Mueller - Conducting productive meetings

Thursday, September 12, 2002

"If I did not have so many meetings to attend at work, I could actually do some work!" -- How many times have we experienced that? Meetings are, unfortunately, a necessary part of conducting business.


Some pre-meeting considerations:

1. Clarify the purpose for the meeting. Set an agenda, listing priorities and objectives. We must ask ourselves if a meeting is the most productive way of achieving our goals

2. Determine attendees, location and length of meeting. Good leaders always take into consideration itineraries of participants.

3. Plan the facility, equipment supply and assistance needs. A meeting form or checklist can be very helpful.

4. Prepare and distribute an agenda. Advance distribution of agendas helps participants prepare, retain focus on the issues and helps meetings stay on time.

5. Start the meeting on time. Some prefer to start meetings at times other than "on the hour" or "half-hour" (i.e., 8:10). The rationale is that attendees understand that the meeting times will be strictly adhered to and they tend to remember the unusual times more readily.

When opening the meeting it is best to start with a brief statement of the subject matter. Verify understanding. If the main subject matter is a problem, follow Mr. Carnegie's advice for problem solving-ask for causes, list possible solutions and evidence to support each solution, make frequent summaries, and select the best possible solution.

Sometimes the best possible solution may be a collection or combination of several recommendations. Sometimes a vote may be necessary. It is best to appoint an individual, team or a committee to see that the decision is converted into action.

As leaders, it is best to start off with the information that we must present, backed first with evidence, then our opinions. After that, our major job is to direct and lead. In a large meeting, ask that anyone who wishes to speak obtain recognition from the leader.

It is important to keep the meeting moving and on track. Speed! Brief contributions. Politely redirect the person who gets off track or attempts to retain "the floor" too often or for long periods of time. We should encourage participation from everyone but avoid going around the table to ask each person's views directly. Asking open-ended questions will help draw out individuals who seem reluctant to get involved.

Guidelines for participation

It is imperative that we keep our point brief and focused on the topic. Mr. Carnegie teaches us to give evidence first, then our opinion. It is best to speak in an easy, conversational way. Be sensitive to the tone of our voices. It is best to offer only one solution or suggestion at a time. Listen attentively to all contributions, without interrupting other speakers.

If an associate makes a statement with which we disagree, don't argue, ask why the person believes it. By using the proper tone of voice we can avoid arousing resentment. It also enables us to find out the evidence or other suggestions that can provide valuable information.

Support every solution with evidence. Our supporting evidence may be in the form of any one or combination of the following: demonstrations, examples, facts, exhibits, analogies, testimonials and statistics.

Post-meeting considerations

Summarize and clarify results of the meeting, decisions and participants' commitments. Participants should leave with a clear understanding of what is to be done, how it is to be done, by whom and by when. Follow up with a brief written summation of decisions and action steps.

Evaluate the meeting for the purpose of continuous improvement. And, consider developing checkpoints when follow-up action is required.

The biggest challenge we face in conducting meetings is redundancy and ineffective use of time. By having a clearly defined agenda, process, and follow through, we can make meetings be effective and productive.

Sharon Mueller is the regional manager for Dale Carnegie Training. Dale Carnegie Training has recently partnered with Metro Business College in Cape Girardeau. To find out more about this partnership and course offerings, call Mueller at 332-0900 or email at

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