Let’s be honest: few things are more important (and yet more maligned) than meetings. They give critical moments for planning, communication, creativity and tech development. When run poorly, however, meetings can be a time suck and can get off track due to strong personalities, a lack of focus and guidance, and poor preparation.
Starting a meeting off right can make it meaningful and avoid inefficiency and frustration. An effective start aligns participants to desired outcomes and clarifies the agenda, roles, and agreements to drive an effective use of time.
Tips for effective meeting start-ups that will get you off on the right foot:
Invest time in meeting prep. Don’t send a meeting invite without an agenda or background information—share the purpose and relevant data to help invitees prepare and get in the right mindset. Presenting two or three key questions to think about is one way to encourage preparation and increase the odds of having an efficient and focused discussion.
Once the meeting begins, briefly remind all attendees of the purpose and desired outcomes, identify the participants by name and role, and outline instructions for the structure of the meeting. This stage-setting doesn’t need to be protracted or elaborate—even a simple summary can be effective. Like a pre-flight airline safety video, a few moments spent upfront can minimize confusion, enable focus, and ease everyone into a more productive and engaging discussion.
Like looking at a map or an infographic, visuals allow for more rapid consumption of information than words alone. So why not start meetings using visuals? Starting with a simple graphic can make the purpose clearer and also get the attention of invitees who may be tired or distracted.
Things to convey include desired outcomes, an agenda, participant roles, and agreements on how to engage with one another during the meeting. If meeting in person, give everyone a hard copy of the graphic or hang a poster-sized version on the wall as a reminder. This simple tool can encourage team cohesion, help get more done in less time, and help you run the meeting and manage personalities along the way.
We’ve all sat through meetings that got sidetracked by common meeting missteps. It could be a lack of prep for big topics, seemingly endless rabbit holes that dive into tangential topics, or domination by a single participant with grievances to unload.
Derailments at the opening of a meeting are preventable. Pre-meeting preparation to circumvent derailments includes knowing the personalities and tendencies of invitees, and being prepared to use the agenda as a tool to gently and deftly reset them and the direction of the meeting.
A trained meeting facilitator is another way to bring new efficiency and impact to meetings. The absence of a designated meeting leader can create an opportunity for disruptive personalities or force the meeting host to play referee rather than engage in the topic. Even the best-planned meeting can go off course without a steady guide brought in to bring out the group’s best and work toward the desired outcomes.
Core competencies of meeting facilitation help to ensure that participants feel safe and comfortable, to design and guide a well-conceived process that best serves the group, and to hold space for all voices to be heard. A facilitator should be adept at implementing a structure that allows for creative and spontaneous discussion when needed, while maintaining guard rails to drive toward outcomes. Another critical task is separating their role as a facilitator versus weighing in as a consultant, giving topical expertise that would diminish their value as a meeting guide.
In a time when the business workforce is having more meetings than ever before, and successful meetings are becoming even more critical to maintaining team alignment, it’s not surprising that many successful companies are relying on facilitators to transform their meetings into moments that matter.