Effective meeting planning and organization guidelines

Good meeting planning is a necessary prerequisite for any effective business meeting. Here are the key considerations and practical tips to guide you through the meeting organization process.

The first and foremost question to ask before you start planning any meeting is “What are the desired outcomes from that meeting?” Clarify the answers and write them down. Addressing this question first is absolutely critical for anything else you do in connection to that meeting.

The second critical question is “What is the best tool to reach that outcome?” Remember that a meeting is just one of the tools of interpersonal communication. Like any tool, it serves well for certain situations, but may be inadequate or inefficient for others. In particular, could any of the objectives of the expected meeting be better achieved some other way? For example, by sending an email, writing a memo, having a one-on-one conversation, or just making a decision on your own. Or maybe the purpose is already obsolete, and your meetings are held just by tradition?

It does not make much difference how well planned is the meeting if that meeting does not need to be conducted in the first place.

The next important question of meeting planning and organization is “Who are the right people to be at the meeting?” Are there any people who are not expected to get any noticeable benefits or to give any relevant help in this particular meeting? No need to waste their time. On the other hand, could you invite an additional person who could provide some helpful expertise, insights, or first hand facts relevant for the meeting purposes?

Decide on the appropriate meeting format. Given the meeting purpose and participants, would it work better as formal or informal? Public or private? More like a conference with a number of presentations? Does it have to serve certain corporate regulations?

Who will chair the meeting? The chair person, whether it is you or somebody else, needs enough authority and ability to keep meeting running smoothly. At the same time, the chair person should be able to remain neutral and not dominating in conducting the meeting. His or her focus is on keeping the meeting productive, rather than on just using his role to promote his or her own contribution or standing. An effective chairperson keeps the meeting on track, maintains constructive and positive atmosphere, ensures that nobody hijacks or sabotages the meeting, and helps all participants contribute most effectively.

The next meeting planning step is to decide on time and place. Of course, you want to schedule time when all the participants, or at least the majority, are available. Yet, pay attention to other factors as well. Are there any events or engagements near the meeting time that will compete for the attendees attention. What would be the likely energy and mind state of the participants? In particular, you may want to avoid Monday mornings or Friday afternoons for a corporate meeting that focuses on mission critical business issues.

As for meeting location, use the following considerations.

  • Minimizing interruptions and distractions.
  • Ease of access to any special sources of information, if relevant for that meeting.
  • Maintaining energetic business atmosphere. You may want to avoid too relaxing or too recreational environments, or too much food.
  • Keeping the costs reasonable, adequate for the meeting purposes and context.

At this point of meeting organization you are finally ready to prepare and distribute an agenda, based on the desired outcomes of the meeting.

The agenda is one of the most important documents of meeting planning. It should communicate clearly and briefly the purpose of the meeting, the schedule of the presentations by the participants, and the key points for discussion, all with specific time frames. Put the more important presentations and points first.

Having a clear agenda that is properly communicated to everyone before the meeting serves a number of purposes, both before and during the meeting. Before the meeting, the agenda allows everyone to prepare. Even when no practical action steps are required or done, the agenda prepares everyone’s conscious and subconscious minds for more effective work during the meeting. During the meeting, the agenda sets priorities and time frames. It is a necessary tool for keeping the meeting focused and productive.

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