Even 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 result.
Not just at highly structured meetings, but at many meetings, seating arrangements (published or unpublished) matter.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.
If 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.
Meetings have different formats, each of which suggests a set of ground rules. For 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.
To 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 quickly.
When 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 Organizer's Role
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 is decided.
The 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.
Handouts and Presentations
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.