Effective Meeting Preparation
Written by B. R. Govan
Published November 2003, Chamber Chatter
Chamber of Commerce of Greater West Chester Newsletter

Are meetings something you look forward to with anticipation of effective communication, or with a dread of wasted time? I have been exposed to both ends of this spectrum and have concluded that no one should be permitted to call a meeting without some education in how they should be run efficiently and effectively. This goes for meetings with from as few as two attendees to those with three hundred or more. First and foremost, is a meeting truly needed? Meetings are effective when used for three primary business reasons - communicating, administering, and deciding.

How about information sharing? Only meet when immediate, spontaneous interaction from everyone is required. Otherwise, emails, memos, and informal conversations work better. How about Discussion? Discussion alone is not a valid reason to meet. If meeting to discuss something, the discussion must be tied to a resulting action. Discussion should only be a means to decide on a course of action. Again, other modes of communication are a more effective use of time if discussion were the only goal. The goal of any meeting should be action.

Your objective for the meeting should be clearly identified. Is a meeting required to achieve that objective or is some other method more time and/or cost effective to accomplish it? Once it is determined that a meeting is the best forum for communication, there are a number of steps necessary to assure success. The meeting must be scheduled - how long will it be and who should be invited. Meetings should only be scheduled for and last as long as necessary, not rounded up to the next half hour. Remember, work expands to fill the space. Invitees are there only because they have something to contribute. They should be full participants, not just note-takers for others who feel their time is better spent elsewhere. That situation is a good indication that the meeting is not effective.

An agenda should be prepared and distributed at least one day prior to the meeting. During its preparation, invitees should be asked if they have any items to add to the agenda. It should include assignments for all attendees to be prepared for their active participation toward meeting the meeting's objective. Each should fully understand their part in making it a success

The meeting location and layout are significant to its success. Whether the meeting is held in someone's office, on the "neutral ground" of a conference room, or elsewhere is a matter of politics and culture. The type of meeting being held dictates meeting layout. If rapid action is required, there is nothing like a stand-up meeting to keep it brief. If problem solving is the goal, a circular layout provides maximum equality and interaction. When training, a "U" shaped layout provides easy access for the trainer to perform one-on-one coaching, while maintaining equality and interaction. In a decision-making layout, either a boardroom table or classroom setting is appropriate. Here, a definite leader, facilitator, or moderator is running the meeting.

You have now determined that a meeting is necessary to achieve your objective. You have identified invitees that will fully participate and contribute to its success, prepared an agenda, and distributed it to the invitees with a reminder to prepare for their participation. You have scheduled an appropriate location and layout for a length of time required to cover the agenda items. Next time, we shall cover how an effective meeting is run.

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