Without wishing to write 1000 words on sucking eggs, depending on the size/importance of the meeting, planning can range from sending out a calendar invite the day before to months of organising. For larger meetings, events coordinators are your best friends and is an often under-appreciated skill for those with the luxury of paying someone else to do it.
I have a short but extremely handy checklist for meetings:
- Getting it in the diary
- Catering (if needed)
- Papers/presentation (if needed)
- Thank you emails/calls
Sometimes it’s easier to get something in a CEO’s diary than it is to book a good venue, but more often than not it’s the other way around. Over the years, I’ve been able to compile a list of local and cheap venues for areas I’ve worked in that are easy to get to and suit the purpose for different types of meetings. When I was a student, I learnt the value of holding meetings in places that people actually wanted to go to, which is why my first few team meetings were held in the chocolate shop in Harrods! The rest of my team was from all over the country, so adding in the touristy element ensured they all wanted to be there, and the hot chocolate made sure everyone stayed. What a perfect meeting place – surprisingly quiet during the day, really good coffee and chocolate (caffeine and sugar = perfect student sustenance) and it injected some fun into our project.
Nowadays, my knitting group is held in our local library café – easy to get to, loads of free knitting resources if we want to look something up, and a loyalty card so your 7th coffee is free! Not to mention free wifi, really good light, and plenty of space for new members (of which there are many every week). Before then, we were in a local pub with a beer garden, just fantastic for summery Saturday afternoons.
Know your audience and make useful friends
If your meeting is open to the public, make sure it is accessible to them! I cannot believe how many organisations fail at this basic concept. Accessible doesn’t just mean wheelchair friendly, it also means a time of day more people can attend, within reach by public transport, and child friendly in case childcare cannot be arranged.
The most useful person for booking meetings is always the PA/Secretary to the big kahuna. Not only do they have access to their calendar if their attendance is needed, but they also know the best, cheapest and size appropriate venues in the local area, their expertise is invaluable but it’s not your job to delegate to them and everybody loves thank you treats, so don’t take the mick. In terms of running a community meeting, engagement with community leaders can mean the difference between bribing your colleagues to make up a quorum and getting 50 people who genuinely care about local issues. Facebook groups, football teams, knitting groups, GP patient groups can all spread important messages about your aim.
Stick to the agenda
Oh man, if I had a pound coin for every meeting disruption that wasn’t dealt with I’d take you all out for ice cream instead.
Rather than moan about how annoying it is when meetings are disrupted, here are some tried and tested methods for your chair to re-rail a derailed meeting:
- “X is an important issue. Right now we are focusing on Y, so let’s move X to Any Other Business.”
Read: X is off-topic, however if you really want to talk about it, we can do it at the end
- X is an important issue, however it may be better suited to a separate meeting where we can discuss the complexities of X with the most relevant colleagues present.”
Read: X is off-topic, and probably not something that everyone here can meaningfully contribute to.
- “Thanks for your point of view, if we can just let [interrupted colleague] finish what they were saying and we’ll get to that in a moment.”
Read: This meeting would go a lot faster if you didn’t interrupt.
One other slightly more unusual method (for regular team meetings) I learned from working in the IT sector is to get everyone standing up (where possible and within reason). People don’t like standing up for too long, so are more likely to push through topics rather than get into the minutiae of every agenda item. This isn’t always possible (or preferred by senior management) but IT WORKS.
Personally, as chair, I like to take my own notes to make sure the key actions and decisions are logged in my plan. Where it is more appropriate to use a professional minute-taker, they’ll often need a few days to get the first draft of minutes back but will be thorough and accurate. As meeting chair, I take the responsibility for following up with everyone involved in the meeting – attendees as well as colleagues. Making sure actions are followed up should never be left to the last minute, or to the minute taker, who may not necessarily know the intricate details of your project. Spending a reasonable amount of time keeping in touch with everyone involved is such an important part of making sure the meeting was worth it, and not just a way for people to avoid their desks. It also strengthens your stakeholder relationships and keeps your project focused in their minds as well as yours.