Leader Volume 8, Number 9
You’re Leading a Meeting?
Ms. Booher is CEO of Booher Consultants, a communications consulting firm in Dallas (phone 800-342-6621) which offers training in effective writing, oral presentations, interpersonal skills, and customer service communications. She has written 35 books, including Communicate with Confidence! (McGraw-Hill, New York, 1994).
You have attended
scores of them. Probably
even a few this week. And
for some reason, the thought of sitting in on another one leaves
you nauseated. They're called meetings and they're an integral part of
are a pretty good idea. Gather
a group of talented people, pool their resources and expertise,
hash out some issues, devise a game plan, and everyone is the
better for it. Unfortunately, not all meetings follow that agenda.
Instead, busy people with complicated schedules reluctantly
congregate to vent their frustrations, complicate matters, and
pontificate pet peeves. And everyone ends up with more work.
Meetings are here
to stay, and sooner or later, you'll likely be asked to lead one
some day. Understand
the basics of how to conduct a meeting and you'll be known as one
who gets things done; neglect these basics and you'll only waste
Meet for the
right reason. When
you call a meeting, know the reason. Skip the meeting if you have
nothing special to discuss, if you don't need others' input, if
you have already made up your mind about a course of action, or if
getting others involved would only complicate your plan.
Do call a meeting
if you need to present information to a lot of people quickly and
you don't want to write it, if you want input from others on your
idea, if you want to gain "buy in" from the team, or if
you want to motivate and energize the team about an idea.
meetings resolve issues, galvanize support, and prepare others for
action. Set an agenda. Some
people think that agendas lend too much structure to a meeting,
that people can't be spontaneous, or that the atmosphere will be
too formal. That's
like saying if you plan for a vacation by packing the right
clothes, arranging for transportation, and deciding on a
destination that you can't relax and be spontaneous along the way.
merely roadmaps that lead you to your destination.
Use them or get lost. When leading a meeting, set an agenda
and stick to it. Use
active verbs, summarize in a sentence the issue at hand, and let
the group know what you expect on each issue--"for discussion
only," "to collect data," or "for
follow the agenda or take an occasional detour, having an agenda
will give others the peace of mind that the meeting is going
Stay out in front
if you intend to lead. Nothing
frustrates and turns off meeting attendees more than having a
leader who doesn't take control.
State your role at the beginning and what authority the
group will have.
Do you intend
simply to facilitate the discussion or tell them how you will
discuss each idea and come to decisions?
Are you going to keep the discussion moving or abdicate
that responsibility to others randomly?
Are you going to
be a silent observer or do you plan to throw in your two cents
worth? You don't have to have all the answers, do all the talking,
or make all the decisions, but you should be out in front.
Either lead or give the responsibility to someone else and
get out of the way. Someone is always in charge of a meeting.
If it's your meeting, make sure it's you.
your list of attendees is as important as the issues you discuss. Ask the right people and you have a good chance of a lively,
informed, useful exchange of ideas.
Ask the wrong people and you establish a war zone.
Use the following
checklist: Who can
provide necessary expert advice? Who has experience with this
issue? Who will support your cause?
Who will oppose your cause?
Whose commitment do you need to "make it happen"?
popular people, persuasive people, or positioned people--seek the
right people for your purpose. Own the setting.
Just as an athlete has a distinct advantage when competing
on his home field, so can a meeting facilitator.
Know the turf and you control the meeting.
If you want
authority and a no-nonsense atmosphere, schedule the boardroom. If you want an energized group, go for a well-lit conference
room. For an informal
chitchat session, try someone's office.
If you want to play host, provide coffee or snacks in a
parlor or schedule the meeting for a nice restaurant.
Your guests will feel obligated to be civil and even
Ask yourself what
atmosphere you'd like to create in your meeting and plan
your choice, be comfortable with it and "own" the
have to be another "necessary evil."
They can be the most efficient and effective way of getting
quality work done quickly, completely, and on time--without merely
giving everyone more work.