7 Ways to Host a Better Meeting

I went to a meeting the other day, one with a mix of professionals and aspiring professionals (college students).  I’d love to tell you what the purpose of the meeting was, but I don’t actually know.

One might ask, what was I doing at a meeting where I didn’t even know the purpose to begin with? Well, I recently joined an organization and this was a regular monthly meeting, so I figured I would go and see what they were all about.  Or not, as it turned out. They didn't know how to hold an effective meeting.

What I got instead was a meeting leader asking the group unrelated questions, participants who shared a wide variety of disconnected responses, and no real resolution or next steps after we spent an hour discussing several topics. The whole event felt about as inviting as the fluorescent lights and their loud buzzing noise.

It turns out this isn’t that unusual of a situation, as 71% of American employees report that meetings “aren’t very productive.”[1] If you find yourself hosting a meeting anytime soon, make it a great one with this quick refresher on how to be a quality meeting host.

Baseline Meeting Hosting Rules:

  1. Introduce yourself to your audience and let attendees introduce themselves as appropriate. Unless everyone knows each other, of course.
  2. Introduce your meeting’s purpose, agenda or mission.  Without this, you’ll have people like me writing essays like this, or at least feeling like they just wasted their time and may hesitate to return. Extra points if you then stick to your agenda!
  3. Stick to your time frame. The only thing worse than being in a room full of people you don’t know, with no purpose, is being there longer.

Advanced Rules for Exceptional Hosts:

  1. Stay neutral in your role as facilitator. If you are both hosting and contributing you are not precluded from adding your own thoughts, just be sure that fair representation is given to all interests around the table for a healthy discussion.
  2. Adapt the meeting to keep it productive. Some meetings flow well from start to finish, some start to get off track quickly. Keep the meeting focused, while using your judgment to allow for conversation to dive into important areas. It’s ok to depart from your agenda if it’s the best use of the meeting time and still drives towards the ultimate purpose. Better to use time well than to force it into a mold that doesn’t fit a changing situation.
  3. Size your venue correctly. Productivity can be lost in a room that is too big or too small for the number of attendees you have.  Give people enough space to be comfortable, but do your best not to let someone get lost in a sea of empty chairs, or ignite their claustrophobia. It is ok to arrange chairs (and remove extra ones) to your liking.
  4. End with action. What IS the result of your meeting after all? Have decisions been made? Is there work to be done? Ideas to communicate? If so, by whom? Is another meeting on the horizon? Should you set a tentative agenda? Concretely wrapping up the meeting, while everyone is in the room, leaves participants feeling like they were part of a great thing, thanks in part to a great meeting host (that’s you!).

[1] - 5 Steps to Great Meetings by Peter Economy, Inc. Magazine