How to Run a Meeting Well

Meetings have a bad reputation. Chances are good you’ve left a meeting thinking, “This would have been a great email,” or suffered through a meeting while the proceedings seemed to run on forever.

If you haven't already led meetings, you will in the future, and you'll need to know how to run a meeting effectively regardless of the career path you choose. Here’s what you need to know to avoid running interminable and ineffective meetings and to make the most of everyone's valuable time.

Before the Meeting

Write the Agenda

To get the ball rolling, the Meeting Chair emails all invitees in advance of the meeting (at least a week prior is a good rule of thumb).

Academic Integrity Week Planning Committee

Agenda
Tuesday, March 22, 1-2 p.m.
Nebraska Union, Regency Room


    1. Document last year’s numbers; celebrate success
    2. Review purpose of Academic Integrity Week
      - Overview of schedule - Sign up for days and times
    3. Identification of offices, organizations for partnership
    4. Plan next steps
    5. Identify individual roles


After soliciting input, the Chair writes up an agenda. The agenda should be organized and ordered logically. Any guest presenters should be listed first. If a specific topic must be discussed in order to decide action on another topic, schedule it first. When deciding the order of the agenda, the Chair also takes the importance of each topic into account. Address the most important items first so they're more likely to be resolved. Less important items can be discussed at the next meeting or resolved over email.

Well-defined agenda items take the guess work out of resolving each issue. When items are vague, it’s hard to keep the conversation on track during the meeting. To write specific agenda items, Forbes recommends asking questions like:

  • What do I seek to accomplish?
  • Are you seeking input from others on a problem?
  • Are you looking to arrive at a decision on a particular matter?

Share the Agenda as a Reminder of the Meeting

One or two days before the meeting, the agenda is sent to invitees. This serves two purposes: first, it serves as a reminder about the meeting, so if someone failed to calendar it they can put it on their schedule; and second, it informs everyone what you’re planning to discuss and they can prepare accordingly.

When you send out the email, include helpful information right in the subject line. For example: "Agenda for tomorrow’s meeting" doesn’t provide much information to the reader, but "Agenda for Development Committee: tomorrow, Friday, May 2 @ 3 pm, Adams Hall" is an informative reminder that displays every time recipients open their email.

At the Meeting

A few key players help the meeting run well. The Chair administers the meeting, and a Secretary records minutes of the meeting. Don't have a Secretary? Appoint someone to take notes of the proceedings, paying special attention to decisions and assignments. 

Keeping the Conversation Productive

The Chair’s primary role is to lead and facilitate the meeting. Of special concerns to the Chair is keeping the group on topic and on time, and moving toward resolving a topic. To resolve topics, the Chair helps the meeting attendees make decisions, list actions, indicate who’s responsible for each action, and ensure progress can be made (this translates directly into meeting notes).

If decisions are to be made, an impartial Chair manages the discussion so that all sides of an argument are represented. A few guidelines will help the Chair:

  • Call on individuals to give perspective. Depending on the issue, one or more members of the committee may contribute to one side of the discussion. As a result, the decision for (or against) a particular item or action sounds like a foregone conclusion. However, a particular member of the committee may have insight. The Chair should seek perspectives from the other side of the argument, pausing to give others the chance to speak up. If the Chair knows that an individual can provide another perspective, it's fine to call on individuals. 
  • Ensure no one person or viewpoint dominates conversation. If there’s an individual who always speaks first, it’s okay to stop and call on someone else. If they interrupt others, then the Chair should step in so the first speaker can finish their point.
  • Keep the group together. When there’s a sidebar conversation, it’s the Chair who should remind the attendees of the issue at hand and ask offenders if the side topic relates. If so, the Chair should incorporate their input, and if not, invites them back into the main discussion).
  • Direct the group to resolution. The Chair helps the group toward consensus and summarizes what the group has agreed on. To do this, the chair moves from issue listed on the agenda, to indicating what actions (if any) are to be taken, who’s responsible for carrying out the actions, and indicating a timeframe.

The Secretary follows the Chair’s lead and records the decisions and assignments (including persons and resources assigned and timeframes for completion).

After the Meeting

Turning Notes into Minutes

The Secretary (or note-keeper) tracks the conversation in the meeting. Rather than acting as a stenographer who takes down a script of everything discussed, the secretary tracks each item using four columns:

Meeting Minutes
IssueActionResponsible PartyTimeframe
Grow academic partners Identify 5 student groups and university offices Carol
Luis
Zhang
by April 4
Promotion Create flyer and main news story Bruce
Clark
by July 15

As each item on the agenda is discussed, the Chair shepherds the conversation to resolution in the three areas. The Secretary records this information so all attendees can refer back to the minutes and remember their assignements and deadlines in completing agenda items.

Within one week of the meeting, the Secretary shares the minutes to every attendee. Sharing the minutes reminds key players of their roles and helps them remember they have to play their part to accomplish the greater group goals. The minutes also remind everyone who receives them that there are overarching goals, and that they’re accountable to the larger group. 

Summary

Overall, the goal of the meeting is to have all group members aware of their role in the organization, and to share information, decision making, and responsibility among all the attendees.

By following these guidelines you can lead an effective meeting, the type of meeting that when everyone leaves, they don’t think, “Well, there was an hour wasted.”