals develop a unique communication style to become stars in their industries. She is the author of Speak Like a CEO: Secrets to Commanding Attention and Getting Results. For more information, visit or call 800-903-8239.



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