a well planned meeting requires attention to detail to stay on course
and accomplish its objectives. As the meeting organizer, you're
responsible for managing the course of the meeting and its final
Not just at highly structured meetings, but at many meetings, seating
arrangements (published or unpublished) matter. Place guests of
distinction in view of presenters, whiteboards, projection screens,
or other points of visual interest. As organizer, you have an opportunity
to determine where the most important guests will sit. If they choose
their own seats, let other guests fill in afterward. Latecomers
can fill in empty places.
Set a beginning and end time for your meeting, and do not exceed
it. This is a good way to keep people on track, and give you the
leeway to put a courteous end to conversations that are not adding
value. You can say, "I'm sorry to interrupt you, but I want
to make sure and keep to our scheduled time." In addition, set an
approximate time for each item on the agenda.
anyone is expected to be late, say so at the outset to set everyone's
expectations. If you know you will be late to a meeting, tell the
organizer as soon as you know.
At the outset, let people know what you hope to accomplish in the
allotted time. Even though the agenda is printed and distributed,
it will help to restate the objective in your own words.
have different formats, each of which suggests a set of ground rules.
example, there are no bad ideas in brainstorming sessions, and speakers
may or may not be permitted to interrupt one another. Participants
should understand whether they are expected to contribute to the
conversation, or just listen. If you set clear ground rules at the
beginning, it will be easier to keep the meeting on track.
avoid interruptions, put telephones on "do not disturb"
and turn off mobile phones or set to vibrate.
If any guests at the meeting have not met one another, introduce
them. And if anyone's presence is likely to intimidate some of the
guests, put them at ease by explaining the reason the person is
sitting in. If the person is there to deliver bad news, get underway
a new participant is asked to join a group, particularly a standing
group that has already worked together, the facilitator or a competent
team member should give the new member an overview as the participant
first joins the meeting. Otherwise the group runs the risk of having
to cover old ground. Then, the group can be invited to add anything
else it thinks the new member needs to know.
The person who leads a meeting is only a facilitator whose opinion
is best expressed through a restatement of or agreement with comments
from others. This encourages the group to take ownership of what
most effective facilitators also bring lots of energy to the meeting,
and a sense of humor. Even the most intense discussion can benefit
from a little levity at key moments.
The best facilitators are able to advance the agenda gracefully
without participants' realizing they are being guided. Here are
some suggestions for seamless participation.
a model of honesty and integrity in the meeting.
the agenda, but don't refer to it outright. Let the words you
say steer the conversation so that it's clear you are leading
the meeting, not the piece of paper.
everyone an opportunity to contribute, and if someone isn't participating,
offer them the floor. In doing so, though, try not to let the
person feel put on the spot. Don't let an awkward moment arise
as the person tries to think of something to say.
asking for input from the group, let each person speak for a set
period of time, for example, 2 minutes. The people who talk a
lot will usually try to continue beyond 2 minutes, but will still
feel the pressure from the group to limit their comments.
people to things they've said or committed to earlier in the meeting
or in previous meetings.
out contradictions in what people say, by way of encouraging the
group to determine ways to resolve those contradictions.
body language for nonverbal disagreement, conflict, anger, or
other signals that not everyone is in synch.
people finish what they are saying. If someone interrupts, direct
the conversation back to the previous speaker to let him or her
follow-up questions that show the speaker's point was heard and
that challenge the speaker to finish an incomplete thought.
someone steers off course, acknowledge the valuable nugget in
what was contributed but show how it can be applied to the topic
A presentation is what you say. Overhead materials and handouts
should underscore the message you're there to deliver in person.
With that in mind, here are some tips on using materials effectively,
whether you're the meeting organizer or an invited speaker.
early to greet other attendees and get a sense of the mood.
one slide per minute, maximum.
only a few words or one picture on a slide.
handouts only when you are ready to use them. Otherwise, people
will read through them instead of listening to you.
leave people in the dark. When you are speaking, the attention
should be on you. Don't darken the room so much that people can't
see you. And don't turn the lights off and on - leave them the
way you need them for your presentation, and turn them back on
at the end.
only as much time as you're given for your presentation.
the formula that says you have to tell a joke at the beginning.
If you want to start with something light, spend the extra time
thinking of a personal anecdote that will resonate with the people
at the meeting.
in advance whether you will be expected to handle questions from
the audience. Practice answering the most difficult questions
you expect to receive.
unexpected problems with technology, car alarms outdoors, or other
unscheduled occurrences with grace and wit.
you did not organize the meeting, thank the people who invited
you to speak.
Jo Schlegel, Editor-in-Chief