How to Conduct Effective Meetings

Are the meetings that you run constantly running overtime? Or are the meetings that you’re invited to always feeling like they’re dragging along and not getting that much done? Then stick with me until the end of this article, because I’m about to go over nine tips to running more effective meetings. By the end of this article, you’re going to have a better understanding of some of the tips and tricks you can start using today to run more effective meetings, drive outcomes and grow your business.

For over five years, I led the sales, marketing, and customer success teams for a VC-backed startup. And in that time I had to run tons of sub-team meetings, as well as team-wide meetings of upwards of 25 people and be able to effectively make decisions. Needless to say, I’ve gone through hundreds of meetings and tried all sorts of models to see what works fast. So hopefully through the tips that I share with you today, you can avoid some of the mistakes that I made.

Tip 1: Have a clear agenda before you enter your meeting.

First tip when it comes to having more effective meetings is to set a clear agenda before your meeting. Almost everyone that I know hates to go into meetings that have no clear agenda. Some of the hardest coworkers that I have to work with are the ones that always need to brainstorm with you.

And what I mean by that is the people that like to go into a conference room, talk for an hour, an hour and a half and achieve little to nothing, and then feel like they were able to move the needle when they didn’t actually do anything. Comment below if you agree with me there.

But other than that, having a clear agenda makes sure that everybody has the same baseline understanding of the facts before they go into that meeting. That allows the meeting to them be more focused on the important things that will move things forward in terms of making decisions or taking action on things.

One of the only times you should be able to go into a meeting without an agenda is if it’s something super urgent and it came out out of the blue. That being said, even in those situations, it can be super helpful to write a quick synopsis and send it to your peers before you actually do that emergency meeting. That will just allow everybody to come in with a more clear head space and an understanding as to why you guys are meeting.

Tip 2: Have any relevant and important pre-read and pre-work materials included in your agenda.

The second tip that I have when it comes to having more effective meetings is to make sure that any important pre-work or pre-read materials are included in your agenda. You want to try to focus your meetings on serving as catalysts for decisions and movement in your organization, as opposed to using your meetings to simply review things or presentations that can be reviewed in independent time.

An example that I have from a few years ago was we wanted to introduce a new pricing model for our customers. So we had members of our sales team, as well as our success team, having to meet and share their experiences about what it’s been like to communicate with customers about the pricing changes in the past.

And so on one side of the spectrum in our pre-read, we had to summarize what the sales process was like for new customers, as well as existing customers. And then on the other side of things, we had to talk about what the renewal process was like, and it was essentially by having the sales team describe their sales process and the success team described their renewal process, that both teams were able to have a stronger understanding of their respective processes before we even started discussing what key things we needed to put in place in orderto effectively communicate this upcoming price change.

So by getting everybody on the same page in terms of baseline understandings, it saved us a ton of time of having to present on how we do different processes between teams. Pre-work is one of the most effective ways that I have found to cut my meeting times in half, simply by having one or two guiding questions or discussion questions to have people do in their pre-work can help people form their thoughts and be more intentional in terms of how they contribute in meetings.

It also helps accommodate coworkers that may be more introverted or may need more processing time before going into a major meeting. So all in all, it’s a win, win for everybody because it raises the bar in terms of the expectation that everybody has when it comes to meetings.

Tip 3: Send meeting invites at least 24 hours before the meeting occurs.

The third tip is to make sure that you send your meeting invites at least 24 hours in advance. The only exception to this rule is if you work with team members that explicitly tell you that they’re okay with only a couple minutes or an hour or so of heads up before you go into a meeting. But in most situations, I find that people aren’t this way. They like to have a heads up so that they can plan their day and be most effective with their work time.

Also by giving at least 24 hours, you’re allowing everybody to be able to have ample time to do the pre-read as well as the pre-work for the meetings.

Tip 4: Set and honor clear time blocks from your meeting agenda.

The fourth tip I have for you to more effective meetings is to set and honor the time blocks in your agenda. Aside from not even sending an agenda in the first place, a key sign that I’ve seen of ineffective leaders are those that run meetings without honoring the time of everybody that’s participating.

What I mean is it’s those people in the office that you either always start the meetings late, or they run their meetings over so that it impacts everybody else’s day. So when you do this, what you have to think about is what impression you’re sending to your coworkers? If you run over once or twice, it’s probably not going to be a big deal, but if it becomes a consistent habit that essentially what you’re communicating to your coworkers is “I don’t value your time”.

And so it’s really important that when you are setting your agenda, You also put some time estimates as to how you’re going to be spending that time. A helpful way to combat going over your meeting time is to set time blocks. And so what I want you to do is I want you to think about how much time you think this topic item will take, and then whatever estimate you have add an additional five or 10 minutes to that time so that you can allow for sufficient time for discussion as well as any natural questions that may come up from the discussion.

If you find yourself in the situation in which there is more on the agenda than what you guys have time to cover, then push everything else to either another meeting or make it so that you establish a virtual next steps in terms of what will be covered on those particular topics.

What’s really important though, is that you are consistently respecting the time of your coworkers.

Tip 5: Make the decisions needed to be made clear BEFORE the meeting.

The fifth tip when it comes to more effective meetings is to make every single decision that needs to be made explicitly clear ahead of time. This builds on our prior tip, but essentially you want to make sure that any questions or key discussion topics that we’ll be had are outlined in your agenda.

This allows for coworkers that need a little bit more time to process things or to gather their thoughts in a coherent manner can have the time to do so, so that they can come in and we can just launch from the discussion as opposed to starting from a review period.

The other reason why this is super important is because if you do this in your pre-read, in what you’re outlining the key questions or key decisions, then it’ll actually become your post read in the meeting notes. And so it’s super easy in terms of making sure that you’re building a clear log of what went on in different meetings for those that potentially can attend the meetings.

Another way to do this, if you don’t like having discussion points or questions is to simply have a desired outcome section. This is where you want to highlight specifically what you guys are hoping to achieve in the time that you guys have scheduled.

Tip 6: Have clear assignments for who is saying what and when in your agenda.

The sixth tip when it comes to better meetings is to have clear assignments as to who is saying what, and when. What I mean by that is you don’t want the situation in which you have a group of people in a room trying to figure out who wants to take lead on something. Instead, you should have a clear designation, your agenda as to the speaker at that time or the lead speaker at that time and who is potentially there for support.

This will allow for smoother segways between different parts and decisions of your meetings that are being made as well as discussions. So make sure that you outline these so that you can save a lot of time between Meg figuring out when it’s time for her to go versus Fred talking about his update from his end or his key decision.

Tip 7: Assign a note-taker during your meeting.

The seventh tip when it comes to more effective meetings is to assign a note taker. It’s totally fine if everybody takes their own personal notes, but it’s important to make this assignment in your meetings because it makes sure that at least one person is taking note as to everything that is discussed in your meeting. It’s the responsibility of this person to make sure that everything that is decided upon has a clear next step and that accountability is in place for everybody that attended this meeting.

Make sure your note taker takes note as to when the meeting started, as well as when it ended. I’ll tell you why this is important later on. Also make sure that your note taker uses the pre-read for their notes. The reason why is because since everybody in the meeting already has the pre-read, if you get into the habit of taking the notes of the meeting in the pre-read, it naturally becomes the post replay later on, and everybody already has access.

Tip 8: Make sure everyone knows what they need to do and what the group needs to do leaving the meeting.

The eighth tip is to make sure that everybody leaving the meeting knows exactly what they individually, as well as what the group is going to be doing next. Accountability is what makes workplaces successful. And so everybody needs to understand what their part is and the collective team effort. And on the other side of things, everybody needs to understand what the collective team is working towards.

It’s the momentum of getting things done, making key decisions and getting awesome results that motivates teams continuously and creates a flywheel effect. If one person is leaving your meetings, not knowing what they’re going to do next, then over time, they’re going to just check out and they’re going to stop listing to the meeting because they know that there’s nobody else that’s going to hold them accountable to paying attention.

So make it really clear for every single person as well as the group what deadlines are coming up at an individual level, as well as from a team level.

Tip 9: Audit your meetings.

The ninth tip is to audit your meetings. So what I want you to do after every week or so is I want you to open up all the meetings you’ve attended. And from there, look at when these meetings started and ended. Ask yourself, did this meeting end on time, ahead of schedule, or did it run over?

And what you’ll start to notice are some patterns that may form in terms of some culprits  that consistently run meetings over. If you find some people that consistently run over, you might want to pull them aside and give them a friendly reminder to try to stay within the allotted time period and explain why it’s important for us to do so.

Next, I want you to look at anything that was on the agenda and the outcomes of the meeting. Was there anything on there that could have potentially been done virtually without meeting at all? From here, you’ll start to notice that there are some decisions that didn’t actually require meeting in person in order to make. And what you can quickly realize is that there are 10 to 30 minutes in every single meeting that you’re taking part in that could potentially be cut out of that entire meeting time.

From my personal experience, I have found that there is rarely ever a meeting that needs to be longer than 30 minutes. The only exception to that has typically been for long strategic sessions. But other than that, 30 minutes is more than enough to make meaningful action on key decisions that need to be made.

Two Big Takeaways

If you take nothing else from this article, I want you to remember these two things.

  1. The first one is that the key to an effective meeting is what you actually do before the meeting, as opposed to in the meeting.
  2. The second thing to remember is to try as much as possible to uphold the sanctity of a meeting. What I mean by that is meetings have to be meaningful for your team members in order to stay engaged. So they need to be intentional, accountable as well as professional. So you need to start your meetings on time and end them on time, have clear outcomes for everybody and make sure that everybody that’s in that meeting actually needs to be in that meeting.

Which of these tips you are planning to implement in your future meetings to make them more effective? Or if you’re guilty of one of the bad habits that I shared, which one are you guilty of such as starting meetings late?

I put together a pre-read and meeting agenda template below so feel free to check that out. It’s completely free.

Also feel free to share this article with anybody that you think might be able to benefit from learning how to run a more effective meeting.

We’ve covered a ton of business efficiency tips with my virtual assistant series lately. And so I’m excited to shift gears in my next few articles to talk about marketing and specifically start with how to create content super fast.

If you liked this article, be sure to check out my YouTube channel to get new videos every single week. I’ll help take you from zero to self-starter as you grow your business, get more customers, and hone your business acumen. Also, feel free to share this with anybody that you think might benefit from learning how to conduct effective meetings.