How to Facilitate a Successful Meeting

By Randall Rollinson

Everyone has been in a meeting that lacked structure, leaving it to suddenly veer wildly off track. Maybe someone takes too much control over the conversation, or discussion devolves to off-topic complaints or topics. Whatever the reason, as a meeting organizer you’re left in a tough place. At this point the reason you assembled everyone in the first place – your overall goal – is likely lost with no hope of recovery.

Running a successful meeting takes more than just preparation. After the Outlook invites have been sent, agendas written up and supporting material’s printed out, the hard work begins of actually trying to make your meeting a successful one. It’s an art, one which demands a lot out of you.

To help you get started, we’ve compiled some items to consider before holding a meeting.

Objective

The easiest way to combat a meeting going off track is by setting a firm objective and sticking to it. This isn’t just a vague goal, like “I want to get everyone’s input on the issue,” or “I’d like to come away with a concrete decision.” This is more of an action you need to stand by, like, “We are not leaving here today until we have a consensus decision on this issue.”

An objective like this accomplishes a few things. For one, it lets your attendees know right off the bat that they are here for a purpose. It also lets them know that the meeting will not end until this goal of consensus has been reached. As a result of this, there is extra incentive for everyone to follow your rules and let others speak and contribute. No one wants to be stuck in a meeting that drags on and on. This set up allows your attendees to be more mindful of the time allotted.

Lay Ground Rules

Speaking of rules, it’s very important to set in place standards that apply for everyone. These can vary to fit your needs, but examples include you functioning as the moderator and only allowing people to speak that you call on. You can also set speaking limits, allowing each individual only a few minutes to get their point across. This will allow you to ensure all voices are heard and force attendees to prepare their arguments, rather than risk going off on tangents or rambling.

Stick To Your Schedule

You have your agenda (if not, you really should have an agenda) with all your topics of discussion clearly lined up, leading up to adjournment. It may sound obvious, but stick to your agenda! If possible, try to divide each section off by a time allotment so that your meeting can stay on track.

Don’t feel bad about cutting someone off either if need be; it’s for the benefit of the group overall to keep the meeting flowing.

Give Everyone a Voice

Most importantly, as we previously mentioned, everyone deserves a chance to have their voice heard. There will undoubtedly be a person or two who feels more comfortable speaking among a group and sharing their opinions, but don’t let them dominate the proceedings. Just because someone is louder and more extroverted does not mean their ideas are necessarily better.

There are multiple ways to accomplish this, from going around the room in order to get everyone’s opinions, to just being aware of who has spoken and who has not. Keep a running tally in front of you on a sheet of paper, and call on people who either missed a chance to speak or seem to be taking more time to formulate their views.

Learn More

Of course, these are only a few simple suggestions for how to facilitate successful meetings. If you’re interested in learning more, then please register for our upcoming event on facilitation skills in developing strategy and building consensus.

This two-day course taught by Terry D. Bergdall, PhD, a founding member of the International Association of Facilitators, will teach you how to effectively lead group discussions, develop relevant agendas, handle disruptions and disagreements in creative ways and much more.

Better meetings lead to better results.

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