The meeting notice has been sent and the meeting is scheduled, it's time to think about how the meeting will flow. Here are some tips on how to keep the meeting running smoothly, besides utilizing Robert’s Rules of Order.
1. Know when to serve refreshments. If the meeting is longer than an hour, serve beverages (ie. water, soda). Depending on the time of day, have food available. If the meeting is scheduled for 9 a.m. it would behoove you to serve continental breakfast, to keep attendees awake. For meetings around 11 or 12 p.m., order full lunch items, such as sandwiches, pizza, salad, etc. After all, attendees are taking time out from their regular lunch to attend. Don't forget to let them know in the meeting notice that lunch will be provided and list the food items.
2. Have meeting materials available. You may have already included the agenda as an attachment with the meeting notice, but there will be people who will not bring copies with them to the meeting, so have copies available. Surprisingly, there will be people who will not bring a pen and paper as well, so have them ready as well. If you want to "Go Green," have the materials on a projector so that the entire room can view them at the same time. This will eliminate attendees reading ahead and not paying attention to what is the current topic of discussion.
3. Start on time. This is one of the most important methods to conducting a meaningful meeting because everyone's time is valuable and starting late will frustrate those who were there on time. I have been in meetings where 10 people were to attend and 4 showed up on time, the chair would wait a few minutes longer for others to show up- this is a meeting killer! This says to the attendees that those who are late are more important than you, and they are so important that we will wait for them to get here. This is the wrong message to convey to your attendees. Start on time, the minutes will note what they missed. By the way, be sure to thank everyone for attending.
If and when the "stragglers" finally show up, do not "back track" and catch them up on topics they missed, unless they were to discuss a specific topic on the agenda that had to be deferred until they arrived. What you can say is, "Greetings, we are currently talking about (state the topic of discussion)." Then continue the meeting.
Here’s a tip on how to get people to attend on time: acknowledge them when they come in the room. No one likes “all eyes on them” and they will want to sneak in and try to be unnoticed. They will remember the attention they received the last time they were late and will be on time for subsequent meetings.
4. Follow the agenda. When you see that discussions are getting "off topic," call the meeting to order to get it back on track. This is a surefire way to have an unproductive meeting- allowing random discussions that are not on the agenda. As the chair or host, feel free to acknowledge the discussion and have a motion to further discuss it at the next meeting or future meetings. Note that there can be "meetings within a meeting." These are random, off topic discussions that are held secretly between meeting attendees. These "mini-meetings," are a distraction and there is a lack of focus on what is currently being discussed. Get everyone back to the focal point and continue to follow the agenda.
When following the agenda, be sure to review the action items first. The action items will dictate the next course of action for the team members. This also says to attendees that there is a level of accountability and if their part is not done, the team will not be able to move forward. Remember the pre-planning (Part I) stage for the meeting and you confirmed the status of action items?
5. End on time. Just as you started on time, you should end on time as well. Again, time is valuable and people have other responsibilities and perhaps other meetings to attend. If topics weren't discussed, add them to the next agenda or ask for discussion via email. If people want to stay and have random discussions after the meeting, that's okay, but adjourn the meeting and make sure it is documented in the minutes.
Whew, the meeting is over and it went smoothly, but there is still more to do. Stay tuned Part III: After the Meeting is up next.