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Productivity

The 12 commandments of running a successful meeting

Preparation, efficiency and a generous dash of courtesy are the vital ingredients of running a meeting, says career guru, Kate Southam.

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running a meeting

Need another reason to feel smug about solosim? According to Alastassian the average person wastes an average of 31 hours a month in unproductive office meetings. That’s a lot of time spent twiddling thumbs and writing clandestine shopping lists.

Save that for the corporate world, because we soloists can ill afford the luxury of wasted time. No matter if you’re running a meeting at a venue with a round table of stakeholders, or checking in with a client over coffee at cafe, the onus is on you to make the time you spend together meaningful.

Kate Southam has been writing about work and culture for over 20 years and says when it comes to running a meeting, preparation and courtesy is key.

“The work you do before the meeting contributes about 80% of the success of the meeting. It’s not half and half,” Kate told Flying Solo.  “So if you are preparing for an hour’s meeting it’s reasonable to think If you had an hour’s meeting it’s reasonable to think you’d put a day’s effort into the meeting.”

Here are Kate’s top tips for making the most of your preparation time when running a meeting.

1. Be crystal clear about your objective

Every time a soloist leaves their office to travel costs them money and time. So, it’s absolutely essential that you meet the objective and if you think you can’t, you’re not ready for this meeting.

2. Do your research BEFORE the meeting

Give people on the agenda a background briefing, tell everyone who is coming, what their background is and what they’re doing on the project. This means you need to know who every person attending is and how it will inform the work of the project.  Google them or look them up on LinkedIn and that doesn’t have to be anonymously. Find out where you have something in common and what they’ll likely bring to the discussion.

3. Provide clear instructions about the VENUE

Imagine everything that could go wrong and plan for it. Provide REALLY clear instructions on how to get there, parking instructions and your own mobile number. Urge all attendees to “call me as early as you like”. It’s important for people to know who to contact in case of an emergency (or if they got lost) so they don’t get panicked. You want everyone to show up in good form so they are focused and ready to get on with the agenda. Also, tell them where the bathroom is and be strict about starting and finishing times.

4. Write a kickass agenda

Include background information from point #1 on everyone attending. Next, make sure everybody knows who will be talking and what their input will be. For example, include a line  like “Sue Smith will be presenting her take on what we should include in the plan and we’ll  then spend 15 minutes discussing it.” Be specific as possible. For example, if you want to include a brainstorm session, make note of it on the agenda, ie: “We are going to have an ideation session for 20 minutes, so please bring your ideas.”

5. Don’t read the agenda at the beginning of the meeting

Instead use this time to set the expectation. Again, be specific. Say something like: “Before we break today this is the outcome we want to reach is….” It’s also important to be clear about what actions will help the group get to that outcome efficiently. Also, have a back up plan.  “Either we get the decision today or if we can’t we need a clear list to get us to the decision and I can follow up with you all on email.”

6. Include a policy about phones

What’s the expectation with mobile phones at your meeting?  Can you ask for phones off? You know the crowd, so you make the call.  For example, when you begin the meeting, you can ask everyone to put their phones on silent and then say: “We will be taking a break at the 10 minute and 30 minute mark so you can check your phone.”

7. How are you going to make sure everyone is heard?

Sometimes the person with the loudest voice doesn’t have the best ideas. You can have a thinker, who doesn’t add much but is thinking deeply about the issues at hand. Facilitate making everyone comfortable, don’t put the shy person on the spot. Throw to that person but give then out “Would you agree with Barry’s point, Lucy” rather than “What do you think, Lucy ?”  Equally you need to manage big personalities. For example:  “Gee Wendy you have so much enthusiasm I love it, I might just throw to the rest of the room and see what they think about it.” Keep focussed on the goal: what do you want to leave the room with. Similarly, don’t be thrown by a digressor. If they throw a curly question don’t panic: just say I haven’t thought about that possibility lets take that one offline and let’s move on.

8. Minimise unknowns

Don’t be shy about bringing up what the crucial thing is for YOU. You’ve got to be able to speak up “I have one more question” and “I don’t understand” it’s more respectful for people’s time  to get clarity while you’re at the meeting rather than spend time later on, trying to weigh in or raise your point. The objective of the meeting is to find an outcome by the end of the meeting.

9. Be courteous

If for any reason on the day you’re late absolutely no fault of your own make sure they you call really timely and you know the reception number and you don’t go through straight to voicemail. Make sure you know what the main reception number is for the venue. Crucially, we you arrive just say, “ I am sorry for being late. I know your time is valuable lets get straight to it.” Don’t spend 15 minutes telling us about the traffic. Get on with things quickly.

10. Provide water and a way for people to take notes

I now ask people if I can record the meeting on my iPhone and if they have a problem with it I can stop at anytime, and that  I will delete the file after I transcribe the notes.

11. Be conscious of body language – your own and others

If you can feel someone getting agitated and impatient learn to read other people’s nonverbal cues. It’s always better to give a shorter amount of information and get lots of questions, rather than give a long chunk of information and expect them to absorb it all.

12. Dress for the room and the mood

Leave off overpowering cologne and perfume and jangly jewellery. You need to bring it back to your goal: what’s the focus of the meeting and what do you need everyone to focus on to get there? Also, make sure you’re comfortable – nothing too tight. You need to feel comfortable and confident.

Don’t forget!

Think about your ringtone (change it if you must), bring a pen, be conscious of your thinking face and make sure you have your business cards on you.

Do you have any other tips for running a meeting to share?

Lucy Kippist

is an experienced Australian editor with experience in writing, podcasting radio and television, with previous senior editorial roles at News Corp news.com.au, Kidspot and Kinderling Kids Radio. In her current role as editor of Flying Solo, Australia's #1 website for solo business owners she is pursuing her passion for women in the small business space. Connect with her on Twitter and LinkedIn.

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