I recently ran across an old guide to running meetings that I wrote for a larger company and realized that despite being created for a very specific audience (I think you’ll be able to guess the audience by reading it), it had some generally applicable information. Here is is with only minor edits:
1) Have a target
- Start the meeting with clear goals stated so everyone knows what the meeting should accomplish.
- At the end of the meeting, summarize the goals and see if you accomplished them.
- Be aware that you may not accomplish all goals.
- Stick to one subject area. If you targets involve 2 people for one subject and a different two people for another, than have two meetings or you will be wasting at least 50% of your time.
2) Check your guest list
- If the person doesn’t need to be in the meeting, don’t invite them.
- If the person is doing an important task that is more important than the point of your meeting, don’t invite them.
- If your guest list involves people from totally different departments, it’s possible your targets are too varied to be productive.
- If you need “approval” consider having two meetings. One to get consensus and one to get approval.
- If you need to get approval from a micro-manager or someone with a lot of experience in the area, then only have one meeting and make sure the person is there.
3) Time is money
- Be on-time, well prepared, and stay focused.
- Every minute you waste with executive chit chat is probably someone’s Christmas bonus being spent.
- Some chit-chat is unavoidable.
4) Prepare for the unprepared
- Executives might come to a meeting completely unprepared, or even not know what the meeting is about.
- Even if you send detailed information before, there is no guarantee. It is the meeting organizer’s job to be so organized that everyone else doesn’t need to be.
5) Get Started
- It is possible that execs will come to meetings late, or not remember to show up.
- Make sure whoever you need to get started is there, then start without the late execs.
- Consider “passing by” the office of the important execs “on your way to get coffee for the meeting” to remind them about the meeting.
- If an important exec is late and you cannot get anything done without them:
- Go through the last meeting minutes and summarize what you need to accomplish. You will have to repeat the summary when the important exec arrives anyway.
- Chit chat is ok, try to avoid tangential questions which will take a lot of time since your late exec may come at any time.
- If an important exec is late and they are only crucial to “approve”:
- Try and forge a quick consensus on important issues so that when the exec comes, you are just presenting the solution and don’t need to go through everything.
- If the entire team agrees, most likely the exec will just want to talk to feel useful and then agree with you.
6) Know your audience
- There are big picture people and micro-managers.
- Make sure your presentation is targeting the right one.
7) Stay on target
- Try to avoid tangential conversations, no matter how important, even if the CEO is the one being tangential.
- Let the person talk a little bit, then quickly suggest setting up another meeting to discuss it, then assign the person responsible for bring up the subject as responsible for initiating the action. Since most people avoid responsibilities this will quickly make people shut up and not want to bring off topic subjects.
- Assigning responsibility for setting up meetings to the CEO or other “big idea guy” is probably a bad idea. You will just wind up talking about who will set up the meeting for 15 minutes.
8 ) Have an point of view
- It’s your meeting. You’d better have an idea.
- You should defend your opinion with good reasons. Don’t back down just because someone is in a higher position than you.
- Different options for solutions are a good thing, but don’t create a “bad” option just because you want people to pick your favorite.
9) Avoid having an opinion
- Don’t waste time arguing about which color blue is best.
- Make decisions based on facts and avoid discussing things which no one will ever agree on.
10) Stay calm
- You will be asked questions that you were not prepared for.
- Westerners will make jokes that you don’t understand or consider rude.
- Not everyone will agree with you.
- Westerners will interrupt you constantly.
11) Be generous
- If you expect trouble from someone, defer to them on some small decisions, even if they are wrong, so you can win the big arguments.
12) Accept defeat
- Once the decision is made, accept it and move on. Try to support the decision in the best way possible.
- If something is truly catastrophic, make sure you have someone with authority to override the “decider” at the meeting who is more reasonable.
13) Take notes
- If you leave the meeting without action items and people responsible for them you have not accomplished anything.
- It’s hard to run a meeting and take notes at the same time. Try to get someone else to write the notes if possible.