By doing your homework ahead of time, you can increase the chances of holding a successful meeting. That said, even the best laid plans can go awry—and even a perfect agenda doesn’t guarantee a productive meeting.

Once the meeting starts, your focus will be on keeping everyone on task and creating an engaging environment. After reading these tips, you’ll know how to host a meeting where nobody leaves thinking, “That should’ve been an email.”

Start the meeting on time

It almost doesn’t need to be said, but we’ll say it anyway: you have to start your meetings on time. Otherwise, you’re at risk of losing both valuable time and the goodwill of your attendees. If the meeting has a late start, pessimism can set in and inhibit their desire to contribute to the discussion. You might remember the suggestion from our previous post suggesting that you test your meeting software before the meeting—that way, technical difficulties won’t delay the meeting.

If you do get a late start, you may need to trim down your agenda. While the easy thing to do would be to cut the time you’ve set aside at the end for answering questions, we don’t recommend it. You don’t want to send people away lacking clarity—or worse, feeling like they haven’t been heard.

Review the previous week’s agenda

If this is a standing meeting, you can start by going over the previous week’s agenda. For every item on it, check to see whether any necessary steps were taken to move the item along, and if there are any updates. Doing this makes sure nothing got lost in the shuffle. Keep an eye on the clock, though. After all, nobody wants to spend half of a weekly meeting reviewing the previous meeting’s agenda!

Follow the agenda

Sticking to your agenda is the best way to get what you want from your meeting. If you’ve planned well and shared the discussion topics ahead of time, you’ve set yourself up for an informed exploration of the topics you need to cover. Every step you take away from that plan increases the risk that:

  • You will lose time set aside for other topics
  • Your participants will feel their time is being wasted

Before you go into the meeting, look at your agenda and mark any items that will require action. That way, as the meeting is taking place, you can push for an actionable solution before moving on to the next topic. It’s also good to note who will be responsible for carrying out the various aspects of the actions that are needed.

While you don’t want to rush a good discussion, it’s also important to keep an eye on the progress of the meeting compared to how much time you have left. You can keep an eye on the clock or even set a timer to mark 25%, 50%, and 75% through the allotted meeting time. This can especially come in handy for longer meetings or meetings where there’s a lot of ground to cover.

Set ground rules and expectations

Meeting etiquette varies throughout the world, so it’s important to be clear about how you expect your attendees to participate in your meeting. Make sure they know what parts of the meeting will be a discussion and which parts are more of a presentation. This is particularly helpful when meeting over video or voice calls as it prevents awkward starting and stopping of conversations.

Good practices include automatically muting everyone who isn’t speaking if your meeting includes more than four or five people. Obviously, let them know ahead of time that you’ll be doing this. Most software will allow them to unmute themselves if they have a question or comment, but they can also raise their hand on a video call, or use a “hand raise” feature.

Keep people on topic

Be on the lookout for discussions that can be tabled for later, whether in a one-on-one chat or in the next meeting. That’s not to say that you can’t digress if needed, but the last thing you want to do is go down a rabbit hole.

A good rule of thumb is that if discussion of an item extends over X amount of minutes (say, 5 minutes, for a 60-minute meeting), propose that it be continued after the meeting ends. You can continue the discussion via email, a chat tool like Zoho Cliq, Slack or Google Hangouts, or a future meeting. Make sure that these follow-up discussions are actually happening, though, so that people don’t feel like they’re being silenced.

When you open a topic up for discussion, there’s always the potential that only one or two people will share their thoughts. After all, some people are more comfortable than others when it comes to speaking their mind in front of an audience.

In general, you want to avoid creating a dynamic where only a few people chime in. If you allow the chatty ones to dominate the conversation, it can turn from a thoughtful discussion into a monologue. And that defeats the purpose of having a meeting in the first place. Be on the lookout for conversation hogs and politely intervene to steer the discussion, or to encourage those who haven’t spoken yet to share their thoughts.

After the meeting is done

Next to rabbit holes, one of the most discouraging aspects of a meeting is when you spend an hour discussing something. only for it to result in no action when everyone signs off. If there isn’t concrete progress, team members will feel their time, energy, and preparation were all wasted.

Follow up on action items 

Remember the action items you marked on the agenda? Now, it’s time to enact the solutions your team discussed. During the meeting, you should’ve designated who was in charge of following up on what. As the meeting organizer, check in with those parties one more time to see if they have any questions and understand what’s expected of them.

Another approach would be to go into the meeting with a specific person in charge of noting tasks and putting them into your team’s project management tool after the meeting. If you’re not currently using project management software, solutions like Zoho Projects, Basecamp, or Trello can help track your projects, their milestones, and who’s responsible for doing what.

No matter what tool you’re using, there should be owner(s) assigned to every action item. If you want to learn more about how to project manage your team remotely, we have an article to get you started. Even if you don’t use a full-fledged project management tool right now, these tips will help you run more effective meetings.

You may have noticed that creating a strong agenda is the cornerstone of several of our tips. If you’re looking for a meeting agenda template, keep an eye out for our list of templates for remote teams, coming. In the meantime, remember to focus on running meetings that are organized, timely, and focused–your team will thank you.

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