How to lead a meeting

Office meetings can be a chance to get things done—in between the clueless musings and pompous pontificating of coworkers. Here are a few tricks from Al Pittampalli, author of Read This Before Our Meeting.

Choose the participants

Too many people just gum up the works. Unless someone brings something to the table—information needed to make a decision, the authority to approve it, the responsibility to carry it through—leave him off the guest list.

Read more: Wacky ways to survive at work

 

Distribute an agenda

A meeting organised around brainstorming or catching up is likely to meander. Without a specific topic, people don’t know how to get ready, and that’s when things devolve into discussions of Donald Trump and Strictly.

Instead, map out a very specific list of what you want to cover, and set a time limit for each item on the agenda. Give people homework assignments: “Come with at least two possible solutions to the problem we will be discussing.”

 

Find the right place

Conduct your meeting around a circular conference table. Rectangular tables invite the apple polishers to dive toward positions near the head.

Chairs in rows facing the front of the room squelch participation because people tend to disengage when they can’t see one another.

Read more: Double your time with a work/life balance

 

Start with a bang

The beginning of the meeting sets the tone. Don’t waste time thanking people for coming or talking pleasantries.

If you did a good job preparing people, they should have arrived ready to play.

 

Pilot the vessel

Stay focused on your objective. What decision has to be made by the end of the meeting? Is what’s being discussed getting you closer or further away?

Offer prompts, ask questions, solicit input from the appropriate person at the appropriate time. It’s your job to politely cut people off when necessary and redirect the conversation when it veers off track. And be sure to enforce good behaviour. No interrupting, no incivility, no Twitter scrolling. 

Read more: Mental health stigmas in the workplace

 

Focus on action

A meeting isn’t successful unless it ends with a concrete plan of action, with people assigned to take on each piece of it.

Every step should have an owner and a due date. Make sure you send out the plan to every participant immediately after the meeting, and follow up to hold each accountable for his role.