How To Lead A Meeting

How To Lead A Meeting

By Sean Stevenson – Latest Revision January 3rd, 2021

Many of us struggle with the typical business meeting.  Public speaking is a common fear and many of us have little experience in organizing meetings professionally.

Despite this, meetings are a necessity for organizational structures to operate effectively.  They are an essential way for managers to communicate together.  Ideas can be explored privately in this setting. 

It is during meetings that a strategic plan and a larger vision are typically developed.  To positively impact a business, these ideas must be carefully contained within a larger strategy.  

Essentially, meetings are an opportunity for leadership to craft their vision for the future.  What a business is, and what it can one day become, are all typically discussed at length behind closed doors.

Leading a meeting can be both very fulfilling and profitable career-wise.  It just takes extra time and effort to fully realize.

For your purposes, a meeting should represent an opportunity.  Try to be excited at the prospect of engaging with your colleagues.  A huge impact on your performance in any meeting, will revolve around your attitude.

Arranging and leading meetings is something many individuals silently dread.  However, given the increase in remote work now taking place, meetings have become more important than ever.

By reading this guide on how to lead a meeting, you’re already ahead of the game.

If you fall into the category of those who dislike the conference room, do not fret.  This guide will help you navigate how to lead a meeting safely and effectively. 

Start By Setting Attainable Goals

Before you sit down and decide when a meeting should even take place, set clear goals.  Identify the key areas that require immediate attention and prioritize those first.   

Most likely, you’ll have a flood of ideas and content you’d like to explore.  Regardless, remember your priorities.  Everything else is secondary and can be put on the back burner for another time.  Focus on your immediate concerns first.

Once you have your priority list in place, ask what yourself what the key focus of the meeting should be.  Are there significant risks that must be discussed?  Are there areas of weakness that should be explored?  Are there participants that will not be able to make it?  Do you need to obtain information from someone beforehand?

By exploring these topics first, you will be preventing “loose ends” ahead of time.  Moreover, you can determine if a meeting is even necessary to accomplish your goals. 

Sometimes a meeting can be unnecessary.  At that point, it is little more than a distraction from being productive. 

This is why we take the time to explore and prepare beforehand.

A great way to make sure your prioritized and secondary goals make sense, is to use the SMART goal-setting method:

How To Lead A Meeting

Measure your goal up to this acronym.  If it passes each category, you can be certain you have a goal that makes sense.  Make this goal the focus for your meeting.

Create a Meeting itinerary

With all your goals in place, it’s now time to actively plan your meeting.  Your itinerary (or agenda, if you prefer), should cover the time that will lapse as the meeting takes place.  Divide the meeting into a series of allotted “time slots.”  Each time slot should include who will be presenting information, for how long, and in what order.

This doesn’t have to be exact.  It can just be a rough draft of what will happen.  The reality is, you’re very likely to spend more time on certain areas than you expect.  Conversations can evolve, people may disagree, and you’ll be tearing your hair out to second guess what might come next.

The key is to ask yourself how you can attain the goals of the meeting.  Try to anticipate the needs and opinions of others.  Is there a way to compromise or guide them in a certain direction?

You should also share your meeting itinerary with those who will be attending.  In this way, they can prepare themselves beforehand.  They may even have questions of their own.

Invite Only The Necessary Parties

Once you have a firm handle on your goal(s) and itinerary, you must consider who should be present at the meeting itself.

Try to consider who is essential.  Are there specialists who are experts in their field that you’ll need present?  What key decision-makers should be there?  Should anyone from your staff come along?

The key in this phase is to consider who is absolutely necessary for the meeting.  If they aren’t going to help you to achieve your goals, then they shouldn’t be there.  However, if they have relevant information, then you probably want to consult them beforehand to explore that further.

All of this is proper etiquette.  You shouldn’t feel bad not inviting certain people if they aren’t necessary.  However, if you feel someone should simply be there to “learn” then make sure to seek approval beforehand just to be safe.

How To Lead a Meeting... At The Meeting

At last, you’ve gathered everyone to the conference table.  The meeting is officially just getting underway.

The first thing you must consider is if everyone is present.  A surprising tendency during the first seconds of a meeting, is for everyone to suddenly realize that someone is missing.  Patiently waiting a few moments for an absent person, or just to let everyone get settled, is advisable.

Once you can take an honest survey of the room and see that everyone is patiently waiting, begin by presenting your goals.  Take your time to enunciate clearly.  Ideally, you’ll also be making use of a digitized screen to help you convey key points.

If the meeting is remotely hosted, be sure to use a screen sharing tool.  In this way, everyone can participate.  Viewing information is also a snap.

Finally, it is not uncommon for meeting minutes to get off-track.  When the meeting deviates too far, gently guide it back to the key objectives.  Try to refocus everyone if they get off topic.

A good way to understand your role within the meeting structure, is to think of yourself as a moderator.

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Be Sure To Take As Many Notes As Possible

As the meeting continues, be sure to write down as many details as you can.  Important questions and answers should be carefully recorded.  Moreover, any detail that relates to the overall goals of the meeting should be transcribed.

If necessary, have someone record the meeting for you.  This will also allow you to better focus your efforts on the meeting at hand.

The goal in taking these notes is that you have a reference point for later.  These can prove significant for your meeting summary afterwards.

Maintain Focus

During a meeting it is easy to get side-tracked.  Unfortunately, this can have a detrimental effect on the outcome of your efforts.

Any time you find yourself in an important meeting event, do not lose your focus.  As the leader of the proceedings, you must immerse yourself in what is happening, so that you don’t miss anything important.

If necessary, turn your phone or laptop off.  This is especially prudent so that you can give everyone your fullest attention.

When speaking, choose your words carefully.  When listening, try to focus on the needs of the person talking to you.

Encourage Everyone To Actively Participate

To ensure that everyone is getting the most out of the meeting, have everyone speak in turn.  Your itinerary should set a foundation for the proceedings of the meeting, but it can be helpful to hear from other voices in the room.

If there are relevant updates to be considered, or related projects that have gone unmentioned, have those involved speak openly.  The more voices sharing important information, the more successful your meeting is likely to be.

For each topic, try to get as much out of the keynote speaker(s) as possible.  Do not be afraid to ask questions, or to keep people engaged by adding new ideas.

Review Details In Full

Towards the end of your meeting, discuss key takeaways in detail.  Lead the meeting towards making a consensus.

Be sure to ask if anyone has any questions or concerns.  Often, people are hesitant to lend their voices, and may need to be prompted.  You can help them by making it clear that all questions are welcome.

During the meeting, there may be many questions asked also.  This can be typical when there are a lot of moving pieces to summarize.  Just remember to be patient and consider point of merit.

Towards the end, be sure that everyone is satisfied with the outcome of the meeting.  It is also advisable to thank everyone for their time.

Following Up With Key Participants

With the meeting ended, you have overcome the chief hurdle of how to lead a meeting effectively.  The latter part of this process involves following up. 

During this phase, you need to follow up with key participants in writing.  In your meeting summary email, include key takeaways and progress that was made.  Try to address what future actions might be taken. 

If information must be explored further before a decision can be reached, make open note of that.  There is no shame in not having all the answers in one meeting.

Be sure to point to any important lessons learned.  Moreover, thank everyone again for their time. 

If another meeting is required, be sure to point that out towards the end of your summary.

How To Lead A Meeting - Final Words

Congratulations!  You’ve accomplished getting everyone together and hosting a professional business meeting!

At this point, you are at the last phase of the cycle.  This dovetails back into the first section above.  Essentially, you are starting again, albeit with new facts and a renewed focus.

Consider what was achieved and how you might take the next step.  If any information was unclear to you, reach out to your colleagues for advice or comment.  There is no shame in trying to fully understand.

You’re already well on your way to becoming adept at the art of leading meetings!  Continue practicing using these methods, and in no time, you’ll be a master at marshalling the resources of your organization.

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