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October 30, 2014
Have you ever tried to run a meeting that started out strong, only to watch it fall apart as participants and topics unraveled? As the facilitator of a meeting, it is important you come prepared for the situations and lead your group through the process before it becomes an unproductive use of time.
Karen Johnston of Johnston Training Group recently shared with DLR Group her secrets to holding a positive and productive meeting.
Common problems encountered in meetings include not having the decision-makers together and present, dominant personalities overtaking the meeting’s direction, or participants not staying on track to accomplish the goals or timelines of the meeting.
At many meetings, such as a team meeting, the dynamic of the group can be predicted. You have either engaged with the attendees before or have held similar meetings. For instance, a site construction meeting has certain set agendas to review on-site concerns, and it is repeated weekly or monthly as the work progresses. The same attendees tend to be present at each meeting and come anticipating the meeting’s intentions.
But some other meetings, such as community presentations, cannot be as easily anticipated because they are open to the public.
A public meeting might be the hottest discussion topic in the jurisdiction, making everyone in the community want to attend and share his or her opinion. Another public meeting might be calm and inviting, with a few people present who just want to hear your progress.
Having a prepared toolbox and the confidence that you are ready for whatever is coming will make you the leader of the show.
Your meetings toolbox should include these strategies:
1. Create and share your agenda.
Your agenda is the most important tool you can prepare for your meeting. It prepares the group for what goals you intend to accomplish through the meeting. Setting times to the topics on the agenda ensures the group knows how long you intend the discussion will last.
If discussion of a topic grows longer or more detailed than anticipated, an agenda allows you to stop conversations and defer them to another meeting or discussion offline. You can say, “This is an important conversation that should be addressed. Let’s table this for a meeting outside of this group to make sure we can discuss all the items on today’s agenda.”
Additionally, many meetings do not require the attendance of the whole group for the entire meeting. Setting times and keeping to them allows the key decision-makers to know exactly when they are required to be in the meeting room and when they can return to work.
Submit your agenda to the group a couple days prior to the meeting, and ask attendees for feedback before they arrive. This gets the participants to start thinking about the meeting before the day of the event. They’ll feel engaged and will come prepared with questions or comments.
Also, confirm the agenda with the group to make sure there are no hot items that need more time dedicated to them. By sending the agenda before the meeting day, attendees can respond to you and leave time for you to adjust the agenda on the day of the meeting.
2. Set guidelines suitable for the dynamic of the group.
When you set the guidelines at the outset of the meeting, everyone buys into the expectations of each other before someone can disrupt the group. Guidelines can include cell phone use, computer use or talking out of turn.
Present your guidelines in a responsive way, asking the group, “What is your preference on cell phone use? Can we agree that we want to put them away during the meeting?” This encourages the participants to agree on the priorities or needs of the group to keep the meeting progressing. If they feel that they helped set the guidelines, they will also help to enforce them.
3. Send out meeting notes promptly.
Issuing meeting notes promptly allows information to be fresh in everyone’s mind. They can provide feedback and comments on items that are not clear. The meeting notes are also commonly used as a record of key decisions made on the project and referenced for the duration.
4. Set the stage for the meeting.
Move the furniture to create the collaborative group setting you need for the meeting. Encourage people to sit in certain spots that you see will facilitate their interaction. Make sure all participants can see the presentation material clearly so they remain engaged.
5. Work to gain the trust of the participants.
When you implement these goals and strategies, the participants will turn to you to direct the conversations and keep them on track. By creating the agenda and sticking to it, you’ll ensure attendees that their time is productive.
Make sure you book the time for the adequate length and start promptly.
Erica Loynd is an architect and senior associate with DLR Group in Seattle. She manages integrated design teams, government agencies and owners through the design and construction of large, complex justice and civic projects.